Bhaskar's Dialectic (was Re: Bad writing)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Dec 6 11:12:00 MST 1999

Hi Charles:
>>>> Gary MacLennan <g.maclennan at> 12/05/99 10:03PM >>>
>As always, Lou provokes me into thought.  My favorite philosopher is Roy
>Bhaskar.  Indeed I consider myself to be intellectually enormously indebted
>to him.  Yet Bhaskar is not an easy read.  The Bhaskar list periodically
>erupts with complaints about his prose style.
>Mandarin would appear to be an apt description at one level.  But Bhaskar
>is a libertarian socialist and deeply committed to spreading the
>word.  However he has written that he wants to avoid the trap of trying to
>use old words to express new thoughts. For example he has coined the phrase
>'ontological monovalence'. He uses this to describe the tradition
>established by Parmenides which has it that only the positive is real. Now
>other philosophical traditions, such as Buddhism, have a concept of reality
>consisting of nothingness as well as being.  Heidegger too wrote about
>nothingness being a positive.  And of course there were many mystics who
>define God as Nothing. But it is only Bhaskar who has attempted to evolve a
>contemporary theory of absence into a new dialectic, and to do this he has
>really had to signal the novelty of his thoughts by using novel language.
>Charles: Is this nothingness really a new idea ?  Isn't the negation of
>the negation  ( radical negativity) a pretty positive negative? and not
>new to Marxists. Then look at all the other expressions of it. What is new
>about Bhaskar's conception?

Unlike Hegel, Bhaskar doesn't posit the "fullness" (i.e. "presence") at the
origin that would undergo dialectical negation.  The importance of this
reconceptualization becomes clear when one considers concepts such as
"human nature."  To posit the full presence of "human nature" at the origin
denies the *contingent* history of human beings.  In other words, the
history of "the development of humanity" is *not* to be thought of as
already contained in the original presence, merely waiting to unfold.
Bhaskar's clarification of dialectic (which I argue is implicit in the
later writings by Marx) is indebted to Adorno and Althusser.  It should
help to *despiritualize* dialectic, I think (here I'm arguing against not
only Gary's interpretation of Bhaskar but Bhaskar's recent philosophical
direction itself as I see it).


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