reading Bhaskar

Steve.Keen at unsw.edu.au Steve.Keen at unsw.edu.au
Sat Feb 25 00:21:24 MST 1995


Allin Cottrell recently posted the following
I have read Collier's book -- quite readable, as Hans says, but I
would agree also that it is rather uncritical.  One might almost
say hagiographical.  I also agree with Hans that A Realist Theory
of Science is the thing to read by Bhaskar.  I think it's his
best.  My misgiving about Bhaskar concerns his originality, or
lack of.  What, in the end, is he saying that was not already
said by Marx, Engels and Althusser (the latter having emphasized
what Bhaskar calls the "transitive" dimension of science)?
I raise this question because of the tendency of some of his
followers to regard his work as a sort of Revelation.  I think
it's good stuff (for the most part), but nothing particularly
new.

==========================
As someone currently wading through Bhaskar's Dialectics, I'd
have to generally agree. There are some advances in terms of
phrasing dialectics in the language of philosophy--with which
I am relatively unfamiliar--and some attempt to codify it;
but while Marx never did the same himself, I get more of a
feel for the dynamics of dialectics from Marx himself than
I get from Bhaskar (even though Bhaskar describes dialectics
quite frequently as the philosophy of dynamics).

The problem I have is a bit like the one I used to have with
the thesis-antithesis-synthesis characterisation of dialectics
(which I rejected long before reading Wilde's excellent
_Marx and Contradiction_, where I learnt that this derived
from Fichte rather than Hegel and Marx). The way Bhaskar
characterises his dialectics (which is much closer to Marx's,
of course, than to Fichte's) "feels" static, whereas I think
it is possible to state Marx's dialectic in a much more
clearly dynamic guise.

I am also reminded of Sraffa's slip of the tongue--and
equally cheeky retort--some decades ago. When describing
Marx's _Theories of Surplus Value_, he accidentally used
the Italian for "Surplus Words". When someone in the
audience corrected him, he replied, "No, I meant
'Surplus words'". I think Bhaskar's concepts could be
put much more intelligibly is he were a lot more
concise.

Having said all the above, I still would not deny that
he makes a contribution. But it is one which will have
far more impact, naturally, in philosophy circles than
it could ever have in economics ones, because of the
language issue (and I say this having read Tony Lawson's
JPKE piece attempting to apply critical realism to
unify post keynesian thought).

Cheers,
Steve Keen


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