File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2001/bhaskar.0106, message 29

Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 10:53:46 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: BHA: Bhaskar, Marx and self-consciousness

Hi all,

First of all, I wanted to agree with Mervyn (and maybe go further): there
can be no doubt that there is a development in Marx's thinking, but on
balance I don't think that it makes hermeneutic sense to talk about a
"break" between the early and the later work.  I don't think that anyone who
reads *Capital* needs to apologize for taking the *Philosophical and
Economic Manuscripts of 1844* seriously.  

But back to Bhaskar.  Mervyn, I'm genuinely confused by something you said
(I don't mind the spirit of it, I'm just bothered that I don't understand
the particulars.)  Could you and/or others clarify for me what the
difference is between a realist concept of god and an irrealist concept of

In a lot of philosophical literature, to be a realist about something is
nothing other that to maintain that it exists.  Many philosophers, though
not all, add to the definition the requirement that the something exist
autonomously, entirely independently of any or all human consciousness
(practically enacted or otherwise).  Finally, some also require that the
something be purely physical in ultimate constitution.  So someone who is an
irrealist about the objects of science, for example, holds that they are
nothing other than theoretical posits. And an unabashed global anti-realist
like Nelson Goodman, for example, thinks that it makes sense to think of our
everyday environment as a theoretical posit, as Quine did, really.  There is
also a habit, especially amongst epistemologically-minded types, of defining
realism and anti-realism via what theory of truth one holds.   

But there must be some other meaning of these terms such that one could both
believe in god's existence and be an irrealist about god.  Or something.  So
like I said, what's the difference between a realist and an irrealist
conception of god?         

Also (though here I don't think I'm confused so much as just potentially in
disagreement), you wrote:

>The Bhaskarian God of FEW as far as I can see adds little to what was
already >in the DCR system. There were (very likely) ultimate causal powers
or >dispositions before, though unknowable to science, and there was order
and >boundedness in the cosmos, ultimate categorial structures (now termed
the >binding force of unconditional

You're probably right about this.  I have to say though, that, to me, this
ontology is importantly different from that of *RTS* (I'm sorry - I don't
mean to drive you to distraction!), such that one could subscribe to the
views expounded in *RTS* yet be opposed to this later position.  (This is
not to say that one could not also read *RTS* retroactively in such a way as
to find that it does not explicitly prohibit this development.)  

To my mind, the Bhaskar of *RTS* is best read as proposing a scientific
essentialism (thanks Ronny for the term; I see that it is out there in the
literature) -- an essentialism that does not invoke or rely on an underlying
spiritualism or animism.  Now, I don't have any problem with someone trying
to integrate their philosophy of natural science with their religious views
- Newton says space and time are infinite because they're the mind and body
of God, after all - but for a number of reasons I don't think that that was
the project in *RTS*.

Though that's probably not even the best way to put it.  What I'll say is
this: I think that (1) a strong case can be made for a
non-religious/mystical essentialism on the basis of *RTS*, and that (2) the
Bhaskar of *RTS* can be defended against the charge of proposing such an

I know that this claim of mine potentially re-opens a huge can of worms
regarding whether or not there is any important theoretical divide between
*RTS* and Bhaskar's later work (and I know that it might seem odd to argue
in the same breath that there isn't one in Marx and there is one in
Bhaskar), and I'm willing to agree to disagree at the outset, but in light
of the recent discussion regarding the character of Bhaskar's essentialism,
I think that it is an important issue to identify.


>God or no God, I would say that the thing about love is that it is
>unconditional or it is not love - for atheists and agnostics as well as
>religious folk (see all the great poetry and painting and music of
>love). Perhaps we should just talk about love - unconditional love seems
>a pleonasm. It seems to me, too, that love is just as much integral to
>the thinking of the mature as of the early Marx - that people
>pervasively love and trust each other is entailed for example in the
>concept of a society in which the 'free development of each is the
>condition of the free devolopment of all'. I agree entirely with Hans'
>comments re the 'break' - there is a great deal of continuity as well as
>discontinuity. Does the mature Marx, for example, ever forsake the Eden/
>Fall (class society)/ Eudaimonia dialectic that the early Marx patently
>shares with the major world religions? 'No, no, never can it be! Never,
>never can it be!' Both the mature and the early Marx are saying, with
>the later Bhaskar, that class society and capitalism are both a warp on,
>or distortion of, our essentially communal destiny and historically
>necessary for us to achieve it in full self-consciousness. (This can be
>argued out scientifically.) And how about this from the early Marx as a
>slogan for post-FEW critical realists? - 
>'consistent naturalism or humanism differs both from idealism and
>materialism and is at the same time their unifying truth.' (EPMS: Early
>Writings 389).
>Which is not to say, Gary, that there are no politically regressive
>elements in FEW. I have named them as above all the regressive strand in
>New Age.
>Nick Hostettler <> writes
>>Dear Gary, 
>>Good to hear from you. 
>>You said: 
>>> There may well be political problems emanating From East to 
>>West but
>>> these are not due to the mysticism in the book.  If anything the
>>> difficulty is with the concept of unconditional love.
>>> regards
>>> Gary
>>I share your humanist sentiments and orientiations completely. And 
>>I agree with everything you say about the depths at which the 
>>present crises are developing. I'd even go on to extend the idea, with 
>>crises developing within the depths of social being, within our selves 
>>(body and mind) as well as within the ecosystem. I also agree that 
>>part of the intention of FEW is to find a single language with which 
>>to disclose this multiplicity of interrelated impending crises. 
>>However ... 
>>The positive aspects of Roy's development of DCR pave the way for 
>>the radical incoporation into Marx's mature work of a critque of the 
>>ecological consequences of capitalist modernity. Indeed, it paves 
>>the way for a much more general Marxian theory of modernity. FEW 
>>though is deeply ambiguous. It develops this possibility of 
>>humanism in an irrealist, mystifying, manner. It ends up producing 
>>the very thing you, we, are looking for but in a distorted fashion. 
>>This kind of humanism, simultaneously intimated and obscured by 
>>FEW, is properly expansive, allowing us to encompass our 
>>responsibilities towards our planet within our sense of ourselves and 
>>our being in the world. To develop that humanism, however, we need 
>>not to go down the road opened by FEW. That road is only hinted at 
>>by 'unconditional love'. The problems go much more deeply into the 
>>structure of its concepts, so they are irreducible to unconditional 
>>love or any other single concept. Rather, concepts like 
>>'unconditional love' all belong to the new range of 'absolute' 
>>categories introduced by FEW. These kinds of concepts are the 
>>problem, so 'uncoditional love' is just one symptom of the deeper 
>>problem of the new irrealism. 
>>Here's the alternative path to FEW: The critique of 'unconditional 
>>love' must develop from the the particular concept into a critique of 
>>the general kind of concept it is. This higher level critique ends up 
>>as the critique of 'absolute categorial structure' and it therefore 
>>carries on to become the critique of the concept of 'god' at the heart 
>>of the book. The critique of an irrealist concept 'god', in turn, takes 
>>us back to the best of DCR. That, finally, takes us back to a 
>>substantive and realist historical sociology of capitalist modernity 
>>which encompasses all of kinds of crises emerging from within it. 
>>Very best wishes, 
>>> >Well I will enter a note of dissent. That will not surprise either
>>> >Nick or Mervyn.
>>> Nick, bless him, writes as if From East to West is letting down the
>>> side politically.  Mervyn is not free from that criticism either.  
>>> But if we take the question say of the ecological criiss then a
>>> different picture emerges. It is precisely the depth of the crisis
>>> that has partly produced 
>>>  From East to West.
>>> It must be said that Roy was criticised for his Apocalypse now view on
>>> the environment at Lancaster and on my way home I picked up the papere
>>> and there it was on the front page - the ice cap at the North Pole had
>>> melted for the first time in quite a few millenia. So if we think of
>>> the eco-system, my argument is that here we have an element that is
>>> absolutely essential to any contemporary politics and where East to
>>> West is *NOT* a hindrance.
>>> There may well be political problems emanating From East to West but
>>> these are not due to the mysticism in the book.  If anything the
>>> difficulty is with the concept of unconditional love.
>>> regards
>>> Gary
>>Nick Hostettler,
>>Department of Political Studies,
>>SOAS (University of London),
>>Thornaugh Street,
>>Russell Square,
>>London WC1H 0XG
>>     --- from list ---
>Mervyn Hartwig
>13 Spenser Road
>Herne Hill
>London SE24 ONS
>United Kingdom
>Tel: 020 7 737 2892
>     --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005