Talk:Critical realism

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I've looked up "critical realism" in The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (just about perception), and done a google search for the phrase within the Stanford Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy (various mentions of Bhaskar and his school, but only in relation to the philosophy of the social sciences), and come to the conclusion that these are two things with not much in common beyond the name.

I propose that this page should become something like a disambig page, and that most of the content should be moved to:

  • Critical realism (philosophy of perception): the view that we have perceptual knowledge of physical objects in a mind-independent world (in contrast to phenomenalism or idealism), but that these objects are not immediately accessible to us in perception (as direct realism holds), but are instead inferred or derived from our perceptions.
  • Critical realism (philosophy of the social sciences): for Bhaskar & co: Bhaskar seems to have general views on the philosophy of science, but the notability of his work seems to be entirely within the (philosophy of) the social sciences (esp economics, international relations, sociology).
  • (perhaps) Critical realism (theology) ?

Thoughts? Omicron18 (talk) 08:15, 28 May 2013 (UTC)

As somebody who has added quite a bit to this article in the last few years, I can absolutely second this proposal! I know CR as the Bhaskarian (and ultimately Marxian) philosophy of social science outlined in The Possibility of Naturalism (and undergirded by A Realist Theory of Science). Despite having read extensively around the CR literature in politics, International Relations, sociology and management studies, I had never come across the competing (seemingly American philosophy of perception related?) usage. So I think two separate pages makes a lot of sense... these are clearly two, fundamentally different traditions of thinking that happen, by historical accident, to have been given the same name. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:35, 21 August 2013 (UTC)

Thanks. I've now done this. We'll see what happens. Not sure if there's enough material on crit realism in theology for it to survive. Omicron18 (talk) 12:03, 24 August 2013 (UTC)

Delete section on Bhaskar[edit]

I think the whole section about Bhaskar should be erased. Critical realism is, in philosophy, defined against naïve realism, i.e. that perceivers stand in some kind of direct relation to what they perceive. Critical realism is the kind of theory proposed by Locke and later philosophers, where perceived things are internally represented (somehow). Bhaskar seems to be a minor figure in philosophy. I find nothing on him apart from blogs and books/articles published by him or some guy named Collins who is associated with him. Also, all the references about Bhaskar stem from primary sources, mostly written by Bhaskar. Seems very weird to have him take up an entire article imo. Perhaps he might even be placed under something "transcendental realism", since that is what he defends. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:27, 6 June 2012 (UTC)

The Routledge (very large, well-established and peer-review-based academic publisher) book 'Critical Realism: Essential Readings' features many chapters by Bhaskar, taken from both his two crucial books of the 1970s (A Realist Theory of Science and The Possibility of Naturalism) and his later work. The other contributors, from Andrew Collier to Margaret Archer, all view their own work as rooted in Bhaskar's, as do many other significant social scientists, from Bob Jessop and Alex Callinicos to Alexander Wendt. Both of Bhaskar's foundational texts are still in publication and widely available, and have also been revised in the form of multiple editions over the decades. The Centre for Critical Realism was founded by Bhaskar. More or less every result from a Google search on "Critical realism" is about Bhaskar's version, as elaborated in RoS and PoN, from the differentiation between transitive and intransitive objects of knowledge and the prioritisation of ontology, to the stratification of social ontology and the rejection of the Humean-empiricist account of causation. I am really not sure why so many people on this discussion board are so determined to claim that Bhaskar is somehow a marginal figure. Even the most vociferous critics of CR attribute its origins (and much of its development) to Bhaskar. As a British academic in Politics and International Relations, I can assure you that all the critical realists I have met (and there are, these days, many of them in British academia, refer to Bhaskar very heavily in their philosophical argumentation). As a final note on the above comment - 'transcendental realism' is Bhaskar's approach to natural science, developed in RoS, it shapes his eventual elaboration of a philosophy of social science in PoN, which he calls the philosophy of 'critical naturalism', his followers (and, for many years, himself) came to conjoin the two terms and coined 'critical realism'. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:14, 11 June 2012 (UTC)

Too broad[edit]

"critical realism refers to any position that maintains that there exists an objectively knowable, mind-independent reality, whilst acknowledging the roles of perception and cognition." the second half of that sentence is vague enough for it not to be false, but it's very misleading. are all realists critical realists? all realists that can account for illusion?? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:09, 16 September 2007 (UTC)

As pointed out, this is impossibly broad--on one reading, it would capture almost all philosophers of perception. Accordingly, I have removed it, pending evidence that the term has been used in this way. JustinBlank (talk) 21:54, 4 June 2009 (UTC)==The existence of other communitites==

I would like to see some further contributions to the page which address other communities, apart from the Bhaskar community, that refer to themselves as critical realists. I am familiar with Peacocke, Barbour, and Polkinghorne and their use of the term 'critical realism', and will be adding some information about them shortly. However I am aware of a literary criticism school in the 1920s who refer to themselves as critical realists. I would like to see someone who knows about literary criticism add to this page.

Very different from the Critical Realism I know[edit]

I think this is a very suspicious article. First of all, Roy Bhaskar is basically a nobody as far as major anglophone philosophy departments. On the other hand, there are important American and British philosophical traditions that go by the name Critical realism that are entirely unrepresented, here. This makes the article unbalanced, if not POV. One reputable source has an article on Critical Realism with no mention of Bhaskar, while none of the authors in that article are mentioned here. Also, no mention is made of Roy Wood Sellars, who wrote extensively on critical realism, coining the term and spear-heading the movement, along with Santayana and Lovejoy. --The Hanged Man 04:28, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Making this comment about 5 years too late for you to read it... but how is a reputable source?! I just had a look and it seems to just be some individual's personal blog-style site with his notes on various philosophies. When we say 'reputable source', we usually mean a peer-reviewed academic journal article. Maybe the world was very different back in 2005, but I don't think so. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 12:55, 21 June 2010 (UTC)
I don't think the above constitutes grounds for "suspicion", exactly. Why don't you add what you think are the key references, and change invocations of authority to what you think are the more seminal figures. As for Bhaskar being a "nobody": well, obviously he has some sort of a following, so this looks POV. Simply establishing that there was a body of work on critical realism before Bhaskar did any work in the area should be enough for the purposes of this article (I understand this to be your claim), and I assume the Bhaskar article will also need appropriate changes. --- Charles Stewart 13:48, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

I've gone through and made enough changes to make it clear that there is more to Critical realism that Bhaskar. I'm removing the warning, even though the attention to Bhaskar is still completely unproportional to his academic importance, as far as I have an idea of what that means. Sorry if I'm sounding too POV, there.

I hope someone who knows more than just the bare bones, unlike me, comes along and fleshes this thing out. In any case, hopefully the important stuff has been done. --The hanged man 21:38, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)

In my view the problem with the article is not a POV issue. The article has been very thin and needs the expansion you have started, thank you. However, the empahsis on Bhaskar is not a POV issue, rather a lack of traffic to this page from people with breadth, as such it should have had a stub label (it did at one stage, I can't remember who or why it was removed). With regard to the American Critical Realists, you will note that there has been a comment on this discussion page asking for more work to be done in that regard. As for Bhaskar, he may not have as higher profile as other philosophers, nonetheless, a google search for Critical Realism, will reveal the amount of impact he has had on contemporary critical realism. As such, it is more than fair that he receives attention in an encylopedia. At the same time you correctly point out that the article has a greater scope. For instance, critical realism is frequently discussed in journals such as Zygon (looking at the interface between science and religion) with little reference to Bhaksar or the Americans. However, Alister McGrath has started to combine these two strands in his recent scientific theology trilogy. -Fermion 01:09, 19 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Doesn't Polanyi start publishing 20 years before Bhaskar? And Personal Knowledge and the articles that it grows out of have just as much, if not more, to say about linguistics and science as about Theology. If Polanyi is both the first "post-critical philosopher" and a major influence on Thomas Kuhn as some people claim (debatable, perhaps) then he needs to be woven in throughout this article rather than remaining an aside. 08:17, 10 November 2007 (UTC)

For whatever its worth, the publisher's text on the back cover of the new Verso 'Radical Thinkers' edition of Bhaskar's Realist Theory of Science (2008) says 'Roy Bhaskar is an independent scholar and founder of the critical realist movement in the social sciences'. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:48, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

The Routledge-published (1998) 3rd edition of Bhaskar's The Possibility of Naturalism also calls Bhaskar 'the founder of the critical realist movement' in the inside cover blurb. Also, given that so many very highly influential and well-published scholars, including Alex Callinicos (political theorist), Milja Kurki (International Relations theorist), Norman Fairclough (linguist and critical discourse analyst), and Colin Wight (IR theorist), call themselves 'critical realists' and then explicitly link this to Bhaskar's philosophy as expressed in A Realist Theory of Science and The Possibility of Naturalism, it seems fair to say that - at least in UK social sciences - it is accepted that Bhaskar is the founder/leading light of this philosophy. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:30, 30 June 2010 (UTC)

Status in social theory[edit]

"Since Bhaskar made the first big steps in popularising the theory of critical realism in the 1970s, it has become one of the major strands of social scientific method - rivalling positivism/empiricism, and post-structuralism/relativism/interpretivism."

Say what? Does this apply in the UK or Europe? Certainly not in the U.S. where the words "critical" and "realism" are unlikely to be heard together...

--- UK viewpoint: Critical realism is very popular in organization studies, especially among folks in Cambridge, and a chap called Mike Reed (cannot remember where he is based). I think the whole critical realism is just a failed critique based on a huge misunderstanding/misreading of social constructivism in social sciences. If I find a good critique of this "theory" or "philosophy", I'll put it on the wiki page.

Yes, this is a UK view. In many social science courses in the UK students are taught that the two major methodological approaches are positivism and social constructionism with critical realism as an important third (and intermediate) position. Itsmejudith (talk) 16:27, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Muddled Article[edit]

I'm not really sure what to do with this article. A quick search on google does show that Roy Bhaskar's work is at least notable in the sense that it is often cited. However, I agree with the earlier comments that he has no profile that I know of in the mainstream of analytic philosophy, nor even (so far as I know about it) continental philosophy. Now, many noteworthy people are not philosophers, but that indicates that the article needs a lot of clarification.

Additionally, I have never encountered mentions that Russell, for instance, was a critical realist, or even C.D. Broad, though he's a bit more obscure. Since those are the sorts of figures who'd be relevant to whether this is a philosophical theory, citations for these claims seem quite important. Anyway, I don't think that I can do much to improve this article, save for threatening to remove the uncited portions, but it's in really bad shape. JustinBlank (talk) 21:51, 4 June 2009 (UTC)


I have been reading NT Wriight's 'The New Testament and the People of God' Where Tom Wright bases his epistemology on critical realism and his concept of 'story'. I must say that I am rather suspicious of the way that he tries to demolish all both empiricism and positivism before launching on his five volume project. A more sensitive eclectic approach would have been better. Anyway I remain aconfirmed old fashioned "enlightenment" empirisist. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:44, 23 July 2009 (UTC)

In Text References[edit]

This article does not have adequate in text references, if any. Some of these claims are thus wildly inappropriate, for example conflating post-structuralism, relativism and interpretivism and pitting them against empiricism/positivism (also a conflation). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:21, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

With regard to all of the above discussion. I have now added a section on CR and Marxism. This section is, in accordance with the comment immediately above mine, properly referenced. As you can see from my short contribution, as a social scientist with an interest in Marxism, I have come to critical realism via Bhaskar's philosophy of science. I think that given the direct reference to Bhaskar in Alex Callinicos's work (and also in Norman Fairclough's Critical Discourse Analysis text from 2003 entitled Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research, wherein Fairclough also attributes his 'critical realist ontology' to his reading of Bhaskar), it is safe to say that, at least in the UK, Bhaskar is seen as a key figure or 'founder' of critical realist philosophy. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:40, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

Some thoughts on Critical Realism[edit]

I would be pleased to hear any comments on this portion of a doctoral essay on CR. " Critical Realism can be considered an ontology and epistemology (Sayer, 2000). As an ontology it transcends both extremes of objectivism and subjectivism (Watson, 2008). As an ontology it allows for the division of an intransitive external reality (Danermark, 2002) and transitive concepts or social reality (Ateljevic et al., 2007). This ontological dualism allows for knowledge from the external world which may or may not be revealed and as our knowledge of it is conceptually mediated and therefore our understanding may be fallible (Danermark, 2002). Bhasker (2008) suggests the domain of the social world is stratified into three sections; the empirical, the actual and the real. The domain of the ‘real’ contains mechanisms, irrespective of whether they produce events or not. When the mechanisms produce an event, whether seen or not, it comes under the domain of the ‘actual’, and when such an event is experienced it within the domain of the ‘empirical’ (Danermark, 2002). In epistemological terms it aims to identify the structures at work in empirical events, even if these structures are not immediately evident (Bryman and Bell, 2007) and it attempts to explain causation by understanding the underlying mechanisms and not simply as a constant conjunction (Johnson and Duberley, 2000). It therefore differs from a positivists concept of causality as it emphasis tendencies of occurrence rather a predictive pattern. In essence, whilst a positivist may believe that an empirical view directly reflects reality, a realist may argue that this is a way of knowing reality. What makes critical realism ‘critical’; “is that the identification of the generative mechanisms offers the prospect of introducing changes that can transform the status quo” (Bryman and Bell, 2007, p.18). Critical Realism holds that we will only be able to understand and change the social world through identifying structures which are not immediately apparent in empirical events (Bhaskar, 1989). Events can be seen but social mechanisms require theory and abstraction to attempt to observe them (Wikgren, 2005). Critical realism can also involve an emancipatory dimension (Wikgren, 2005) through attempting to explain the generative mechanisms it can simultaneously engage in a critique of social actions (Archer, 1998)." —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:15, 11 February 2010 (UTC)


Says section General philosophy in paragraph number 3:

Positivism/falsification are also rejected...

But what is that? At least logical positivism is verificationism. AFAIK, falsificationism was erected by the alleged critical realist Karl Popper (if I've not gotten it wrong — which of course is a possibility)... Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 20:06, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

No, I got it wrong. He was critical rationalist. But still: what is Positivism/falsification? Seems like an oxymoron to me. Rursus dixit. (mbork3!) 20:07, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

As I understand it, Popper's 'falsificationism' is still a form of positivism, but a deductive rather than an inductive one. It is still premised on the claim that all we can know about the world is that which can be empirically observed, as opposed to non-positivist (e.g. Marxist) or post-positivist (e.g. constructivist) accounts, which deny the primacy of empirical observation in both its inductive and deductive forms and instead focus respectively on structure and discursive agency as determinants of the social world. So I don't think 'positivism/falsification' is oxymoronic. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:43, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

Critical Realism and Marx[edit]

Too often Marx is confused with Marxism. Marxism is the social movement that arose out of Marx' work. The adjective 'Marxian' is typically used to describe the actual works of Karl Marx. I have modified this section to reflect this viewpoint. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Lukeorama (talkcontribs) 21:59, 22 June 2011 (UTC)

This section refers mainly to the adherence to critical realism by Marxists (not Marx himself, since CR came afterward - in fact it is altogether possible Marx himself would reject critical realism in favour of a more rigidly or 'classically' materialist base->superstructure social ontology). The section refers largely to Alex Callinicos, a member of the British Trotskyite Marxist movement. I have therefore reverted the section title. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:48, 27 October 2011 (UTC)

Locke and Descartes[edit]

This piece of information stems from Microsoft Encarta, if I am right informed. However, I perceive it to be junk that should be deleted, as critical realism is realism after Kant, cf. my article On the origins of critical realism, now appearing under 'further reading'. AL (talk) 03:30, 11 July 2011 (UTC)

Broken links[edit]

The links titled "Chapter XI: Realism" and "(Introduction to Philosophy by Dallas M. Roark)" link to a 404 page. Magic5ball (talk) 10:10, 23 October 2011 (UTC)

Confusing sentence in lead[edit]

"Put simply, Critical Realism highlights a mind dependent aspect of the world, which reaches to understand (and comes to understanding of) the mind independent world."

I don't understand this sentence, and I'm a philosophy student. I think I know what "a mind dependent aspect of the world" is, but I don't understand how it could "reach to understand" the mind-independent world. Was the sentence mis-typed? Was it supposed to say "Critical realism posits a mind that reaches to understand (and comes to understanding of) the mind-independent world"? --Phatius McBluff (talk) 16:07, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

The "mind dependent aspect of the world" to which the sentence refers is science itself (the transitive acquisition of knowledge), which "reaches to understand [...] the mind independent world" (the 'intransitive objects of knowledge', according to Bhaskar).