File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2003/bhaskar.0312, message 336

Subject: BHA: Getting past Kant
Date: Mon, 22 Dec 2003 10:31:56 -0600

Hi Steve, all,
As an epistemology, critical realism does not involve the idea that knowledge is based on "direct access" to "the Real."   On the contrary, from a CR perspective the mistaken idea that knowledge is BASED on direct access to the Real even has a name.  It's called the "ontic fallacy."  From a CR perspective, knowledge is BASED on two things: interaction with previously held beliefs and interaction with what I will provisionally call "other aspects of the material world."  Scientific knowledge is viewed as being a social-historical product that is formed through social, if not collective, interaction with these two "objects" of science.
As an ontology, critical realism involves the view that there is an existentially independent, material reality.  While there are intimations of what most people would call objective or absolute idealism in a few passages of RTS, on the whole Bhaskar's early work equates metaphysical realism with materialism (of a certain sophisitcated sort).
Steve, it seems to me that your position - like Putnam's - is at base Kant's.  There are (at least) two big differences between transcendental idealism and transcendental realism.  The first is that Kant, like Hume and Newton both, rejects naturalism about causality.  The second is that critical realists (like pragmatists) believe that the fact that knowledge is mediated does not imply that knowledge is knowledge about beliefs rather than about the Real.  So for critical realists there is MEDIATED access to the Real.  But there is access.  The alternate view is that there is no access.  Some people who believe that there is no access to things in themselves believe that the very concept is therefore unintelligible; others, like Kant, retain the concept but use it as a kind of limit condition about which nothing more can be said.
But there is no disagreement between critical realists and Kant about the mediated character of knowledge.  As I said, the very idea of unmediated knowledge even has its own name in CR -- the ontic fallacy.   So if you want to engage with the critical realist position you need to really understand how this can be.  What kind of anti-positivist position is this, that (like Kant) combines an insistence on the mediated character of knowledge with an insistence on ontological realism and (unlike Kant) also insists that theories can give us insight into the character of "the Real" and not just insight into phenomenal experience?  
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