In Reality™In Reality™
An Integrative Review of Critical Realism
Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.
Dedicated to Roy Bhaskar
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The British school of critical realism, which has been customarily referred to as Bhaskarian critical realism, is applied libertarian Marxism. Critical realism is associated with the London–born philosopher Ram “Roy” Bhaskar (Hindī, राम „रॉय“ भास्कर, Rāma “Rôya” Bhāskara as pronounced in this MP3 audio file), 1944–2014, among numerous other scholars. It was initiated with basic critical realism—also known as original critical realism or first–wave critical realism. Bhaskar’s lifework was subsequently completed, in 2002, with the philosophy of metaReality (MP3 audio file). He then elucidated and applied metaReality, over the next dozen years, until his death. As with the critical social theoretical tradition in toto, critical realism focuses upon emancipation from domination. Critical realists, however, presuppose a speculative, unseen reality—ontologically distinct from either human consciousness or actual events. Be that as it may, certain branches of the larger critical movement have failed to acknowledge any clear lines of demarcation.
Critical social perspectives—including critical realism—can be generally classified as representations of neo–Marxism. Nevertheless, in critical realism, oppression is an expression of demireality (disunity in difference). Oppressive ideologies are both interpretive and instrumental (or real). They refer to human knowledge about demireality and to intersections of domination. As such, ethnicism, sexism/misogyny, classism, lookism, ableism/disablism, heterosexism/heteronormativity/homophobia, biphobia, sizeism, anti–Islamicism/Islamophobia/anti-Muslimism, antisemitism/anti–Judaism, racism, ethnocentrism, sightism, ageism, lookism, adultism, audism, heightism, cissexism/cisnormativity/transantagonism, sanism/mentalism/neurotypicalism/neurelitism, and all the rest need to be dismantled or eliminated, not merely attacked or refuted, as in contrasting critical positions. Included are particular adaptations of the original Frankfurt School, not to mention the more recent new critical theories.
This extensively sourced publication focuses, principally, upon the metatheory of Bhaskarian critical realism and the assortment of its applications. However, several approaches which may resemble Bhaskarian critical realism to some degree—along with a multitude of non–Bhaskarian forms of critical realism (the diverse manifestations of theological critical realism and Roman Catholic critical realism along with hypothetical–fallibilist critical realism, epistemic critical realism, critical direct realism, critical socially contested realism, critical aesthetic realism, radical critical realism, critical ontological realism, creative critical realism, and so forth)—will be documented in succeeding chapters. The lineages of Bhaskar’s philosophy vis–à–vis other critical realisms are historically independent. Yet, Bhaskarian and some non–Bhaskarian variations of critical realism, notwithstanding an apparent lack of “pedigree,” do converge in certain areas, including, notably, their treatments of emergence and causal structures.
From a Bhaskarian critical realist standpoint, all ontological explorations must, admittedly, be accompanied by an epistemic humility. Critical realism, contra naïve realism, presumes the relativity of human perception. Indeed, considerations of naïve or direct realism, will, generally speaking, be rather unfavorable in this work. To the naïve realist, reality is circumscribed by the lifeworld as immediately witnessed by the empirical observer. There is no mediation by the Actual domain, the plane of both events and non–events. When carried over into discrete regimens of hermeneutics or textual interpretation, the propositions of naïve realism become, in a word, ludicrous. Different people reading a given literary work are tacitly assumed, in effect, to be reading the mind of the writer. Although this thoroughly indefensible perspective is sometimes referred to as commonsense realism, the alleged association with “common sense” is, ironically enough, itself a dialectical contradiction.
As to the question of religion, the issue is putting it into context. Marx was referring to his own experiences in nineteenth–century Europe. He saw the extent to which Christianity, in particular, was promoting counter–revolutionary false consciousness. However, as most Marxists know, we do not look to Marx as a prophet. He was the founder of a school of thought. That school has multiplied and diversified over the years. Many of the most prolific Marxists were committed to a religion, such as Paulo Freire (MP3 audio file), the Brazilian founder of critical pedagogy and a devout Roman Catholic. Likewise, Bhaskar, a libertarian or non–authoritarian Marxist like myself, was not affiliated with a religion. Yet, he openly discussed subjects such as avatars and angels. He wrote an entire book, From East to West, which reflected, in very specific terms, on his past lives. Although I am not a believer in reincarnation, I have taken Bhaskar’s work and applied it to my own faith.
Naïve realism can be illustrated by religious literalism, as demonstrated within: the panoplied forms of Christian fundamentalism, Haredi Judaism (Hebrew/ʿIḇəriyṯ, יַהֲדוּת הָחֲרֵדִים, Yạhăḏūṯ hā-Ḥărēḏiym), and the Turkish–Islamic creationism of Adnan Oktar (MP3 audio file)—popularly known by his pen name Harun Yahya (MP3 audio file). Meanwhile, the disenchantment of scientism is evident from the often unnuanced and antagonistic reification of the word “religion” by such proponents of the New Atheism as: Richard Dawkins, Samuel Benjamin “Sam” Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Bill Maher, Brian Keith Dalton, Lawrence M. Krauss, Julia Galef, Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Arabic/ʿArabiyyaẗ, أَيَان هِرْسِيّ عَلِيّ, ꞋAyān Hirsiyy ʿAliyy), Ibn Warraq (Arabic/ʿArabiyyaẗ, اِبْن وَرَّاق, ʾIbn Warrāq, “son of papermaker”), Jerry Coyne, Steven A. Pinker, Paul Zachary “P. Z.” Myers, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Matt Dillahunty, Michael Shermer, David Silverman, Kyle Kulinski, and the late Christopher Hitchens.
The eminent Polish-born Israeli chemist and secular Jewish thinker Israel Shahak (Hebrew/ʿIḇəriyṯ, יִשְׂרָאֵל שָׁחַק, Yiśərāʾēl Šāḥạq), 1933-2001, has candidly addressed the issue of Haredi Judaism in Israel. He offers the following rudimentary definitions:
Haredim [Hebrew/ʿIḇəriyṯ, חֲרֵדִים, Ḥărēḏiym] (“Fearful” in the meaning “God-fearing” in Hebrew): Name of those Jewish fundamentalists who refuse modern innovations. Haredi [Hebrew/ʿIḇəriyṯ, חֲרֵדִי, Ḥărēḏiy] is the singular form and is also an adverb.
[Israel Shahak with an introduction by Norton Mezvinsky. Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Second edition. London and Ann Arbor, Michigan: Pluto Press. 2004. Page xxiii.]
Israeli religious Jews are divided into two distinctly different groups. The members of the religiously more extreme group are called Haredim. (The singular word is Haredi or Hared.) The members of the religiously more moderate group are called religious-national Jews. The religious-national Jews are sometimes called “knitted skullcaps [Hebrew/ʿIḇəriyṯ, כִּפּוֹת סָרוּגוֹת, kipōṯ sārūḡōṯ]” because of their head covering. Haredim usually wear black skullcaps that are never knitted, or hats. The religious-national Jews otherwise usually dress in the more usual Israeli fashion, while the Haredim almost always wear black clothes.
[Israel Shahak with an introduction by Norton Mezvinsky. Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Second edition. London and Ann Arbor, Michigan: Pluto Press. 2004. Page 7.]
A qualification is in order regarding that otherwise helpful and succinct description of the Jewish Haredi movement in the first quotation above. The loaded term “fundamentalism” should be utilized carefully and correctly. It has only been adopted as a self–designation within a particular segment of authentically American neo–Protestantism. Moreover, since none of the religious organizations within Islam, Judaism, or, for that matter, any other non–Christian faiths have ever officially referred to themselves as “fundamentalists,” scholars would seemingly be well–advised—as an issue of wisdom, precision, and respectfulness—to exercise caution when applying the commonly decontextualized characterization, frequently as a pejorative or an epithet, to adherents of different belief systems. Regrettably, the academic literature on the subject, even in this writer’s own substantive area of the sociology of religion, has, until the present day, been exceedingly inconsistent.
Thus, I probably would, in the majority of instances, prefer Bhaskar’s term “incorrigibility”—the stubborn unwillingness to subject one’s personal observations to a systematic critique and, thereby, shutting the door to any reasonable correction or reformation—over his “interpretive fundamentalism.” Attaining degrees of “certitude” is the discovery of alethic truth (MP3 audio file). “Certainty,” on the other hand, is incorrigibility. One of its more widespread species is the so–called new racism. A few commonplace, yet dire, examples are: the color-blind racist reaction to Affirmative Action, the model–minority stereotype of Asian Americans wielded like a sledge hammer against African Americans, the culture–of–poverty thesis which singularly blames the victims of capitalism for their own oppression, the nativist impulse as a poorly disguised cover for underlying racism, and the highly fashionable white supremacist or anti–multicultural hostility to the self–styled “political correctness.”
According to Bhaskar:
… the generative rôle of agents’ skills, wants and beliefs and of social beliefs and meanings must be recognised, and their authenticity and epistemic significance respected, without lapsing into an interpretative fundamentalism by conferring (discursive status and) incorrigibility upon them.
[Roy Bhaskar. Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation. London and New York: Routledge imprint of Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa PLC business. 2009. Page 112.]
… in lapsing into a species of fundamentalism, [Craig] Dilworth restores a covert monism, dehistoricizing and desocializing science, in the manner of pre-Kuhnian [i.e., before Thomas Kuhn] philosophy of science.
[Roy Bhaskar, “Scientific Progress: A Study Concerning the Nature of the Relation Between Successive Scientific Theories and Scientific Revolutions.” Review article. Isis. Volume 74, number 2, June 1983. Pages 258-259.]
… what we have today is the dominance of market fundamentalism. They say: leave it all to the market. What is the meaning of that? The meaning of that is that something else is going on behind the back of the market, which is what they are interested in. And we haven’t just got today the disembedding of markets from the social context. We’ve got the disembedding of money, of finance capital, from product markets.
[Roy Bhaskar in Roy Bhaskar and Alex Callinicos, “Marxism and Critical Realism: A Debate.” Journal of Critical Realism. Volume 1, issue 2, November 2003. Pages 89-114.]
By 1996, I completed Structural Dialectics—a Neoplatonic idealist synthesis of critical theory and Harvard sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin’s integralism—prior to devising Restructurational Realism, my initial version of Bhaskarian critical realism, during 2003–2004. Regrettably, toward the end of 2004, I experienced an existential crisis. It followed my estrangement from an emotionally and a verbally abusive naïve religious realist. Confused and disillusioned, I abandoned critical realism altogether and fervently embraced new critical theory, post–Marxism, nominalism, and strong social constructionism. In this framework, later suitably entitled as Emancipatory Constructionism, I reduced reality to linguistic abstractions. Emancipation and domination became, as a consequence, accidental categories. Not only was I profoundly alienated from nature. I, ultimately, rejected the haecceity (MP3 audio file), the thisness, of human nature itself. Fortunately, my life’s narrative has progressed.
The born lover, to whose degree the musician also may attain – and then either come to a stand or pass beyond – has a certain memory of beauty but, severed from it now, he no longer comprehends it: spellbound by visible loveliness he clings amazed about that. His lesson must be to fall down no longer in bewildered delight before some, one embodied form; he must be led, under a system of mental discipline, to beauty everywhere and made to discern the One Principle underlying all, a Principle apart from the material forms, springing from another source, and elsewhere more truly present.
[Plotinus. The Complete Works of Plotinus. Stephen MacKenna, translator. Hastings, England: Delphi Classics imprint of Delphi Publishing Ltd. 2015. Page 36.]
… with Neoplatonic idealism came the influence of the quasi-mythical Hippodamus [Ancient Greek/A̓rchaía Hellēniká, Ἱππόδαμος ὁ Μιλήσιος, Hippódamos ho Milḗsios, Hippodamus of Miletus], Greek father of the ideal city—especially his “confidence that the processes of reason could impose measure and order on every human activity.”
[Angel Rama, “The Ordered City: From The Lettered City.” Foucault and Latin America: Appropriations and Deployments of Discursive Analysis. Benigno Trigo, editor. London and New York: Routledge imprint of Taylor & Francis Group, an Informa PLC business. 2012. Pages 3-15.]
I deeply and earnestly cherish the beautiful religion of Islam, but I have never been a Muslim. Although I am an unaffiliated revolutionary Marxist–Luxemburgist proto–left–communist sociologist—that is to say, a democratic libertarian communist—and not a progressive or left centrist, my parents were typically secular, progressive New York City Jews who never joined a synagogue. As might be expected, this native New Yorker, born in uptown Manhattan, does not follow Judaism either and, what is more, converted to another faith. Nevertheless, guided by my academic interest in Sufism (Arabic/ʿArabiyyaẗ, تَصَوُّف, Taṣawwuf)—a set of Islamic paths (Arabic/ʿArabiyyaẗ, طُرُق الإِسْلَامِيَّة, ṭuruq ʾal-ꞌIslāmiyyaẗ) which involve various mystical practices, including a discipline of meditation—I elaborated an eclectic research technique for phenomenological reflection called Heartfulness Inquiry. While intently engaged in a sequence of internal conversations—over a three-day U.S. Labor Day weekend (September 3rd5th, 2011)—I recognized, in an instant, the cause and gravity of my mistake, heard the clarion call of my personal dharma (Sanskrit/Saṃskṛtam, धर्म, dharma, “sustenance”), and returned to critical realism through my Dialectical metaRealism.
In light of the above, Bhaskarian critical realism can be developed and applied as a methodology—and, simultaneously, as a system of radical praxis—for establishing, and eventually implementing, some form of Marxian libertarian communism or left communism. These distinct, but overlapping, rubrics include a conglomeration of far–left tendencies, such as Bhaskar’s and my own New Left libertarian socialism. Some Marxist libertarianisms reject the state. Others, like Luxemburg’s, are democratic and anti–authoritarian. Indeed, the emancipation and the generalized improvement of, initially, particular individuals and, subsequently, communities and societies are at the heart of Bhaskar’s discoveries. Especially relevant here is his contrast between the previously mentioned dualism or disunity of demireality and the nonduality or unity of copresence, the cosmic envelope, or the ground state. Individuals are not passive receptors of causal mechanisms. Rather, through the exercise of human agency, they actively metamorphose those mechanisms. Bhaskar referred to these reciprocal relations, in his earlier work, as restructuration and, later, as the Transformational Model of Social Activity.
The project developed in these pages has, from its inception, been a labor of love. Its qualitative mode of exploration—known in the literature as a “critical realist review”— is one of the items referenced in the second chapter of the book. The procedure embraces the aforementioned epistemology of phenomenological analysis, including a dynamically engaged process of theoretical speculation on causal or generative mechanisms. On a mundane level, the book is published through The Institute for Dialectical metaRealism, Mark A. Foster’s Bhaskarian critical realist project. It was called, in two of its earlier virtual incarnations, The Institute for Structurization Theory and The Institute for Emancipatory Constructionism. The institute serves as the theory, research, and literary agency of The MarkFoster.NETwork, a self–publishing portal. Please visit the institute’s website for supplementary information and additional resources. Furthermore, in the rôle as host of The Dr. Mark Foster Show podcast, a series of topics related to critical realism has featured prominently.

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