Is Bhaskar philosophically uncareful?

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at
Tue Feb 21 21:16:49 MST 1995

I am not a philospher, but I am not apologizing for it.  I think the
non-philosophers are exactly the ones who should read what the
philosophers write.  Hans Despain wrote about Bhaskar's approach:

>Philosophical justification for much of his argument
>seem a bit uncareful.  Bhaskar asks his ontological
>trancedental questions, e.g., "what must the world be like for
>science to be possible," I not sure that his Critical Realism is on
>very firm ground.  It seems to rest on some kind of "commonsense"
>ontology.  Maybe this is not (philosophically) too careful of Bhaskar.

I'd like to enumerate where I see the main ocntroversial points
in Bahaskar's arguments.

Bhaskare starts with one empirical observation: that science
is possible, i.e., that those procedures which are commonly called
"science" are in fact able to increase knowledge about the world
and therefore expand the range of waht humans can do.  Is this
philosophically uncareful?  In my view it is very defensible.

Secondly, Bhaskar makes the following conclusion which he calls a
"second-order" argument: the fact that science is possible tells us
something about the world.  Worlds are thinkable in which sciecne
would not be possible.  We live in one in which science is possible.
This is some valid information about our world.  Again I must say this
argument is convincing to me.  Am I too gullible?

Thirdly, Bhaskar makes an additional step underneath the second
argument, which is more implicit and which is the more controversial
one: He claims that this information about the world which the
philosopher of science draws from his second-order conclusions is
information which can only be obtained this way, and which is
inaccessible to the scientist who uses the socially developed scientific
methods to gain knowledge but who usually does not ask why these
methods are successful.  I would like to put this up for discussion.
Is this valid?

Fourthly, Bhaskar pulls an amazing multitude of insights out of his
simple second-order question.  One of his main insights is that the
world is not "flat" but consists of many "layers".  Again, I tend to
agree but I would like to see a careful derivation of all these
second-order conclusions somewhere.   In my view, this particular insihgt
already brings us very close to dialectics as an appropriate
scientific method, because the movement between these layers involves
discontiuities, and the fact that these layers are not self-contained
means that you will get contradictions which cannot be resolved as
long as you remain within one layer.

So far, Bhaskar's findings are close to common sense (and I, for one,
think this is stuff which should be taught in High Schools).  But in
his "Dialectic, the Pulse of Freedom", Bhaskar builds on these almost
common-sense results in order to infer a world which is far from
common sense.  Emboldened by the insight that the empirical is only a
small subset of the real he goes on to postulate that things which are
not, he calls them de-onts if I remember right, are as important or
more so than things which are.  Things which are not are things which
are missing, should be, try to be, etc.  Again one of his main
arguments for this is second order: if the world were packed with
things that are, then there would be no room for change and for his
"openness."  I see this as an ontological basis for dialectics.
Although Bhaskar does not develop it in so many words, I would think
that dialectic reasoning is the fishing for the things which are not
behind the things which are.  There is no other way to get access to
them.  But continuing in my assessment of how "philosophically
careful" this is, it seems to me very innovative (at least to us in
the West, it seems that some Eastern Philosophies have been closer to
this for a long time) and revolutionary.  I like to compare this with
Einstein's general theory of relativity: it will take a long time to
work this through.  I see it as an hypothesis, but an extremely
interesting one.

Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
For Info about our Graduate Program Contact  program at

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