Bhaskar: philosophy and science

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Tue Jun 20 03:32:45 MDT 1995


I would like to address the issue of a distinction between
philosopher and scientist.  I believe Hans E. has offered some nice
insights to this issue.  Chris S. overstated the distinction offered
by Hans E. when he said "The scientist's 'first-order' questions are
indeed, totally separate from the philosopher's 'second-order'
questions."  Whereby Rahul adds that no absolute distinction can be
upheld, because "Physicists have invaded the arena of second-order
questions."  I believe that Rahul comments are even more overstated
in that physicists have never had to "invade" the philosophical realm
for the reason they always (implicitly or explicitly) work within it.
With the help of Bhaksar it can be shown that in a world where
science is possible, philosophy also carried out and is indeed needed.

The point here, as Hans E. argued, is that Bhaskar is concerned with
making a distinction between ontology and epistemology.  Bhaskar
argues that scientists and philosophers from the empirical realist
tradition commit what he calls the *epistemic fallacy*: "The analysis
or definition of statments about being in terms of staements abut our
knowledge (of being)" (Bhaskar 1994:253; 1993:397; 1975:16, 36;
Collier 1994:76-85).

"In fact this epistemic fallacy pervades not only classical
empiricism, where it originates (though Descartes must take much of
the blame for setting philosphy off in this direction), but also
Kant, the absolute idealists, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, pragmatism,
and, in a rather different form, phenomenology and existentialism"
(Collier 1994:76).

Thus, to avoid this fallacy the philosopher must "analyse concepts
which are 'already given' but 'confused'" (Bhaskar 1975:24).  For
Bhaskar there is no "clear" distinction between philosophy and
science.  Thus, "those philosophers of the present who insist upon
their total autonomy from the natural and human sciences not only
impoverish, but delude themselves" (Bhaskar 1975:7).  However, it
is not the *cognitive results* of science which interest the
philosopher *qua* philosopher.  It is the set of concepts implicit in
the practice of the science, and which the scientists *qua*
scientists do not need to make explicit, and may not even suspect
that they use" (Collier 1994:17).

And it is "an essential (though not the only) part of the business of
philosophy to act as the under-labourer, and occasionally as the mid-
wife, of science" (Bhaskar 1975:10).  Thus, part of the aim of
philosophy is to make "explicit knowledge that is already implicit in
some practice or other" (Collier 1994:17).

And we can add; "the alternative to philosophy is not *no* philosophy,
but *bad* philosophy.  The 'unphilosophical' person has an
uncounscious philosophy, which they apply in their practice - whether
of science or politics or daily life" (Collier 1994:16).

Bhaskar transcendental or second-order philosophical questions are
rooted in scientific inquirey and oriented especially toward full
human emancipation (following the Communitrian tradition; today
expounded by Participatory Political Economy [Bhaskar 1994:159-60;
1993:267-8]).

Bhaskar's Critical Realism asserts that "the objects of scientific
knowledge are *real structures irreducible to the events they
generate" (Bhaskar 1991:458, in *A Dictionary of Marxist Thought*,
"Realism").  Whereby, the 'explanatory stuructures' or 'generative
mechanisms' are a) *ontologically distinct from; b) generaly 'out of
phase' with; and c) sometimes in opposition to the phenomena that
they generate (ibid).  Thus, the world is consituted by mechanisms
rather than events, and the task of science is to attain knowledge of
those enduring and continually active mechanisms of nature (1975:47).

This commits Bhaskar to argue that the generative mechanisms and
structures are ontologically distinct from the events they genearte;
moreover, the pattern of events are ontologically distinct from
experiences.  Whereby, Bhaskar differentiates between the domains of
the 'real', the 'actual' and the 'empirical' (1975:13).  Whereby, the
domain of the real >= the domain of the actual >= the domain of the
empirical (1975:229).  And commitments his transcendental Critical
Realism to a "stratified" ontological outlook of the world.  [In the
spirit of stratification Marx's comments in Volume III of *Capital*
seem fitting: "But all science would be superfluous if the outward
appearance and the essence of things directly conincided"
(International edition:814)].

Bhaskar's begins with the *transcendental* question:
"*what must the world be like for science to be possible*" (1975:22).
Transcendental arguments are a form of *retroductive argument, or as
Bhaksar puts it, arguments "from a description of some phenomenon to
a description of something which produces it or is a condition for
it" (Bhaksar 1986).  Bhaskar's philosophical answer to this question
is a conception of a world of that is "stratified."

Stratification not only grounds a theory of emergence, but also is
the grounds for human emanicaption: "Human freedom, on this view,
*if* it exists, would not be something that somehow cheats science
(as it is normally conceived) or, on the other hand, something that
belongs in a realm apart from science; but something whoce basis
would have to be scintifically understood" (Bhaskar 1975:112).

For Bhaskar, it is not science that imposes a determinate pattern
or order on the world, but the order of the world makes science
possible.  Thus, "propositions of ontology, i.e. about being, can only
be established by reference to science" (Bhaskar 1975:30).

It seems the Bhaskar transcendental questions center on three main
(almost pragmatist) conception of science:

I)  i) Science is a social product, and hard work.  Work in that it
    is not simple intution, nor pure contemplation and relfection
    (simply a congntive process), nor simply observation and
    experience (an empirical approach to epistemology); nor high-
    browed formalization (mathematization); but social organization,
    reproduction and transformation of knowledge.  [The sociology of
    knowledge, Bhaksar terms the transitive dimension.  While, his
    realist commitment constructs what he calls the intransitive
    dimension, in which the object of knowledge is the real structures
    and generative mechanisms about the world (1975:16].
    ii) Science is frail, and the knowledge it provides is limited and
    special.  It take social organization, hard work, and effort to
    reproduce and transform knowledge in a progess way.  Scientific
    knowledge is *positive* knowledge, and Bhaskar whats to
    demonstrate to his readers; from his Dialectical Critical Realism
    prespective; "the positive as a tiny, but important ripple on the
    surface of a sea of negativity" (1993:5).

II) Science is posible (a world could be possible where appearance
    and essence coincided, thus science not possible, nor needed),
    hence, transcendentally Bhaskar establishes that the reality
    of the world, as humans are able to percieve and interpret it, is
    layered in a real ontological arrangement (i.e., stratified).
    The world is a specturm; beginning perhaps with appearances and
    ending in ontological objective reality of real mechanisms and
    natural laws.  Bhaskar makes no claims of objectivity but as a
    realist, an intransitive dimension exists.

III) Science *is* grounded implicited or explicited (Critical
    Realism) within the realms of ontology and epistemology.  The
    constitutions of which, both need to be reconstructed and
    reinstiuted so to propose a philosophy which is in phase with
    both science and commonsense.  With future hopes of human
    emancipation.

Thus, just as one can differentiate between philosophy and theology,
one can differentiate between science and philosophy, but science
(implicitly or explicitly) depends on (*bad or *good*) philosophy.
Bhaskar's philosophy "is almost entirely based on the practices of
science";  "He aims to remove the [philosophical] idols (Bacon),
obstacles (Locke) [and] or ideologies (Marx) that stand in the way
of, or distort the understanding of, new knowledge to be produced by
the sciences"; and to reinstitute the marriage of science/philosophy:
"Philosophy has often had this role historically, though not always
with happy results - consider some of the little monsters delivered
by positivism, making up a large part of the unhappy family, 'the
human sciences' (particularly in psychology).  I take it that a good
deal of the motivation of his work is to replace this positivist
brood by something both more scientific and more conducive to human
emancipation" (Collier 1994:19).


Hans Despain
University of Utah
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu


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