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Critical realism and Marxism

Summary:
Critical realism and Marxism At the juncture of Roy Bhaskar’s refounding of critical realism philosophy of science, postmodernism had spread like a virus across academia with its seductive attack on grand theories or “metanarratives.” Neoliberal policies took advantage of the subsequently lowered intellectual immune systems and “identity politics” squabbling to impose its anti-working class “meta” economic model upon global humanity. Where Bhaskar’s work struck with devastating consequences for degeneration of theories of knowledge toward irrealism was in his compelling argument over philosophy of science imbibing what he dubs the “epistemic fallacy.” Quite simply, what that entails is the belief that in answering the epistemological question of how we

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Critical realism and Marxism

At the juncture of Roy Bhaskar’s refounding of critical realism philosophy of science, postmodernism had spread like a virus across academia with its seductive attack on grand theories or “metanarratives.” Neoliberal policies took advantage of the subsequently lowered intellectual immune systems and “identity politics” squabbling to impose its anti-working class “meta” economic model upon global humanity.

Critical realism and MarxismWhere Bhaskar’s work struck with devastating consequences for degeneration of theories of knowledge toward irrealism was in his compelling argument over philosophy of science imbibing what he dubs the “epistemic fallacy.” Quite simply, what that entails is the belief that in answering the epistemological question of how we know something, the ontological question of what there is to be known is simultaneously answered. For Bhaskar, rather, it is the ontological question and the specific nature of the object of study in the real world which determines the form and scope of its possible science.

Further, Bhaskar argued that the “flat” ontological model of empiricism, which based scientific knowledge on observation, cannot explain how revolutions in science occur. Scientific change across the ages is possible because of an ontological structure of the world and all its furniture that is deep and stratified with causal mechanisms which generate myriad phenomenon we observe. Capturing these causal mechanisms and the scientific laws they designate operates through a process of “retroduction.” Here, scientists puzzled by phenomena both in terms of observation and limits of current theory posit the existence of a deep causal mechanism responsible for those surface manifestations they perceived. Scientific truth is reached when a correspondence is arrived at between the causal structure of the object of knowledge to be explained or defined and the logical structure of the theory that purports to explain or define it.

Armed with Bhaskar’s bringing ontology back in to science it is possible to rethink Marx’s claims for his economic theory in Capital as the founding work of a new science. After all, almost a century following the passing of Marx, work of economic historians such as Karl Polanyi and Robert Heilbroner is referred to for their grasp respectively of marketization “disembedding” economic life from other social practices or markets “creating” an “economic society” from the social fabric. Yet, what precisely causes economic life in the capitalist era to appear to levitate from the social or create a “separate sphere” of society is never explained.

Richard Westra

Lars Pålsson Syll
Professor at Malmö University. Primary research interest - the philosophy, history and methodology of economics.

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