Exchanges on Marxism and ecology

James Farmelant farmelantj at
Fri Oct 22 09:11:55 MDT 1999

On Fri, 22 Oct 1999 09:51:20 -0400 "Charles Brown"
<CharlesB at> writes:
>Yes , Bhaskar has been associated with developing a position called
>Critical Realism. I just noticed that one of the positions Lenin
>polemicized against in _Materialism and Empirio-criticism_ was called
>"critical realism". Someone named Yushkevich wrote _ Materialism and
>Critical Realism_.

There was in American and British philosophy a school of critical
realists which included such figures as R.W. Sellars, George
Santayana, Dawes Hicks amongst others.  Like other realists
they insisted on the reality of an external world which exists
regardless of whether anybody perceives it or not. Unlike
other realists they contended that we ever directly perceive
objects in the external world but only their appearances
or sense-data from which we infer their existence.  In this
regard their view was not unlike that of the idealists who
had dominated anglophone philosophy up to them but
they held that there were actual objects behind the
appearances.  Critical realism thus represented an
attempted at synthesizing the insights of naive realism
with idealism.  This was probably the school that Lenin
had in mind.

Bhaskar's critical realism is like this earlier school in that
he insists that our perceptions of the world are never
direct but are always mediated.  Whereas for the earlier
critical realists this mediation was via sense-data or the
like for Bhaskar this mediation is always a social process.
Our perceptions of the world are for Bhaskar always
mediated through the ideas which we acquire from the
societies in which we live.  This thesis is closely linked
to Bhaskar's thesis that reality stratified, that is the
real world consists of different layers or strata which
we can penetrate as our scientific understanding of it
becomes more and more comprehensive.  This implies
that there necessarily exists a distinction between
essence and appearance.  The job of science is to
penetrate appearances to reach the underlying
essences which may in themselves not be accessible
to empirical observation.

These theses ground Bhaskar's notion of critique.
The correct understanding of reality requires that
we become critical of currently existing social reality
because the epistemologies, philosophical theses
etc. that mediate our perception of reality are generated
are reflections of the society in which they are generated
and sustained but which may very well be confused
and misleading.  Therefore, a critique of these misleading
or distorted ideas must lead us into a critique of the
society which fosters these ideas as a necessary part
of its functioning.

Therefore, while the older school of critical realism sought
to resolve the contradictions between traditional or naive
realism and idealism, Bhaskar's critical realism seeks
to synthesize the insights of realism and of an epistemological
relativism which portrays scientific knowlege as a cultural
product.  This latter view has been widely promulgated by
the pomos.  Bhaskar agrees with them but he also insists
that science does give us knowledge about objectively
given real worlds as well.

Concerning Bhaskar's writings, I find most of his books to
be impenetrable but *The Dictionary of Marxist Thought*
ed. by Tom Bottomore et al. has a number of articles by
Bhaskar on philosophical topics relating to Marxism which
are quite lucid.  The Autumn issue of The Philosophers'
Magazine has an interview with Bhaskar as part of a symposium
on contemporary realism. (Also see their web site at: ).

Jim Farmelant

>>>> Gary MacLennan <g.maclennan at> 10/22/99 12:35AM >>>
>Roy Bhaskar has a lot to say that is relevant here, especially in
>_Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom_ and _Plato Etc_. He also has a very
>essay on Marxist Philosophy - in a book the name of which escapes me
>present. It would certainly be wroth a discussion corner on this list.
>Bhaskar is currently  I believe working on a fuller treatment of Marx

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