ontology commitment

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Tue Jun 27 13:25:16 MDT 1995

This post is in response to Tom Vest's questions on ontological
commitment.  My first reply is to say that ontology is important to a
realist commitment toward philosophy, science, and knowledge about
the world.  Tom said that he is partial to a (Bhaskarian) notion of
"change" but "less sanguine about the "structered" and
"differntiated" aspects."

I would suggest that instead of taking a "linguistic turn" the
"transcendental turn" would prove more useful.  I have meant to post a
piece on transcendental or retroductive reasoning, but have not found
time.  However, let me say that Bhaskar approaches ontological
questions with retroductive reasoning.  For example, in the "On the
Possibilty of Naturalism* (1978, 1989), Bhaskar asks the
transcendental question: [parapharsed] 'what properties do societies
and individuals possess which makes them worthy of study.'  Next he
offers two seemingly contradictory or incompatible (polar) views,
namely (Weberian) methodological individualism, and collective

Thus, the retroductive reasoning is meant to say some like: 'if these
two approaches tell us something about society and individual, but
they are incompatible, what must be the partial truths of these
approaches.'  Bhaskar's answer to the transcendental questions, and
from his immanent critique of the other two approaches help him
construct his Transformational Model of Social Activity, as a kind of
synthesis of the other two incompatible approaches.  Thus, in effect,
or in the construction of his model, something is suggested about
what must be our ontological commitment.  Perhaps not once and for
all, but at least for what we know about the world today.

Hence, in sum ontological questions are best approached from a
transcendental strategy.

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

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