critical realism

(2014) – 7 min video of roy bhaskar talking about critical realism:

cr is first/foremost a philosophy concerned w ontology which is the study of being

so this concern to argue that you couldn’t reduce statements about the world (ontology).. to statements about our knowledge of the world (epistemology).. and the attempt to do so was called the epistemic fallacy

at the same time it argues against the implicit ontology of mainstream philosophy .. which pictured the world as unstructured, unindifferentiated, and unchanging.. it put forward a view of reality as structured, differentiated and changing

1 min – turing to the social sciences.. it argued that social structure was a necessary conditions and always preexisted any round of agency but human agency was necessary.. in turn .. for the reproduction/transformation of social structure

the concept of agency itself is very important to cr’s they see mind as an emergent part of matter.. and reasons as causally efficacious in producing actions

2 min – the conception of society was further developed thru the notion of full play in a social being.. which is the idea that all social events occur simultaneously.. on four plains.. these are the plains with nature.. social interactions between people.. social structure.. and the stratification of the embodied personality

einstein’s dreams et al..

what we need is  a leap.. to getback/to  simultaneous  spontaneity .. simultaneous fittingness.. everyone in sync..

if you think about the four plains today.. see that we’re obviously in crisis at all four plains

this is why we need to let go enough to see deeper..

and the crisis at these 4 plains provides one of the themes.. for this year’s conference .. which i’ll discuss w you at the end

so we’ve discussed cr as a philosophy of science and and a philosophy of social science.. but ontology was developed thru a notion thru 7 levels of ontology.. and i just want to focus on two in particular

level 2: dialectical cr.. notions of absence/negativity/change came to the fore.. and cr’s argued that these are real.. this was against a doctrine which could be ontological montevelance.. which has underpinned the whole trajectory of western philosophy.. since the time of parmenides

level 7: metareality.. cr argues that the world school calls demireality.. the world of illusion and oppression.. is actually underpinned by an unrecognized realm of trust and solidarity.. it argues these qualities and action at this metareality level sustains the whole of social reality.. (cut to a repeat section).. allows us to identify here/now.. a world which can form the basis for a society of universal human flourishing

5 min – if there’s one them that unites the diff theories/developments in the philosophy of cr.. it is the idea of seriousness.. that is of the unity of theory and practice.. and what cr tends to do is to give us a philosophy that we can act upon.. in contradiction from much of current western philosophy..

6 min – to find out more about it i suggest: come to next annual conference.. theme: from the anatomy the global crisis.. to the ontology of human flourishing.. which is far far better than the one we currently have..


first intro’d to roy and critical realism (i think) in david graeber‘s theory of value:

p. 50 – if objects are in constant flux, even precise spatial measures are impossible..tone can take an object’s measure at a particular moment and then treat that as representative, but even this is something of an imaginary construct, because such “moments” (in the sense of points in time, of no duration, infinitely small) do not really exist – they, too, are imaginary constructs. it has been precisely such imaginary constructs (“models”) that have made modern science possible

again.. if legit alive can’t be static.. so can’t be compared.. ie: graeber values law

we need to let go of any form of m\a\p

p. 51 – something ironic: what ricoeur is suggesting is that we have been able to create a technology capable of giving us hitherto unimaginable power to transform the world, largely because we were first able to imagine a world without powers or transformations. it may well be true. the crucial thing, though, is that in doing so, we have also lost something. because once one is accustomed to a basic apparatus for looking at the world that starts from an imaginary, static, parmenidean world outside of it, connecting the two becomes an overwhelming problem. ….bhaskar has been arguing for some years now that since parmenides, western philosophy has been suffering from what he calls an ‘epistemic fallacy’: a tendency to confuse the question of how we can know things with the question of whether those things exist.

intellect ness.. hubris ness.. et al.. making us all like whales

roy bhaskar

at its most extreme, this tendency opens into positivism: the assumption that give sufficient time and sufficiently accurate instruments, it should be possible to make models and reality correspond entirely.. predict precisely what would happen .. since *no one has been able to do anything of the sort, the position has tendency to generate its opposite.. a kind of aggressive nihilism .. saying.. if can’t come up w perfect descriptions.. impossible to talk about reality at all..  why most of us ordinary mortals find philosophical debates so pointless.. in contradiction w ordinary life experience.. 

*and won’t ever.. ie: what computers can’t do et al

graeber unpredictability/surprise law et al

.. most of us are accustomed to describe things as “realities” precisely because we can’t completely understand them, can’t completely control them, don’t know exactly how they are going to affect us, but nonetheless can’t just wish them away. it’s what we don’t know about them that brings home the fact that they are real.

grokking as ongoingly becoming rather than knowing in time/permanence/fragility et al.. which (to me) only happens when we let go of our focus obsession on intellect ness/understanding/meaning/defining/predicting.. any form of m\a\p

p. 52 – in alternative, heraclitean strain has always existed – one that sees objects as processes.. best-known .. via Hegel and Marx. but whatever form.. has been almost impossible to integrate with more conventional philosophy. it has tended to be seen as existing somewhat off to the side, as odd or somewhat mystical.

bhaskar – and those who have since taken up some version of his ‘critical realist’ approach: have been trying for some years to develop amore reasonable ontology.. some of his conclusions:

1\ realism – rather than limiting to what can be observed by senses.. ask ‘what would have to be the case’ in order to explain what we do experience.. ‘why are sci experiments possible/necessary’

2\ potentiality – reality not limited to what we can experience (empirical).. so even to sum total of events said to have taken place (actual).. rather third level (real).. that there’s no end to the pursuit does’t mean reality doesn’t exist; rather.. simply means one will never be able to understand it completely

3\ freedom – reality can be divided into emergent stratum: just as chem presupposed but cannot be entirely reduce to physics, so bio presupposes but cannot be reduced to chem.. diff sorts of mechs are operating on each.. each achieves a certain autonomy from those below.. it would be impossible even to talk about human freedom were this not the case, since our actions would simply be determine by chem/bio processes


4\ open systems – real world events occur in open systems..  there are always different sorts of mechanisms, derived from different emergent strata of reality, at play in any one of them. as a result, *one can never predict precisely how any real-world event will turn out. this is why scientific experiments are necessary: experiment are ways of creating temporary “closed systems” in which the effects of all other mechanisms are, as far as possible, nullified, so that one can actually examine a single mechanism in action.

5\ tendencies –  so best to not refer to unbreakable scientific laws.. but rather tendencies..which interact in unpredictable ways. of course, the higher the emergent strata one is dealing with, *the less predictable things become, the involvement of human beings of course being the most unpredictable factor of all..t

*huge..and *huge .. thinking we have predict\able ness as huge red flag we’re doing it/life wrong.. because essentially we’re killing the alive ness of it/life/us

roy bhaskar

critical realism

graeber unpredictability/surprise law

p. 53 – ..not a matter of abandoning science but is, rather, the only hope of giving science a solid ontological basis. but it also means that in order to do so, those who wish to make claims to science will have to abandon some of their most ambitious – one is tempted to say, totalitarian, paranoid – dreams of absolute or total knowledge, and accept a certain degree of humility about what it is possible to know. reality is what one can never know completely. if an object is real, any description we make of it will necessarily be partial and incomplete. that is indeed how we can tell it is real. the only things we can hope to know perfectly are ones that exist entirely in our imaginations..t

… bhaskar’s ultimate interest is social; he is trying to come up with the philosophical ground for a theory of human emancipation, a way of squaring scientific knowledge with the idea of human freedom. here, too, the ultimate message is one of humility: critical realists hold that it is possible to preserve the notion of a social reality and, therefore, of a science able to make true statements about it – but only if one abandons the sort of positivist number-crunching that passes for science among most current sociologists or economists, and gives up the idea that social science will ever be able to establish predictive laws.


dang.. graeber’s writings/findings are where all my deep thinking is found/ed.. where it’s resonated.. oh my

and so too.. bhaskar’s.. unpredictability ness.. et al.. can’t know ness



m of care – mar 24 – bhaskar and cr

m of care – nov 8enlightened common sense ch 1 and from science to emancipation intro





Critical realism is a philosophical approach to understanding science initially developed by Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014). It combines a general philosophy of science (transcendental realism) with a philosophy of social science (critical naturalism). It specifically opposes forms of empiricism and positivism by viewing science as concerned with identifying causal mechanisms. In the last decades of the twentieth century it also stood against various forms of postmodernism and poststructuralism by insisting on the reality of objective existence. In contrast to positivism’s methodological foundation, and poststructuralism’s epistemological foundation, critical realism insists that (social) science should be built from an explicit ontology. Critical realism is one of a range of types of philosophical realism, as well as forms of realism advocated within social science such as analytic realism and subtle realism


Since Bhaskar made the first big steps in popularising the theory of critical realism in the 1970s, it has become one of the major strands of social scientific method, rivalling positivism/empiricism, and post-structuralism/relativism/interpretivism.

After his development of critical realism, Bhaskar went on to develop a philosophical system he calls dialectical critical realism, which is most clearly outlined in his weighty book, Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom.

David Graeber relies on critical realism, which he understands as a form of ‘heraclitean’ philosophy, emphasizing flux and change over stable essences, in his anthropological book on the concept of value, Toward an anthropological theory of value: the false coin of our own dreams.