Ontology: Bhaskar vs. Hegel
DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Sat Jun 24 01:58:11 MDT 1995
Below, I attempt argue that the ontological commitment of Hegel and
Bhaskar have specific consequences for their results. In a post to
follow I hope to elucidate the distinction between epistemological
and ontological dialectics. I have pushed Chris S. on this point,
and has he argues the epistemology seems to imply an ontology.
However, Bhaskar and Hegel too have very different ontological
commitments, but it seems that their epistemology is less
differentiated. But for now let me develop the ontological
Hegel's dialectic is both method and (ontological) process. In his
*Phenomenology of Mind* he introduces his transcendental dialectical
argument. I would suggest that this book is an attempt to approach
the transcedental question: 'if human reason is possible, both
objectively and subjectively, what must be the phenomenology of
mind?' Or what does the human mind do when it knows: The odyssey
which Hegel takes the reader is not one of *what* we know, but rather
*how* we know, or the analysising the processing of knowing. The
first step in the process of knowing is "Sense Certainty." However,
this certainty turns out to be illusory, the mind cannot pinpoint
what it is certain of. Thus, the immediacy of "Sense Certainty" must
be negated. The next step brings out the inadequacy of the
immedicacy of "Sense Certainty," or emphasizes "Perception."
In "Perception," "Sense Certainties" can be different. "Perception"
is in recognition of the conceptual contribution. The transformation
from "Sense Certainty" to "Perception" requires an important leap in
reasoning (this is parallel to his transition from his Book of Being
and Book of Essence in *Logic*). Hume believed that such a leap in
reason was a move away from reality, while Hegel is aruging that it
brings us a step closer to reality, away from the illusion of "Sense
The commitment to "differnce" in the category of "Perception" demands
from Hegel a trancedental attempt to understand the how it is that
"different" perceptions can be so similar or universal. Thus, the
transcedental move is meant to explain and describe "Perceptions."
To suggest why we should not be committed to the empiricists'
scepticism or complete relativism. Hegel's dialectic that has moved
from "identity" to a moment of difference or "negativity" (dialectic
proper) to "totality."
In *Logic* Hegel presents his acending "systematic" dialectic set in
motion by a logical contradiction of immediate understading of Being
and Nothing, and is system is propelled first by the "telenomic push"
or the bringing forth explicitly what is implicit in our conceptual
scheme, and second a "teleological pull" of a world *overcoming*
lacks and contradictions.
In Hegel's diaelectical schema of "identity," "negation," and
"totality;" it is the third step of totality which reveals his
ontological commitment and sparks the materialist protests. Whereby,
Marx argues that the secert of Hegel's dialectic is the re-positing
of the empirical. That is to say, Hegel's critical dialectic is
committed to an uncritical idealism. Whereby, negation is resolved
in the re-establishment of the positive. Bhaskar terms this
"ontological monovalence": "A purely positive account of reality.
Fatally flawed by the transcendetal deduction of the necessity for
real negation or absence, it acts ideologically to screen the
epistemological and ontological actualism sequesters 'essential'
ones. The result is the doubly dogmatically reinforced
positivization of knowledge and eternalization of the status quo"
(Bhaskar 1994:255-6; 1993:400-1).
Bhaskar attempts to re-affirm real negation, or the logic of absence
which is the secert of both the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic alike.
Hegel's "totality" is a (dialectical) closure. For he is
ontologically committed to a strictly positive world, where the 'real
is rational and rational is real.' This is illustrated by what Hegel
termed the "Good" Infinite contrasted with the Bad Infinite in
*Logic*. For Hegel the Good Infinite is contained (like for
the infinitude of numbers between 1 and 2), the Bad Infinite is
un-contained and runs into an Infinite regress problem. For
knowledge, Hegel believes that such a world requires metaphyscial
argument, he is oppossed to this as an epistemology.
For Bhaskar, the dialectic must be committed to openness, thus the
Bad and Good Infinite is reversed for Bhaskar. It is Bhaskar's
explicit development and ontological commitment to the existence of
absences which allows the step forward in understanding the world.
Thus, what is lacking in Hegel's account of the dialectic is not a
process of absenting, for the dialectic performs this function, but in
the end the notion of absence itself, is lost to the re-established
positive account of reality (Bhaskar 1993:24; 1994:118). "In
Hegelian dialectic negativity is cancelled and positivity restored;
and a critical realist totality is open, not closed" (Bhaskar
Contrasted to Hegel's dialectic where everything is triadic in form,
Bhaskar offers a four-step dialectic committed to ontological
bivalance, or polyvalance. It is committed to ontolgocial bivalance
in that absence retains an ontological presence. In fact, it is
given ontological priority over presence. It is committted to
polyvalance in that an absence (or a presence) can be located at one
level, while it is not in another level. Thus, Bhaskar's four-
degreee dialectic begins with the "prime moment" non-identity, (lack,
contradictions, or logical or social ills). His realist orienation
has this prime dialectical moment emphasizing the intransative
dimension of the enduring mechanisms and objects of the world. His
transcedental commitment requires referential detachment, grounded
in an explicit ontological commitment to the existence and presence of
The second ("edge") step is a moment of negation. The indiffernce of
the prime moment is tranferred into a moment of difference. The
second edge is committed to elimination of error. The "third level"
is a moment of "totality," but a totality that is open and changing,
it emphasizes the errors of teh structure of categories, which
Bhaskar calls ontological extenstionalism: "The division of a
totality into discrete separable, externally related parts, manifest
as in, for example, the extrusion of thought, or contradiction, or
morality, from reality -- for instance in the fact\value divide"
The openness of totality requires the "forth dimension" which is a
(un-Hegelian) return to practice. An "active and reflexive
engagement within the world in which we seek to achieve the unity of
theory and practice in *practice*" (Bhaskar 1993:9).
Forth dimension "dialectics are at the site of ideological and
material struggles, but also of absolute reason, and it incorporates
dialectical critcal realism's dialectic of desire to freedom"
(Bhaskar 1994:250). And from the 'forth dimension' Bhaskar
transcendentally derives his "dialectical critical naturalism" from
his principle of "intentional agency" (Bhaskar 1994:162). Which
rests on his Transformational Model of Social Activity, developed in
his *Possiblities of Naturalism* (1989 2nd ed.), and constitutes his
"fifth component" in *Plato Etc.* (1994).
Bhaskar argues that agency (tanscendetally requires an open totality,
whereby a theory and practice can be achieved in practice (1993:26).
If the coherence is achieved in theory, as for Hegel, than we have
(Kantian) hetronomy or the (Hegalian) unhappy consciousness, or
(Marxian) alienation rather than true autonomy.
Thus, it is the dialectic of Hegel, committed in the end to the
positive, which absents the notion of absence in a re-positing of
positivity, wherby Bhaksar asserts the "Hegelian dialectic is un-
Thus, the ontological commitment to absence and openness, is the
difference between the status quo and potential emanicaption of
all human beings.
University of Utah
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu
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