Bhaskar and dialectics

Hans Despain DESPAIN at econ.sbs.utah.edu
Wed Mar 8 17:43:40 MST 1995


Ralph Dumain in a pervious post complained that Bhaskar's *Dialectic*
"very style betrays whatever seriousness of intent he may posses."
That the Hegel- Marx connection (which Dumain is trying to use
Bhaskar book as a reference) is too thick in philosophical jargon,
quasi-mathematical symbols, and over-philosophized argument etc....
And the "few paragraphs that make some sense" he has seen better
explained elsewhere.

There are indeed some problem in penetrating the style of Bhaskar.
But with some effort this is not quite as difficult as it first
appears, and in no way would I personally be willing to say that
Bhaskar is our in house James Joyce; the *Dialectic* being his
*Finnegans Wake*.

I am unsure how just how valuable Bhaskar contribution is at this
point, but he must be taken much more serious then Dumain's review
would indicate.

First, I think it is a mistake to use Bhaskar as a reference to the
Hegel-Marx debate, as Dumain and Keen seem to suggest they do.
Bhaskar indeed has some insights in this debate, but this is NOT the
thrust of his argument.  If this is the argument one hopes to excerpt
from the book I too would suspect one will be faced with frustration.
Moreover, instead of trying to penetrate this work for these insights,
one would be better adviced to perhaps, instead of waiting for Keen's
post, to turn to where Bhaksar has already condensed these arguments
for us, in 1) dialectic, materialism, and idealism references in
Bottomore (ed.) Marxist Dictionary... 2) *Plato etc.* (I believe
chapter 6).

Bhaskar as Fellini has suggested in past posts is attempting to save
dialectics from Hegelian and Marxian interpreations, by attempting to
approach a *real* defination of dialectic.  This is quite a
project!  I, like seemingly Dumain, am not sure how successful
Bhaskar project is, but it deserves it due.

Second, the project includes explicating ontological dialectics
which are only implicit in Marx, and perhaps confussed in Hegel, and
maybe misplaced in Engels and Lukcas, while at the same time
attempting to construct such ontological dialectics (for example Hegel
and Engles) to be in phase with, not only epistemological dialectics
(for example Marx and Hegel), but relational dialectics (for example
Lukcas).

Third, Marx himself is not clear with what basis he has for using
epistemological dialectics, one must return to Hegel (see Tony Smith
*Marx's Logic of Capital*), which is itself very problematic, or
return to Kant (Colletti Marxism and Hegel), which seems to confuse
the matter even further.  Personally I reject Colletti's argument, and
find that Smith's argument, with its ground in the non-Metaphysical
interpretation of Hegel, though capable of offering better
ontological grounds, remains rooted in first (seemingly) Hegel's
external teleology, and second some sort of dialectics of nature,
which appear to be implicitly out of phase with both Hegel and Engles.

And forth an example:  Bhaskar's dialectic is not the same as Hegel's
(or Marx's) nor does one have to be Hegelian to think dialectically.
Bhaskar's dialectic begins from absences, which he argues is the
hidden propeler behind the Hegelian and Marxian dialectic.  This in
itself seems to be a very valuable insight and step forward in my
view.

Bhaskar is arguing that to approach a useful meaning of the dialectic
one must use a meta-language, this is the first problem wading
through his work.  Second, because Bhaskar is attempting to leap
forward, oppossed to remaining in the same over-anaylized issues, he
briefly (and perhaps too briefly) describes the philosoical
historical issues in a language and from point of view which can be
more easily transformed into direction he would like to take the
problems while approaching their resolution, i.e., Dialectical
Critical (transcendental) Realism.

Perhaps Bhaksar assumes, or doesn't care if, his reader is
fully fimilar with the philosophical issue at hand.  This means many
references in order to penetrate his writing and project.  Like
anyone, this is a problem for myself.  But, unlike Dumain I am
unwilling to write Bhaskar's project off so soon.  He has already
provided the philosophy of science for the (otherwise
confussed Althusserian, Feuerbachian, Engelsian, materialist, "anti"-
idealist) Marxian scientific project in *A Realist Theory of Science*
and *Possibility of Naturalism*, he has offered the ethical corollary
to these in *Scienticfic Realism and Human Emancipation*, *Philosophy
and the Idea of Freedom*.  Now he is attempting to tackle the
philosophical problems that have plauged the westeren tradition in
*Philosophy and the Eclipse of Reason: Towards a Metacritique of the
Philosophical Tradition*, *Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom*, and
*Plato Etcetera: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution*.

I don't think we can condemn his dialectic until we have an
understanding of first, his project toward science; second, his
project toward ethics and human emancipation; and third, the
philosophical issues he is attempting to resolve.

I don't know how successful he as been to this point, but I do
believe him to be our best hope.  The very least he is due is to be
taken serious!

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




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