Roy Bhaskar explicitly identified himself as a moral realist, and offered several different justifications for this in the course of his work. Some critical realists accept all of those justifications, some are ambivalent or selective about which they accept, and others like Andrew Sayer and myself, for example, reject moral realism outright. This post focuses on one of Bhaskar’s arguments: the theory of explanatory critique.
One of the many ways in which critical realism goes beyond positivism is in rejecting the idea that social science can or should be ethically neutral. Like most critical realists, I see it as part of the role of the social scientist to criticise unjust social arrangements. But for philosophically oriented social scientists, critique cannot come from nowhere – it requires an ethical justification and that justification must be coherent with our wider ontology.
Increasingly, critical realist scholars have been discussing the implications of realist theories of causality for the research methods we use in the social sciences. The usual view – which I will agree with – is that realism is compatible with a wide range of different research methods. But I will suggest that for realists there is a gap between conventional methods and the explanatory task, and then speculate a little on how we might fill that gap in practice.
One of Roy Bhaskar’s central ontological claims is that in addition to the actual – the things and events that occur in the material universe – our ontology must also recognise a domain of the real, which includes the actual, but extends beyond it. In his first book, A Realist Theory of Science, he argued that the non-actual includes real causal powers, a very strong argument that I explained towards the end of my last blog post. However, if we accept this argument this opens up rather a large question: what else could be real but not actual?
In the first couple of substantive posts on this blog I pinned my colours firmly to a materialist perspective on the social sciences. But what does this ‘materialism’ actually mean?
I’ve called this blog ‘Materially Social’ because the phrase links together the original motivations for my research programme with some recent developments in it. Today I’m going to focus on the original motivations and where they’ve led me – I’ll post about the recent developments later.