File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1999/bhaskar.9911, message 12

Date: Wed, 10 Nov 1999 11:53:01 GMT
Subject: Re: BHA: Transcendental argument

Dear all, 

I wonder if a few things are not being confused here, which reading
some of *Dialectic* or *Plato* might help with. In those works
Bhaskar's moves away from making transcendental deductions from
science to making them from all activities. One distinction might be
usefully held onto, that between the transcendental deduction of
categorical necessities, on the one hand, and transcendental
arguments premised on such necessities, on the other. As I read the
discussion to date it is not clear where people find the problems to
be. For some the problems are with the first of these, the
transcendental deduction of ontological categories, for others they
are with the claim that that they are necessary categories, for yet
others the problems are with conceptions reached through
transcendental (and indeed dialectical) arguments. For yet others it 
is the reliance of any of these kinds of arguments on the success of 
specific accounts of things. 

I would like to suggest that RB's work is best seen as exemplifying
immanent critique (of a transformative, non-sublative kind) which
operates at the level of greatest generality and while it is not
uneffected by the actual results of any investigation at more
concerete levels of investigations it is not wholly dependent on
their cognitive success. Rather the processes of intectual
development are mutually interdependent in which ways which are
possibly mutually supportive. 

In the later works RB argues that any activity whatsoever can be
the starting point of the process of deduction that leads to the four
central categories of DCR: absence, stratification, totality and
agency. There is not just one account of this but a great many
scattered throughout *Dialectic*. 

For instance, one argument to 'stratification' (which can be a
slightly misleading term as the kind of depth referred to by this
metaphor need not be strictly spatial) is that any utterance at all
presupposes the possibility of referentially detaching from the
utterance so that it becomes the object of discussion, i.e.were I to
speak this sentence it could be spoken about by myself as the sentence
I uttered. This kind of detachment leads straight away to the
distinction between a transitive and intransitive dimension. The
sentence as detached is intransitive - no amount of what is
subsequently said will change what was said. The subsequent
discussion of what was meant, rather than what was said, concerns
conceptual clarification - all of which is in the transitive
dimension. In order to be able discuss how the meaning of an
utterance can be subject to deliberation, then, we *need* the
categories of transitivity and intransitivity. This is what is meant
by stratification here. The world *must* be thought of in terms of
these distinctions if it is to be thought of coherently. 

It is a short step from this to the other categories. RB invokes 
absence,  as the absence of identity, to speak of the non-identity of 
the two dimensions in ontology. I.e. stratification entails the 
absence of identity. Similarly, the necessary connections between 
such distinctions gives us totality. Finally, the fact that we are 
having this discussion at all gives us agency - activity, conceptual 
labour, in the transitivity dimension, which needs to be conceived in 
the light of the other categories, e.g. absenting of errors.

Transcendental arguments are made on the basis of these categories
to generate concepts such as rhythmics (spatio-temporal-causal
structured processes) and the social cube. i.e. concepts of what the
world must be like. These arguments are all driven by immanent
critiques of existing accounts of what the world, implicitly or
explicitly, must be like. Such existing account are always 
hypothetical and subject to revisions. 

Take the case of the conception that reality must contain
non-empirical realities. This is not immediately entailed by the
transitive/intransitive distinction which, as given above, does not
lead directly to the conclusions that there must be non-empirical
and non-conceptual realities. It only entails that reality cannot be
identified with either (so some combination of the two would not be
ruled out straight away). However, a great deal of RB's ire is
directed towards empirical and conceptual realisms. What he shows is
that these forms of realism are also irrealisms, and the kinds of
explanations they seek to support are unsustainable.This is done, in
part,  by showing that both forms of irrealism are inconsistent with
the transitive/intranstive distinction - they both necessarily
collapse the distinction and lead to a host of other errors. RB,
successfully in my view, shows that no object is reducible to its
empirical being and that there must be something more than the empirical.
This is simply done by showing that empirical qualities cannot
explain the full range of properties an object has. One possibility
is that what is more than the empirical is the conceptual, but RB also
shows that no object is reducible to conceptions of it and that no
object is reducible to both the empirical and conceptual. The facts
of conceptual change are enough to show this, i.e. by invoking the 
transitive/intranstive distinction. 

The way out of the aporiai these irrealisms generate is with the
conception of realities which are both non-empirical and
non-conceptual. That is to say, insisting on the irreducibility of
reality to the empirical and/or conceptual is a successful strategy
- it opens up the conceptual space within which the account of
properties of objects can be investigated and provides the space
within which the objects of conceptions of things can exist. To
illustrate this thesis at a more concrete level would mean taking
some results of the sciences as a success and showing that it was
conceptually and practically coherent. However, if one interprets
experimental 'success' to be no more than the production of certain
empirical results, i.e. just making a certain event occur to
illustrate that some object has a non-empirically reducible
property, one cannot make it intelligible in irrealist terms -
regardless of what theory might be used to explain it. (Indeed, much
of the most interesting of twentieth century philosophy has been
devoted to just this kind of internal criticism, e.g. Wittgenstein,
Quine. What RB does is show that they would have to go further to be
successful.) This does not mean that any substantive theory which
presupposes stratification is necessarily correct, merely that the
presupposition of a stratified reality (now in the DCR sense of
non-empirical/conceptual 'depth') does not generate the kinds of
aporiai that its absence does. Science (natural and social), on this
account is intelligible as practical activity - the co-determination
of events - and as an intellectual activity whose objects are (partly
or entirely) non-empirical. 

Intelligibility here must and can only mean intelligible at this
level of generality. All of RB's concepts are attempts to secure
rational generalisations about things. His work does assume that it
is possible to be right about things at any level of generality and
it takes to task the available arguments that write off this
possibility.  However, the inherent fallibility of conceptual
innovations does mean that these transcendental categories, and
subsequent arguments, might be subject to future revision. This will
mean that they will have to subject to immanent critique themselves,
which would reveal their internal inconsistencies, if any - or else
some other mode of intellectual criticism will be have to be used.
This does suggest that the concept of conceptual necessities must
recognise that such necessities are relative to existing concepts.
RB's clarification of local necessities might be shown, under future
conditions,  to lack yet further necessities which will in turn lead
to further conceptual transformations. Who knows? but the direction
of future inquiry has been clearly pointed out! 

Nick Hostettler.

Nick Hostettler,
Department of Political Studies,
SOAS (University of London),
Thornaugh Street,
Russell Square,
London WC1H 0XG

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