Bhaskar’s "Plato Etc."

So on the way back from Amsterdam I decided to read Bhaskar’s “Plato Etc.” because compelling issues around the philosophy of science came up around the “Nature Inc.” conference (Should we oppose science and advocate for situated, sensory-based knowledge because with increasing inequality the institutions that are needed to widen science’s social networks of goal-setting and accountability are being killed off, and therefore science is only operating as a handmaiden of concentrated power?), and because there were only two Bhaskar books in the Amsterdam bookstore I was loafing around in. My decision emerged from balancing attempting to figure out where the bathroom was (They wouldn’t even let me pee in their bathroom after buying a $40 softcover book.), and reasoning that if I was going to review the philosophy of science, I’m not going to waste time with anti-Marxist junk at this point when there’s perfectly good consanguine work out there. I’m just using philosophy to keep my sociology and ethics reasonable.

“Plato Etc.” is a nice overview of philosophy from Bhaskar’s “dialectical critical realist” perspective (realist = things exist). Bhaskar usually writes much more comprehensibly than say, for example, his expert introducer, and the chapters are sincerely things you (by which I mean “I”) want to review. For example, 1) an overview of the self-imposed “paradox” problems of the Western philosophic tradition, related to 2) the “Actualist” preoccupation permeating and crippling the Western philosophy of science, as well as chapters on 3) reference, truth, meaning and the linguistic turn, 4) causality & change, 5) social agency, 6) dialectic, 7) living well, freedom, ethics, and economics, 8) dialectical critical realism (Bhaskar’s thing), and an appendix on philosophies as social ideologies.

Chapter 2 summary: The upshot comes on p. 26. Bhaskar explains that acknowledging referential detachment (a world outside our mind) characterized by ontological stratification (assessed systematically in scientific modeling) distinguishes alethic truth from truth propositions. He’s saying science does something unique, more realistic, and structurally opposed to tradition and authority, compared to forwarding truth propositions backed by belief; understanding that a deeper level of relations exist–and what those are like, science (like everyday practical activity) assumes we act on something outside ourselves, which we can do.

For Bhaskar, scientific ontological depth or ontological stratification (a truth claim on a thing/relationship based on its subsumption within a larger model of causation that has been shown to be falsifiable) allows us to sustain the transfactuality of laws in a complex world, to infer tendencies in extra-experimental contexts. Ontological stratification thus solves the Humean problem of induction (things and relations change).

So you can see Bhaskar’s dialectical critical realism is building to support the historical materialist philosophy that Marx extended from the Hegelian and Greek materialist traditions. Suffice it to say, Marx’s approach was a methodological adaptation to accommodate and take advantage of ontological depth for improved truth claims within the constraints of reflexive social relations. Marx’s historical comparison method involves a) comparison of multiple known instances of a phenomenon (“moments”) to distill transhistorical abstractions, which are then b) compared to an historical “moment” (instance, phenomenon, relation), in order to most truthfully assess what is distinctive about the historical relation under investigation. (For a discussion of this Marxist method, see Fracchia, Joseph. 2004. “Transhistorical Abstractions and the Intersection of Historical Theory and Social Critique.” Historical Materialism 12 (3): 125-146).)

Hopefully, I’ll report back in as I work my way through the Bhaskar’s argument. And I’ll try to add term clarifications. I’m running out of battery juice in the airport, though. For now, I leave with a Bhaskar  quote perhaps pertaining to claims that oppose science to situated, sensory-based knowledges:

“The inductive limb will encourage emphasis on common sense, experience and particulars and tend to reductionism and materialism, and the deductive limb will encourage emphasis on metaphysics, reason and universals and tend to dualism and idealism.” (35)

This quote shows that Bhaskar finds a “primal squeeze” (squeezing out other understandings) along the Platonic/Aristotelian fault line, which I think is about Western thinking about truth, being and knowing having gotten stuck in the realm of the “actual”, where the domain of the real (what exists in the universe over time) is larger than the domain of the actual (what exists in the universe at this moment) is larger than the domain of the empirical (what we find existing in our world) (23).

Reasserting ontology:

Bhaskar locates the erasure of ontology in the Western philosophical tradition originating with Kant. Kant conflated transcendental arguments (such as are based in empirical comparison and used in conjunction with historical instances in Marx’s comparative method) and transcendental idealism, giving rise to the Western rejection of ontology in favor of epistemology–or more accurately, creating a split between practical everyday behavior and physical sciences on the one hand (implicitly accepting ontology) and the humanities and social sciences on the other (retreating to epistemology).

The first step in revindicating ontology is to appreciate that (a) philosophical ontology need not be dogmatic and transcendent, but may be conditional and immanent, taking as its subject matter not a world apart from that investigated by the sciences and other disciplines (a Platonic or Leibnizian noumenal realm), but just that world considered from the point of view of what can be established about it from conditional a priori or transcendental argument” (Bhaskar 2010 (1994): 47).

Contrasting theoretical note on Lacan’s social-psych view that individual sexuality emerges from intermittent clashes between a social epistemology and the ontological:

In Lacan’s model, self-alienation (mirror stage) is essential to human psychology, and is the source of idealism, libidinal dynamism, sociality, and language.

Humans are so reliant on linguistic and social versions of ‘reality’ that the eruption of materiality (of the real) into our lives is radically disruptive. And yet, the real is the rock against which all of our artificial linguistic and social structures necessarily fail. This tension between the real and our social laws, meanings, conventions, desires, etc. determines our psychosexual lives.

MF survey and categorize: 


Under what social conditions would we expect the rise of refusal to acknowledge and use human capacities to feel the real, the radically-disruptive, the ontological realms beyond social versions of reality? 


Or, perhaps a much easier task, under what rare social conditions would we expect the rise of acknowledgement and use of human capacities to feel the real, the radically-disruptive, the ontological realms beyond social versions of reality?

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