Book notice - Creaven, Marxism and Realism

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Thu Jan 4 04:29:15 MST 2001

Thanks to Mervyn Hartwig for posting a review of Sean Creaven's
_Marxism and Realism_.  I'll be requesting that the OSU libraries
purchase a copy.  Now, the question of quantum mechanics, realism, &

>Some Comments on the Book's Core Theses
>1) 'The philosophical ontology of critical realism ('depth realism') is
>in fact a form of ontological materialism which is broadly consistent
>with Engels' dialectical materialism.'
>As Listers will know from my other posts, I do not think that
>philosophical or ontological realism is equatable with philosophical or
>ontological materialism, which is rather a species of realism. Like it
>or not, one can be a realist about God as well as a realist about
>ultimate materiality, or a realist idealist rather than a realist
>Bhaskar defines ontological materialism as the doctrine which 'asserts
>the unilateral dependence of social upon biological (and thence
>physical) being and the emergence of the former from the latter' (*Plato
>Etc.* , p. 101). (This is broadly similar to a definition given by
>Creaven at pp. 19, 29). Here 'physical' carries the connotation of
>exclusive materiality - at bottom reality is 'matter'; such materialism
>is therefore atheist. Ontological idealism (of the emergentist or
>stratified kind advocated by the later Bhaskar) in my view goes along
>with the same definition but holds that the 'physical' is ultimately
>'ideal' (or 'consciousness' or 'information', as in the position of Bohm
>on quantum phenomena in the paper posted by Sid). Thus we have
>materialist realism and idealist realism. Epistemological or
>transcendental realism does not and cannot in my view adjudicate between
>the two. It can specify that social life necessarily possesses a
>material substrate, etc, but not that Being as such is ultimately
>'material'. Nor do I think, as Listers will know, that science can
>adjudicate; either would seem to be heuristically acceptable from a
>scientific point of view. Even if it could 'reach' ultimate reality and
>determine whether it is 'material' or 'ideal', science could never -know
>that it had 'arrived'. (Here the paper on Bohm is again instructive.
>Both Bohm and Einstein were realists. Einstein was a Marxist and so
>presumably a materialist realist. But, by a nice irony, in defending
>Einstein's position, Bohm ended up in the camp of idealist realism or
>objective idealism.) She who takes her stand with science will therefore
>keep an open mind and be agnostic concerning the ultimate nature of

In my view, nothing in quantum mechanics contradicts "the unilateral
dependence of social upon biological (and thence physical) being and
the emergence of the former from the latter" (*Plato Etc.* , p. 101),
since quantum mechanics in no way disproves the fact of evolution.

What is interesting about what may be called the philosophical
trajectory of the Copenhagen Interpretation (Heisenberg's Uncertainty
Principle, aka the Indeterminacy Principle; & Bohr's Principle of
Complementarity) is that an originally positivist idea that it is
meaningless to discuss the existence of something which cannot be
measured (position and velocity, within certain limits) has become
philosophically twisted into an idea that the observer somehow
creates reality by the act of observation.  However, neither the
uncertainty principle nor the principle of complementarity amounts to
an assertion that the observing physicist, the observed phenomena, &
the experimental apparatus that makes studies of quantum mechanics
possible are ontologically independent of the physical & biological

>Creaven is by contrast a militant atheist. He seems to think that
>science is somehow intrinsically materialist, and that its results
>'prove' atheism, and 'disprove' theism:
>'For it is the practical refutation of idealism during the history of
>scientific advance and investigation (in the sense that God has been
>shown to be superfluous to a rational and empirically testable knowledge
>of all [sic] processes or laws) which has forced its allegiants to make
>their appeal to a 'final instance' of undetermined creation beyond
>current knowledge and therefore outside the reach of rational criticism.
>Now, one should always be suspicious of 'final instances' which base
>their authority not on firm scientific knowledge (albeit provisional and
>incomplete) but on its uncertainty or even absence. The possibility that
>physical scientists may never develop a satisfactory theory of the
>'origins' of the universe should not be allowed to give comfort to those
>idealists whose own belief in a spiritualist 'first cause' of nature is
>entirely speculative and intuitive.' (p. 17)
>This is sheer scientism and dogmatism. On Creaven's own admission
>(scientific knowledge is incomplete...) a thoroughgoing materialism is
>just as 'speculative and intuitive' as idealism; one could equally well
>say that the limits of science should not be allowed to give comfort to
>dogmatic materialists. To argue that God has been 'shown' to be
>superfluous to scientific knowledge thus far is of no avail, because the
>idealist can always respond that the processes revealed by science just
>are God (that nature itself is at bottom God) and that in any case there
>can be no guarantee that scientific knowledge will dispense with God
>tomorrow (the problem of induction).

An assertion that "the processes revealed by science just are God
(that nature itself is at bottom God)" reveals itself to be
superfluous to science.  What can explain everything -- like God --
explains nothing, hence making _no difference_ in the production of
scientific facts & theories.  The problem of induction is irrelevant
since the superfluity of Providence in scientific explanations is not
an empiricist conclusion but a conclusion based upon the nature of
scientific explanations.


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