m of care – mar 24

David Graeber Philosophical Series: Bhaskar, with Frederic Vandenberghe and Douglas Porpora


The second lecture of the David Graeber Philosophical series will be about Bhaskar. It will be delivered by Frederic Vandenberghe and Douglas Porpora and is entitled ‘Critical realism and baseline communism. A heavenly discussion between Roy Bhaskar and David Graeber.

critical realism.. roy bhaskar.. david graeber

Critical realism is a philosophical movement in the social sciences associated with the work of Roy Bhaskar. It offers a rigorous alternative to both positivist and post-modernist accounts of science and truth. In this talk, we will explore the philosophical affinities and the political implications of Graeber’s adherence to the basic tenets of critical realism.

Frederic Vandenberghe is professor of sociology at the Institute of philosophy and social sciences of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and visiting professor at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris (2018-2022). He’s a social theorist and has written numerous articles and books on the history of ideas and the philosophy of the social sciences. He was a colleague of David Graeber at Yale. He’s a chief-editor of MAUSS international. In English he published (with Alain Caillé): For a New Classic Sociology. A Proposition, followed by a Debate (Routledge, 2021) and What’s Critical about Critical Realism (Routledge, 2016).

Douglas Porpora is a professor of sociology in the Department of Culture and Communication at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He has published widely on social theory. He’s the editor of the Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour. Among his books are Public Debate in Post-Ethical Society: The Attack on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and the Moral Failure of the Secular (Chicago University Press, 2013) and Reconstructing Sociology. The Critical Realist Approach (Cambridge University Press, 2016).

notes/quotes from meeing:

vassily: david knew bhaskar.. were going to write a book together.. probably one of my biggest regrets (getting to read that)

frederic vandenberhge: having a convo in heaven.. will go back and forth w doug in 3 parts.. 1\ critical realism 2\ dream of graeber & bhaskar of cr 3\ marcel mauss.. wondering why not on list of philosophy

5 min – f: on bhaskar history.. had conclusion that econ had nothing to say about real world.. started writing on deep philosophy of the social sciences.. major work.. where he laid out foundation of cr.. marxist attempt to think thru all propositions of philosophy of sci.. his basic idea is that it’s a critique of radicalism.. it’s about finding generative mechs.. to show what science really is about.. he was defending a naturalistic/sci model and using it in soc sci.. but never got his phd because they thought nothing new in it.. bhaskar published book in 75 that laid groundwork for cr.. this work wasn’t much read by philosophers but by scientists in other areas.. that was exciting..

9 min – f: later he started to develop a dialectical system of thought.. at this time.. in 80-90s.. i started to disconnect.. writing became very elusive.. difficult to follow.. a lot of people were taken back.. thinking this wasn’t what they had been waiting for.. then became even more complicated when roy had ‘spiritual’ turn.. trying to bring together new left w new age.. ie: when brought buddha nature of human beings a lot of people were dismayed..

11 min – f: so what we find in cr is on the one hand a very serious philosophy and at same time a softer underbelly that has to do w moral/political issues.. bhaskar was always at the margin of the uni.. he was very sweet, unorthodox thinker.. i think what is interesting.. i was surprised w what david did w bhaskar.. he was less interested in the first phase and more in the political phase

doug porpora: 1st phase cr.. cr wasn’t just a braindhild of roy.. whole progressive community.. one major thrust was the critique of causal laws.. ie: positivism.. cr contested that.. that’s not what attracted david.. he as more concerned w cr’s realism.. that connects w this exchange.. begins w david a political anarchist.. that in absence in trans pov left w anthro anarchy.. how scientists operate in diff paradigms..

14 min – d: castrodarous says.. w/o a transcendental pov.. we cr-ists disagree.. from beginning cr situated itself between positivism and post modernism.. cr considers them to be twins.. rejecting reality et al..

16 min – d: positivists believe certainty is possible and therefore true et al.. so cr differs from evil twins on 2 counts 1\ rejects foundationalism.. that there’s some road to truth.. that if had some methodology the truth will pop out like an axiom 2\ rejects whole epistemic account of truth in favor of an account of truth that is more anthropological in nature

yeah.. still not legit.. esp because still of whales in sea world.. but also because.. what is truth? what does that even mean.. to define a truth aren’t we killing alive ness?

16 min – d: brings me to the 3 premises of cr that bhaskar called the holy trinity.. despite being a realist. he liked religious terminology.. 1\ ontological realism.. exists a reality independent of our minds 2\ epistemic relativism.. realization that we all approach knowledge from diff perspectives.. w diff criteria of eval.. if we stop at this premise.. we just throw up hands and say.. who’s to say.. 3\ judgmental rationality.. that despite epistemic relativism.. despite coming from all angles.. we can still make valid truth determinations..

18 min – d: back to the pt that cr’s understanding that truth is ontological rather than epistemic.. on cr account.. truth does not depend on our certainty or our method of arriving at it.. instead.. regardless of our level of certainty.. we have the truth of what we believe/say matches how the world actually is.. it matches that ontologically (nature of being) objective reality.. how do we know how the world actually is? in simple cases.. simple by inspection.. you’re not certain.. but you think you left your keys in the car.. you go and look and find the keys.. simple confirmation.. but even in more difficult cases.. we can discern the truth w/o any foundations.. by engaging in ad hoc argument just as a jury does.. it doesn’t take any foundational method to say some of the available arguments are stronger than others.. the strongest argument offers our best guess at the truth.. that’s the premise of judgmental rationality

yeah see.. i think if we were legit free.. (aka: not in sea world).. seeking truth.. guessing at truth .. et al.. would be irrelevant to us.. a time/energy such/cancer

19 min – d: even then cr suggests a diff between any truth determination we make and the objective/actual truth.. they’re not the same.. because our truth determinations can go wrong

again.. so why spend our days on that.. like now? when we could be living (standing up straight) so that we’re all healthy (out of sea world) and not perpetuating our cancers

d: cr adopts a falliblist understanding truth.. one must always be open to arguments/evidence.. as when a jury is confronted w new dna evidence suggesting innocence.. according to cr .. it’s only the truth judgment that changes.. not the actual/objective truth itself.. just as the actual solar system did not change when we moved from a geo to a helio centric view.. our world views should not be collapsed w the world itself.. rhetoric doesn’t create the truth .. but the best way to discern the truth in contexts outside maths.. where formal proofs don’t apply

yeah.. (to me) irrelevant s to legit free people..

21 min – f: last time i saw what david bhaskar.. sorry david g and roy b..

ha.. nice

22 min – f: on david’s obituary for roy ..

23 min – f: when i saw what david saw in cr.. power, potentiality and creativity.. a surprise ofr me.. that’s not what i expected

24 min – f: critical reality about thinking being.. meta reality being being .. epistemic fallacy reality independent from conceptions of it.. all about power/potentiality.. becoming.. that’s what david hatches on..

26 min – f: then whole argument in bhaskar’s work on emergence.. that has to do w diff levels of complexity.. chem to bio to sociology.. david interprets/defends (?) it’s about a philosophy of freedom.. freedom already in nature.. and again.. that’s a surprising reading.. then about open systems.. basic argument of bhaskar is that when you look at experiments.. this is in controlled circumstances.. closing the system.. but in real life what we have is open systems.. where diff gen mechs operating at same time.. w result.. that nothing is predictable..

28 min – f: again surprised by david view.. world is wobbly.. made/unmade.. nothing stable..

29 min – f: in roy bhaskar’s enlightened common sense (published after his death) .. a quote from david on your web page.. ‘revolution happens when there is a transformation of common sense’.. this is really surprising.. because nobody understood the title.. and here we have it taken up by david.. a blurb from david in roy’s book.. ‘roy’s life was a gift to humanity.. gave us a solid ontological grounding for all those intuitions that most of us feel we should be able to justify but are constantly being told by the reigning intellectual authorities that we can’t.. that the world/people are real.. that freedom is inherent in the nature of the cosmos.. that genuine human flourishing can never be at the expense of others.. ‘.. meaning that suffering will be overcome when nobody is suffering.. which basicall means we have to revolutionize the system

yeah that.. none of us are free.. need a means for all of us.. from the get go.. no strings/training et al.. ie: a nother way

f: (still quoting david’s blurb in roy’s book) – ‘.. bhaskar lived to provide the heavy intellectual artillery for simple common decency and good sense’ .. this heavy artillery is also strange.. because when you go to his book.. theory of value.. false coin of our dreams.. when he opens his chapter on mauss.. quotation there on the heavy artillery and the gift of communist econ underneath of capitalist econ.. so it’s strange

31 min – f (still quoting).. ‘much of his work was written in exceedingly difficult language’.. which cannot be said of david.. who has this kind of i would say.. popularizing approach.. and in fact.. that’s what you can feel.. it’s kind of good sense.. i think this is his working class background.. which makes him insist on this.. ‘but much of the work by bhaskar written in difficult language.. this book however makes it accessible to those who have the most to gain from it.. any one trying to make the world a better place

32 min – f: so what i can say is that .. it’s the more romantic/political side of roy.. not what i expected.. i though t it would be more structured but no.. it is an ontology of potentials

33 min – d: i mirror f’s surprise of david neglect of the structural elements in cr.. i think it’s for two reasons.. 1\ ? and 2\ i think he knew bhaskar more than the other political realists.. you don’t get that structure in bhaskar himself

39 min – f: mauss essential to all the books david has written.. why? because bhaskar in last stage of life talking about a ground state of being.. where everything is connected.. love/generosity freely flowing.. this idea of being in a community (as this).. generalized reciprocity

not free enough – reciprocity et al

40 min – f: from each to each.. open ended obligation.. a generalized interdependence, generosity, reciprocity

not free enough – obligation

f: when david is saying.. how is social life possible.. this generalized reciprocity.. which is something he recognized in mauss

gift\ness et al

42 min – doug: cr as philosophy of science under marx

44 min – doug: cr makes case for structural level of anal.. ie: ineq is not a practice/discourse.. it’s a relation..

47 min – q&a

1:00 – f: cr is very much focused on science.. something to be learned from those other approaches to nature







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