roy bhaskar

[picture linked to source – 2014 guardian obituary]

One of the most influential voices in the philosophy of science and a political revolutionary []:

Roy Bhaskar, who has died aged 70 of heart failure, turned to philosophy only after becoming an economics lecturer at Oxford University in the late 1960s. Feeling that economic science had virtually nothing useful to say about real-world issues of global wealth and poverty, he embarked on research that led to the foundation of the philosophical school known as critical realism.

critical realism

Roy wanted to provide the tools for understanding society’s problems in a deeper, structural sense that might allow ways to put them right.

ie: a means/tool to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature

Before long, he concluded that the problem ran deeper: western science and social theory itself were based on a series of intellectual mistakes, which created false dichotomies such as those between individualism and collectivism, and scientific analysis and moral criticism. The most important of these he called “the epistemic fallacy”, arising from the conventional study of how we can know things, or epistemology. Almost invariably, philosophers have treated the questions “does the world exist?” and “can we prove the world exists?” as the same. But it is perfectly possible that the world might exist and we could not prove it, let alone be able to obtain absolute knowledge of everything in it.

deeper still ie: knowledge we’re basing everything on.. is from whales in sea world.. so non legit to begin with.. not just mistakes ie: anthropologist thought he was going to ? wherever on earth.. but instead he was in sea world.. where we have no idea what legit free people are like..

In this way, Roy argued, the two camps into which the left has been divided – positivists, who assume that since the world does exist, we must, someday, be able to have exact and predictive knowledge of it, and postmodernists, who believe that since we cannot have such knowledge, we cannot speak of “reality” at all – are just rehearsing different versions of the same fundamental error. In fact, real things are precisely those whose properties will never be exhausted by any description we can make of them. We can have comprehensive knowledge only of things that we have made up.

marsh label law.. graeber unpredictability/surprise law.. et al

Roy’s approach adopted a version of Kant’s transcendental method of argument, which asks “what would have to be the case in order for what we know to be true?” For science, he argued that two key questions must be asked simultaneously: first, why are scientific experiments possible, and second, why are scientific experiments necessary, in order to obtain verifiable knowledge of what scientists call natural laws. Why is it possible to contrive a situation where you can predict exactly what will happen, when, say, water is heated to a certain temperature in a controlled environment, but also, why is it that one can never make similar predictions in natural settings – no matter how much scientific knowledge we acquire, we still cannot dependably predict the weather. Why, in other words, does it take so much work to create a situation where one does know precisely what will happen?

again.. graeber unpredictability/surprise law.. et al

it’s sea world .. that is taking a lot of work.. a lot of wasted energies..

His conclusion was that the world must consist of independently existing structures and mechanisms, which are perfectly real, but they must also be, as he put it “stratified”. Reality consists of “emergent levels” – chemistry emerges from physics, in that chemical laws include physical ones, but cannot be reduced to them; biology emerges from chemistry, and so forth. At each level, there is something more, a kind of leap to a new level of complexity, even, as Roy put it, of freedom. A tree, he argued, is more free than a rock, just as a human is freer than a tree. What a scientific experiment does, then, is strip away everything but one mechanism at one emergent level of reality. To do so takes enormous work. But in real-world situations, like the weather, there are always all sorts of different mechanisms from different emergent levels operating at the same, and the way they interact will always be inherently unpredictable.

The resulting books, A Realist Theory of Science (1975) and The Possibility of Naturalism (1979), made Roy one of the most influential voices in the philosophy of science.

He later applied this approach to a critique of the “new realism” of Tony Blair. Vaunted as a belated adjustment to the facts of political life, Roy said that it fails to recognise the underlying structures and generative mechanisms, such as property ownership and the exploitation of labour, that produce observable phenomena and events such as low pay and intolerable working conditions. In other words, New Labour was based on realism of the most superficial sort. He presented these and other political implications of his work at the Philosophy Working Group of the Chesterfield Socialist conferences, associated with Tony Benn and Ralph Miliband, in the late 80s. This work was eventually published as Reclaiming Reality (2011).

Roy was a political revolutionary. The unifying purpose of his work was to establish that the pursuit of philosophical knowledge necessarily implied social transformation; the struggle for freedom and the quest for knowledge were ultimately the same

yeah.. i don’t think so.. i don’t think legit freedom would see knowledge as anything that special.. actually more as an irrelevant..

His way of engaging with the world was wide-eyed, playful, impractical, always evolving and learning. He continually announced new breakthroughs. In the 90s, he announced that the Hegelian dialectic – an assertion, its contradiction, and the resolution of the two – was but an odd and idiosyncratic version of a universal principle that formed the basis of all human thought and learning. This launched the second phase of his philosophy, culminating in the ambitiously titled Plato Etc: The Problems of Philosophy and Their Resolution (1994), inspired by Alfred North Whitehead’s famous claim that “all of philosophy is but a footnote to Plato”.

Born in Teddington, west London, to an Indian father, Raju Nath Bhaskar, a GP, and an English mother, Kumla (nee Marjorie Skill), an industrial administrator, Roy was educated at St Paul’s school, London, and gained a PPE degree at Balliol College, Oxford (1966). Another critic of the PPE course and student activist was Hilary Wainwright: in 1971 they married, and they collaborated intellectually and politically for the rest of Roy’s life.

Roy fought against the grain of conventional academic philosophy throughout his career.

After losing a foot in 2008 to Charcot’s disease, he made use of a wheelchair, and survived on only a partial salary as a world scholar at the Institute of Education in London. Nonetheless, he remained a figure of unparalleled energy and invention, and of almost preternatural kindness and good humour

His recent partner was his carer Rebecca Long. She survives him, as do Hilary and his brother, Krish.


taking him in more here:

20 min (2013) roy bhaskar interview []:

interviewer (georgie): we want to find out how cr can be useful to tackle today’s problems.. planet centric problems

1 min – cr has a view of philosophy .. which i call phil underlabouring.. so what we regard ourselves doing is getting rid of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge.. and much existing phil is rubbish and is actually an obstacle to knowledge..t


i’d even say all.. because it’s about whales in sea world.. which just perpetuates the myth of tragedy and lord.. so that we have no idea what legit free people are like.. so we have no means to org for their current need: being set free

ie: whalespeak.. irrelevant s.. red flags.. et al

i’d add .. perhaps deeper.. not so much an obstacle to knowledge.. rather.. an obstacle to eudaimonia\tive surplus.. to getting back/to an undisturbed ecosystem


1\ undisturbed ecosystem (common\ing) can happen

2\ if we create a way to ground the chaos of 8b free people

we in particular criticize the view of modern phil that you can’t talk about the world apart from our knowledge of the world.. this is a very anthropocentric position.. and has the end result of restricting what you can talk about to human beings.. so that’s our general perspective.. we don’t regard phil as directly producing the knowledge .. but of getting rid of the rubbish that lies in the way to knowledge

2 min – now the world today is faced w enormous problems.. on all the plains of social being.. for us there are four plains which are of crucial importance: 1\ material transactions w nature 2\ social interactions between people 3\ the social structure 4\ the stratification of the embodied personality

so.. in the first plain.. we have enormous problems of ecology.. the planet is really in crisis.. we have to accept the planet is here independently of us.. then go into the causality.. humans hugely responsible for climate change today

in 2nd plain.. we have great problems of morality and politics.. ie: distribution of wealth/resources/opps is very unequal.. and becoming more so.. serious problem of social justice.. also have problems of war, violence, terror..

in 3rd plain.. if we turn to this plain more narrowly.. we can see we have enormous econ problems.. so many suffering as a result of econ austerity imposed by international monetary authorities..

5 min – in 4th plain.. we have problems from addiction/alcoholism.. to narcissism and various pathologies.. and we’re in a situation where we get a collapse of subjectivity.. our capacity to lead a rich inner life is being threatened by the material conditions in which we are forced to live.. structural phenom .. such as high unemployment is making this worse..

gabor on why addicted to everything et al

hari rat park law et al

6 min – now.. the only way forward is .. for the social movements.. which are taking these issues seriously.. is to understand the social structures/mechs at work in social world.. which includes ourselves.. and to where the social structures .. and mechs producing it ..are lying at a very deep level.. what we have to do is three things:

1\ think alts.. we must have a clear concept of an alt to the present.. this is what i call concrete utopianism.. t

ie: a (legit) nother way

2\ we must have intellectuals informing practice and being responsive to the needs of practice.. so we must have theory practice unity .. in the context of deep struggles..

interviewer: is this what you call the transformational model of social activity

stems from transformational model of social activity.. idea is that while we don’t create society we do reproduce and transform it.. so when you start the action.. you have to take the social structure as a given.. but in your action.. you can transform it.. and for the most part change in the past has been a result of unconscious action.. and we need today.. conscious action and transformation..t

ie: imagine if we.. via as infra..

sans intellectuals informing.. sans any form of m\a\p.. esp p here.. people telling other people what to do

8 min – interviewer: are these patterns of relation agentic


interviewer: i mean when you speak of the real you speak of relations..

agency is real.. we really do make a diff in the world.. this is really important to understand.. that we’re not pre determined by physical forces/laws.. the realm of human beings is emergent from the realm of nature.. and w/any social context.. we as agents must take responsibility for our action .. individually and collectively.. and the social structure will not produce itself.. w/o our activity.. so social structure depends on us in the last instance..

shoot.. interviewer changing course.. doesn’t sound like we’ll get to #3

9 min – we are suffering in our societies today from a view put forward by greek philosopher parmenides.. who said.. change does not exist.. change is impossible in the real world.. plato defended this doctrine/position because he was very frightened of an interp of another old greek philosopher.. hericlintus.. famous for saying you can’t step into the same river twice because everything is changing at the same time.. but as someone pointed out.. if everything is changing.. you can’t even step into it once.. but this i think is a mis interp of h.. what he was saying is that change occurs.. and the way to resolve this seeming paradox is to understand there is a structure there.. flowing.. even though it is diff from one moment to the next.. so we have to have an ontology which is capable of encompassing change.. but seeing there are enduring structures..

ie: as infra for changing/alive people

11 min – and then we get to the very important point .. where you posited interior structure.. under what conditions can that structure be transformed.. t

hari rat park law et al

ie: undisturbed ecosystem.. a nother way.. imagine if we

interviewer: reminds me of buddhist school that was suppressed.. monks posit that everything is empty except for the essential nature w/in that thing which is not empty.. if that could be known .. perhaps.. would have become more western compatible.. that there’s a permanence w/in the change

12 min – yes.. i think that’s right.. i myself believe that we have 3 levels of reality:

1\ ordinary level.. the world of duality .. that’s subject/object apart from each other

2\ w/in duality.. there is the world of demir (?) reality.. the world of illusion/oppression.. i’d say the ego is an illusion.. the ego as an expression of myself separate/apart from rest of world.. such an ego does not exist..

3\ world of non duality.. a beautiful world.. i think if you go into anything deep enough .. you will find it there.. there is a deep interior in everything.. which you could describe as inner emptiness.. but you could also describe as bliss ..t.. and i call this the cosmic envelope.. because that’s what you find there.. everything has its ground state.. doesn’t matter what it is.. you will find a ground state there..

sounds like almaas holes law.. let’s org around/for that..

14 min – i think it’s dangerous to regard ontology and epistemology as equiv.. you start from a human experience.. where you are.. (epistemology) .. but it can be shown in a rigorous way that where you are presupposes things which are apart from you.. which are other than you.. including a world which existed before humanity did exist.. that’s a perspective we have to have if we’re trying to understand these global crises

15 min – now it may be that at a deeper level.. that world also reposes unconsciousness.. but that is not my/human conscious.. this is super mental consciousness which we only experience very rarely

interviewer: if the world is real is spirit real as well..

yes i would say spirit is real.. the view on the whole of cr and its spiritual form .. which is the phil of meta reality.. has/is that at a very deep level we are all spiritual beings aware of non dual and other states which the spiritual traditions have reflected on.. but i would say.. whether we are adopting a particular religions practice/beliefs.. we all need to understand our human spirituality.. this should make us very modest and tolerant of people of other faiths.. basically.. they are trying to make sense of the same realities.. they may know it in a diff name.. but it’s trying to reflect the highest order values which are necessary for a unified universe..

already on each heart – so no need to ie: train; tell other people what to do; et al

17 min – interviewer: and those higher order values are real

yes.. they are absolutely real.. but they don’t guarantee that human beings will survive this crisis.. they don’t guarantee.. they offer the possibility

just like garden-enough ness.. can’t be puppets of voluntary compliance

i: unless we become conscious of them perhaps.. aligning ourselves

yes.. that’s one of the steps.. but you see .. this spiritual talk has to be outward looking as well as inward looking.. we have to be concerned about social justice as well as the planet along with our own perfection

thurman interconnectedness lawwhen you understand interconnectedness it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying – Robert Thurman ..

i: relationship between integral theory and cr.. how could then benefit from each other

18 min – i think integral theory can benefit enormously from cr.. because in some of ken wilbur’s more recent work he has adopted a very neo kantianism.. and you were pointing out some of the difficulties in this.. if you think the world is just perspectives.. of course when we look at the world it will always be from a perspective.. but it is the we who are looking at the world.. and this is not a perspective.. this is a presupposition of any perspectives.. so i believe it’s really essential for the integrity of integral theory that it comes to adopt a cr ontology.. at the same time .. ken wilbur is a very brilliant guy.. provides taxonomies cr could use.. you see cr doesn’t provide a complete answer.. it sets up necessary conditions for a complete answer.. and we have to go on developing at the level of substantive investigations.. and i think integral theory offers a huge resource we can use.. and then.. engaged in same enterprise w many shared values.. we should work together..


re-intro’d to roy via museum of care meetingsdavid on bhaskar et al ..


just after adding page.. this tweet.. and intro to michael (nephew):

Who is the most interesting philosopher or theorist of technology?

Original Tweet:

Roy wanted to provide the tools for understanding society’s problems in a deeper, structural sense that might allow ways to put them right.’ – rb

getting that deep structure .. key to tech as it could be

ai humanity needs: augmenting interconnectedness via a means to undo our hierarchical listening to self/others/nature

to get to (hear/see/be) the structure already in us..

the cosmic envelope.. the ground state.. our essence..


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






find/follow roy’s work:

Ram Roy Bhaskar (1944–2014) was an English philosopher of science best known as the initiator of the philosophical movement of critical realism (CR). Bhaskar argued that the task of science is “the production of the knowledge of those enduring and continually active mechanisms of nature that produce the phenomena of the world” rather than the discovery of quantitative laws, and that experimental science only makes sense if such mechanisms exist and operate outside the lab as well as inside it. He went on to apply this realism about mechanisms and causal powers to the philosophy of social science, and also elaborated a series of arguments to support the critical role of philosophy and the human sciences.

He was a World Scholar at the Institute of Education, University College London.

Bhaskar later extends the argument from this cognitive form of explanatory critique which argues that the sources of false knowledge should be removed, to a needs-based form, which applies a similar argument to sources of failures to meet human needs. In terms of the previous example, this would be like arguing that capitalism should be removed because it causes human suffering, rather than because it misleads people.

Bhaskar’s programme was intensely political. He though of it as “underlabouring” for the work done in the human sciences in pursuit of “the project of human self-emancipation”. One of the threads that unites the different phases of his work is a continuing commitment to providing philosophical support for emancipatory politics.

He is sometimes described as a Marxist thinker, although his relationship to Marxism is ambivalent. In a debate with Bhaskar, the well-known Marxist Alex Callinicos identified him as “a significant contributor to contemporary Marxist thought, broadly understood”. In the same discussion Bhaskar endorsed some key elements of Marx’s thought, including his explanatory account of the deep structures of the capitalist mode of production. It is clear that he admired Marx as a philosopher of emancipation and he both drew on and built on aspects of this work, at least up to and including the period of dialectical critical realism. Yet in the same debate with Callinicos he refers to “The Marxists” as if the term did not include himself, criticising them for neglecting the role of women in domestic labour. When he does pin his colours to a political flag, it is the more general flag of socialism. And despite his endorsement in the debate with Callinicos he rarely pays much attention to the less philosophical aspects of Marx’s work including political economy and class politics. It might be fairer to see his work as intersecting with the Marxist tradition rather than as part of it.

Bhaskar’s work relates to politics primarily at a philosophical level. He rarely involved himself with questions of practical politics, with the exception of his late collaborative work on climate change