ontology and political commitment (+)

Tom Vest vest at scf.usc.edu
Tue Jun 27 14:13:36 MDT 1995


Thanks for the comments. Regarding the first, on the non-relationship
between a deflationary (de-ontological) Quine and an ontologically-inclined
Bhaskar, I did not not mean to imply that the latter was working directly
from the work of the former, but rather something like the opposite, i.e.
where Quine wants to eschew questions of ontology, Bhaskar's project (at
least in _Reclaiming Reality_) seems to be the reconciliation of scientific
progress with a continued commitment to the ontological --or at at least a
"structured," "differentiated," and "changing" form thereof. To correct my
previous misstatement, I should have written

>Bhaskar's (early) work seems to be meant as a response to (something like)
>Quine's theoretical-methodological question, "To the existence of what sorts
>things does belief in a given theory commit us?" that retains a (prior?)
>commitment to an ontological realm as somwhow different from that of
>"phenomena" or "events."

Is this is a more plausible account of Bhaskar, then I am still stuck with
with my first two questions, i.e.

1. What is the difference between an ontic realm conceived as "structured,"
"differentiated," and "changing" and the realm/reality of everyday

2. Is one difference related to the capacity of the former to
(methodologically) underwrite class analysis, and if so is this the only or
principle difference that recommends ontologically-grounded theorizing over
both the marxist alternatives you cited (Bogdanoiv, Neurath, Gramsci,
etc.), and the (possibly individualist, not exclusively
economically-informed) RD strategies of the kind described earlier by Leo
(e.g., Sun, 11 Jun 1995 02:42:22 -0400, Utopianism v. Radical Democracy)?

You expressed some skepticism regarding my third question, i.e. the
relevance of ontology to level-of-analysis debates in theories of
international relations. At present the 'discipline' of IR seems to be
dominated by theorizing at two extremes, i.e. hyper-individualist rational
choice theory and panoptic, state-oriented "structural realism." I concede
that  these approaches are generally sold as explanatory strategies rather
than ontological approaches, whereas as their respective critics often
attempt to undermine them using ontological criteria (both, as you suggest,
by denying that certain explananda exist, AND by positing/pointing out how
other --usually larger, aggregate-- things exist but are obscured by
"reductionist" explanatory/epistemological assumptions). What I am trying
to determine is whether and how this ontologically-informed "game" in
academic IR is different from the exchanges that are taking place on this
list or elsewhere, e.g. ontological vs. epistemological dialectics, RD vs.
Marxism, Hans/Bhaskar vs. my half-formed (but generally deflationary)
assumptions and my spotty but ongoing readings on ontology, philosophy of
language, etc. If there is a difference, does it derive from the marxist
moral commitment/revolutionary political project?

Thanks again,

Tom Vest
School of International Relations
University of Southern California

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