File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9810, message 84

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 12:47:47 +0100
Subject: Re: BHA: Bhaskar's theory of truth

Hi Howie
I think your questions point in the direction of arriving at a more
comprehensive understanding of Bhaskar's theory of truth - for what it
is worth (no-one is suggesting it is absolutely true or infallible etc!)
But if, as I think, it's the best we have, the best way forward is via
an immanent critique of it (Bhaskar's own approach, which he borrowed
from Hegel) rather than a more piecemeal approach. The TMSA applies at
the level of theory too - we work on and with existing theories in an
effort to transform them into something more adequate (the production of
knowledge by means of knowledge...)

A few comments, and then I'm afraid I must bow out of the discussion for
at least a few weeks, as I have lot on my plate (doubtless like
everybody else).

Howie Chodos <> writes
>(1) RB writes on p. 215: " In respect of the familiar distinction between
>meaning and criteria of truth, although the latter must be (a)
>universalizable in *form*, (b) their *contents* may well be as *variable*
>as the contexts in which truth claims are made." My question here is what
>does it mean for the form of the criteria of truth to be universalizable? 
I think the next sentence indicates this: 'Thus in particle physics
*repeatable* registration of tracks on a monitor brings out both these
aspects.' (my emphasis) The criteria of truth are here universalizable
in the sense that the experiment must in principle be capable of
indefinite repetition.
>Moreover, as I suggested in an earlier post, doesn't RB himself imply that
>there are limits to the extent to which any aspect of any theory of truth
>can be universalized when he writes on the same page (as previously quoted
>by Mervyn) that: "it has to be recognized that there is an inherent TD/ID
>bipolarity or ambivalence in concepts like 'facts' and 'truth', which
>cannot be completely gainsaid in an adequate truth theory." 
This, as I understand it, enlarges rather than limits universalizability
to encompass both dimensions.

>(2) It is unclear to me what the status of the four components of the truth
>tetrapolity is. Does each successive component represent a 'step' towards
>an ever fuller truth, or do they represent different 'kinds' of truth? The
>distinction seems to me to be an important one. If they are seen as steps,
>or as representing ever-greater degrees of truth as one approaches alethic
>truth, then a case could be made that RB is trying to work out a universal
>account of truth. If, on the contrary, they represent different 'kinds' of
>truth, then there would be no necessary relationship between the components
>of the tetrapolity and we would have an irreducibly pluralistic account of
>truth. The problem, it seems to me, is that such a plural notion of truth
>would seem to be in considerable tension with the claims that are
>repeatedly made for alethia in DPF.
>In fact RB seems to indicate that it is the former interpretation that he
>favours. Thus, in commenting on the truth tetrapolity he writes: that "we
>go from *subjective certainty* -> *intersubjective facthood* -> *alethic
>truth*" ( p. 218, all emphases his) and that the four components "may also
>be regarded as expressing degrees of groundedness" (ibid.). 
I think this is correct. See my other posts.

>For me this
>raises the question, again, of whether he is now claiming to have gainsaid
>the inherent TD/ID bipolarity or ambivalence in concepts like 'facts' and
On the contrary, for me. Truth, depending on its degree of groundedness,
pertains both to the TD and the ID and is in that sense bipolar.

>(3) I think that the cluster of issues that relate to the bridging of these
>various gaps is the key debate. 

>Bhaskar claims that it is totality that
>"will resolve the traditional problem of opposites", i.e. "subjectivity and
>objectivity, epistemology and ontology, language and the world, the
>intrinsic and the extrinsic, or its close correlate, reasons and causes"
>(p. 271). He tells us that at the expressive-referential level of truth we
>are still caught inside language, but by a process of transcendental
>detachment "we see that it is a condition of the possibility of our
>premisses--the unity of world and language linguistically articulated--that
>being is quite independent of our articulation, knowledge of this accord,
>and even of our existence." (ibid.)
>I have two concerns here. First, how does reference to totality take us any
>further than simply postulating the existence of a world out there, of
>which we are a part, that is independent of our knowledge of it, but about
>which we can acquire knowledge? Why do we need to talk in terms of "the
>constellational unity of the unity of subject and object (or being and
>language) within subjectivity (language) within objectivity (being)"? (p.
Because it is so, and 'this objectivity is knowable, both
philosophically and scientifically, at the level of alethic truth' (272)
Otherwise, as discourse theorists, e.g., imply but do not practice, we
are confined within subjectivity (language), the referent (objectivity,
the intransitive dimension) having been elided - knowledge of it is both
necessary and impossible, and we need erasure.

>And whence "the urge of totality to break down the philosophy/science
>divide, as that between science and everyday life"?
I take this to mean that the distinctions aren't absolute, they are
distinctions within a unity which 'bridges', encompasses or over-reaches
them. There are real differences between philosophy and science, and
between science and everyday life, but each are incapable of self-
sufficiency and independence, properties which can only be attributed to
the whole (totality) into which they enter - as we discover in our
totalizing depth praxis, etc. (The moments of the truth tetrapolity, as
I understand it, also constitute a unity in this sense.)
>Second, I am not sure what to make of the following excerpt which is part
>of the same section on totality:
>"Totality is the mainspring too in the logic of dialectical
>universalizability that we have already seen at work... It is the fount of
>the totalizing depth praxis in the axiology of freedom, a praxis which just
>expresses the reality of social relations and global intradependence. It is
>totality that inspires hope, but it is equally behind the superveillance
>techniques that Foucault has described. It is the drive for totality that
>begins discursive argumentation, inspires participatory democracy, the
>Habermasian 'public sphere', but it is also at the root of colonialism,
>neo-colonialism, capitalist accumulation and empire-building generally.
>There is a methodological lesson here: dialectical arguments and figures
>are neither good nor bad in themselves--they are necessary or possible,
>and, when the latter, they leave the field of phenomena underdetermined.
>That is to say, our totality, unlike Hegel's, is open both synchronically
>(systemically) and diachronically (to the tensed spatializing causal
>processes of the future)." 
>On the one hand, I find the openness that RB champions here to be salutary,
>but it is clearly achieved at the expense of any determinate content.
>Totality inspires both participatory democracy and empire-building. How,
>then, does a single concept both "resolve the traditional problem of
>opposites" and inspire the full range of human behaviours, both enslaving
>and emancipatory?
>My suspicion is that Bhaskar is pulled in two contradictory directions,
>that can never be entirely merged. He wants his dialectic to resolve the
>problems of philosophy and also to be the pulse of freedom. 
There are many dialectics. The problems of philosophy, as I understand
it, are resolved largely via the arguments for a stratified ontology.
The dialectic of desire to freedom, while related in that it is
dependent on a stratified ontology, is another matter and certainly
doesn't have any predetermined outcome ('good' or 'bad') - this depends
on us!

>It strikes me
>that he is thereby periodically led to overstep illicitly the boundaries of
>"mere underlabourer to the sciences" and to impart a definite content to
>his enterprise. My own sense is that this content rightly belongs to the
>sciences and/or to human practice, not to philosophy.
You don't go on to document this claim. He sometimes (not often enough?)
uses concrete examples to illustrate what he is saying, but philosophy
specifies the general shape of ontology rather than any specific content
- the latter task being repeatedly assigned to the sciences. Thus while
the necessary existence in the human world of a dialectic of desire to
freedom is specified, its actual outcome is not, nor could it be. True
this is a dialectic of content (freedom via desire, knowledge, wisdom
etc), but it doesn't specify any actual, empirical content in history.
>For example, I wonder how to square the following two passages. He writes
>(p. 261-2):
>"Now the subject-matter of social science is composed not just by social
>objects but by beliefs about social objects, and if such beliefs are false
>(a judgement which is within the remit of social science), and one can
>*explain* the *falsity*, then, subject to a ceteris paribus clause, in
>virtue of the openness of the social world and the multiplicity of
>determinations therein, one can move without further ado to a negative
>evaluation of the explanans and a positive evaluation of any action
>rationally designed to absent it. This is the heart of the missing
>transcendental deduction of facts from values. It turns on discovering the
>*alethic truth of falsity*..."
>And (p. 280):
>"Because we are inhabitants of a dialectical pluriverse, characterized by
>complex, plural, contradictory, differentiated, disjoint but also
>coalescing and condensing development and antagonistic struggles over
>discursively moralized power[2] relations, subject to regression, entropy
>and roll-back, we cannot expect the *dialectic of real geo-historical
>processes*, from which the logic of totality, i.e. of dialectical
>universalizability, starts and to which it always returns, to be anything
>but a messy affair. This logic is a spatiotemporally, multiply and unevenly
>distanciated developmental process, in which so long as dialectical
>universalizability is not seen as a *transfactual, processually oriented,
>concretized, transformatively directional norm, subject to the constraint
>of actionability* in a world in which agents act on their perceived
>interests (including their perceptions of the interests of others), it is
>often going to seem to be falsified. But norms, although they can be
>broached and discarded, cannot be falsified by the irrationality of actual
>geo-history. They can be falsified, but only by the provision of a better,
>nobler, norm more fitting to the needs and propensities of developing
>four-planar socialized humanity. Pluralism, diversity, is intrinsic to the
>logic of totality, but as we are dealing with a dialectic encompassing
>immanent critique in counter-hegemonic struggle, inconsistency too must be
>conceded a value in its own right. It is a dialectic, not an analytic, of
>dialectical universalizability that I am about."
>While I think I agree with much of what he says in this second passage I am
>left wondering two things. What happens to alethia in the second passage
The alethia of a developmental process is going to be exceedingly
complex. There is nothing in the concept of alethia that says it must be
simple, though simple, clear examples may be given from time to time to
illustrate it.

>and is there very much that is new here, 
>especially given the extravagant
>claims that are repeatedly made for DCR? 
Doesn't the word 'extravagant' presume what is to be proved? Large
claims are repeatedly made, but that is different.

>In the end, is he telling us
>anything more than that we can expect rational, autonomous, self-interested
>individuals to strive for freedom, although never under conditions of their
>own choosing, that part of this struggle involves articulating a vision of
>the future that challenges prevailing norms, and that freedom is a highly
>contested notion? If not, I agree with him wholeheartedly. 
>But in that case
>I fail to see how totality resolves the question of opposites. 
I think he is telling us much more. For example, the dialectic of desire
to freedom must have been operative at the dawn of human history when
'self-interested individuals' in your sense arguably didn't exist. It
encompasses a very broad conception of the dialectic of freedom
involving the absenting of constraints/ills which sets up a drive to
increase human knowledge and their powers to absent constraints, etc
etc. I.e., if you like, there's an overall theory of history implicit in
it (better perhaps, philosophy of history).

>One final remark. In the first passage I just cited, RB argues that once
>one has explained the falsity "one can move without further ado to a
>negative evaluation of the explanans and a positive evaluation of any
>action rationally designed to absent it".  It does not seem to me that this
>gives us any greater certainty that our actions will, in fact, absent the
>identified cause. 
I don't think it is intended to do that, rather to show that a
transition from facts to values, theory to practice can validly be made.
It can't unfortunately guarantee that the outcome of any action taken to
abolish causal structures will have the desired result: the problem of
unintended consequences will always be with us, especially given the
complexity, plurality etc of the world which DCR emphasizes.

>The Bolsheviks, and a very large number of people
>worldwide, were convinced that the October Revolution absented oppressive
>social relations. We now know better, 
They arguably succeeded very well in absenting several basic sets of
oppressive relations, but the largely unintended consequence was that
they replaced them with another. There is nothing in Bhaskar's argument
which entails that a liberatory outcome is guaranteed - that is why he
says 'rationally' in the quote above and elsewhere often invokes a
ceteribis paribus clause to the effect that, before engaging in
transformative action, you must be able to show that a worse outcome is
not likely.

>and will require an explanation of
>where they went wrong if ever another attempt to replace capitalism is to
>become feasible. 
Again, arguably we have such an explanation. An immense scholarly
literature has certainly been devoted to finding it!

>My question is simply what do we gain by calling that new
>explanation alethic? Or, alternately, would it have mattered if Lenin had
>called his reading of Marx the alethic truth about capitalism (or that
>Mervyn understands the alethia of the wage-form to be the "generalized
>production for the market on the basis of private ownership of the means of
A good question. I think the oppressed at any rate, ie the slaves as
distinct from the masters (the great majority of us!), have this to
gain, as they struggle to change the structures that oppress them: they
can know as they face the overwhelming power of the masters that their
views concerning what it is that oppresses them, if adequately grounded,
are not just their point of view or so many propositions, but the
alethic truth of the situation. Which brings us full circle back to
Heikki's ojections re allegedly dichotomous or either/or thinking and
the encouragement of violence. I don't want to rehearse the arguments
here except to stress that a) whether a theory may have undesirable
consequences does not in itself address the issue of whether the theory
is true; b) the claims of the oppressed to know the truth are still
fallible; c) the alethic truth of social situations is very complex
(entailed by DCR); and d) the alethic truth of most social situations is
probably that any attempt at violent transformation would be suicidal -
ie the ceteris paribus clause needs to be invoked.
Mervyn Hartwig

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