Further developments within Critical Realism

Dialectical Critical Realism and MetaReality

This struggle [between the infinite and the finite] is a conflict defined not by the indifference of the two sides in their distinction, but by their being bound together in one unity. I am not one of the fighters locked in battle, but both, and I am the struggle itself. I am fire and water… G.W.F. Hegel

My project is normative‘. Roy Bhaskar

Dialectical Critical Realism Key Concepts

dialectic, change, Hegel, Marx, negativity, absence, non-identity, totality, constellation, ontological monovalence, alethic truth, ethics,

DPF Routledge

What is Dialectical Critical Realism?

The work of Roy Bhaskar has taken different turns. The first of which was a renewed focus on the question of the dialectic. While dialectical thinking is arguably present throughout critical realism (one might think on the manner in which binaries or dualisms are overcome in works like The Possibility of Naturalism) in Dialectic: the Pulse of Freedom, Bhaskar attempts to elaborate the nature of dialectical thinking. First published in 1993, sets itself three main aims: the development of a general theory of dialectic, of which Hegelian dialectic can be seen to be a special case; the dialectical enrichment and deepening of critical realism, viz. into the system of dialectical critical realism; and the outline of the elements of a totalizing critique of Western philosophy.

Following  this, dialectical critical realism (DCR), can be understood as a preservative generalisation and enrichment of the implicit dialectic within critical realism. DCR develops on the general logic and ontology of critical realism to encompass on one hand, negativity and the resources of critique, and on the other, the concept of totality including causation, space, temporality and ethics.

To theoretically situate it within other traditions, we might say DCR follows a ‘non-preservative sublation’ (i.e. it develops but also changes and discards aspects) of the Hegelian (and Marxian) dialectic realised upon a stratified and differentiated ontology in which change is central. Being is understood not only being open, differentiated and stratified (Basic Critical Realism) but permeated by negativity (notably absences), and temporality including change (being is spacio-temporal-causal). To Hegel’s dialectics of identity, negativity and totality, Bhaskar offers four categorical moments of dialectic as non-identity, negativity, totality, and transformative agency (praxis).

In pursuing totality, DCR pushes the dialectic device towards alethic truth (the undisclosed realisation of natural necessity as the power and liabilities of things), encompassing universality and totality as concrete (and not abstract), and, following this,  the possibility of moral realism and ethical naturalism proceeding from metacritical, theoretical, and practical critique coupled with a holisitic understanding (an open totality) of human society.

Central to the revindication of the dialectic is the re-conception of absence as primary, with the process of dialectic itself defined as the absenting of absences, constraints, or ills. This re-vindication of absence proceeds from a critique of the entire philosophical tradition beginning with Parmenides and the philosophy of the unchanging One, centring upon the characteristic error of philosophy, which Bhaskar calls ontological monovalence; the reliance on a ‘purely positive, complementing a purely actual, notion of reality’ (DPF: 4-5).

The first chapter of Dialectic: the Pulse of Freedom, clarifies the rational core of Hegelian dialectic. Chapter two then proceeds to develop a general theory of dialectic. Isolating the fallacy of ‘ontological monovalence’,  Bhaskar then shows how absence and other negating concepts such as contradiction have a legitimate and necessary ontological employment. He then goes on to give a synoptic account of key dialectical concepts such as the concrete universal; to sketch the further dialectical development of critical naturalism through an account of what he calls four-planar social being; and following consideration of the dialectical critique of analytical reason, he moves on to the real definition of dialectic as absenting absence and in the human sphere, the axiology of freedom.

Chapter three extends and deepens critical realism’s characteristic concerns with ontology, science, social science and emancipation not only into the realms of negativity and totality, but also into the fields of reference and truth, spatio-temporality, tense and process, the logic of dialectical universalizability and on to the plane of ethics, where it articulates a combination of moral realism and ethical naturalism, whereby consideration of elemental desire involves commitment to the eudaimonistic society. This is then followed by a sublime discussion of key moments in the trajectory of Western philosophy, the tradition of which can now be seen to be based on what the author calls the unholy trinity of the epistemic fallacy or the reduction of being to knowledge, primal squeeze or the collapse of structure and alethic truth, and ontological monovalence.

Key Works

Roy Bhaskar, Dialectic: the pulse of freedom

Roy Bhaskar, Plato etc

Alan Norrie, Dialectic and Difference (a good starting place)


Bhaskar – [Ch. 2 exerpt] Dialectic the Pulse of Freedom (pdf)


The Philosophy of MetaReality – Key Concepts

Spirituality, alienation, identity, non-dualism, demi-reality,  creativity, love, the self

RMRWhat is metaReality?

The second and more controversial turn in Roy Bhaskar’s work was a turn toward metaReality. Building on a radical new analysis of the self, human agency and society, metaReality shows how the world of alienation and crisis we currently inhabit is sustained by the ground-state qualities of intelligence, creativity, love, a capacity for right-action and a potential for human self realisation or fulfilment.

MetaReality moves the logic of DCR in sustaining non-identity and the priority of the negative over the positive, towards realising identity and the priority of the non-dual as sustaining the world of duality. It moves from thinking being, to being being including (in its ethical form) becoming our being (realising the potential of being of emancipation).

MetaReality deepens the critical realist schema to encompass re-enchantment in which being is understood as intrinsically meaningful and valuable where the distinction between the sacred and the profane is shown to (in the end) breakdown with the deepest level of being understood as characterised by peace, love, freedom and creativity and therefore as meaningful and valuable (value-impregnated and value-impregnating).

Furthermore, being is understood as non-dual and consisting of non-dual moments. This paves the way for revindicating spirituality as basic to human life, arguing that one can be spiritual without ‘religious frameworks’, and indeed, given the non-dual nature of reality, such a ‘spirituality’ is unavoidable.

MetaReality situates identity and non-duality as a more basic level upon which the world of duality operates. The relationship between non-duality (identity) and duality (non-identity) can be represented as, non-duality < duality, or as identity < non-identity < (false) identity.

Once a realm of duality is constituted, you then have the possibility of that kind of duality which sharpens into a dualism, as in the move from a dialectical connection to an antagonistic contradiction. The realm of duality (or relative reality, with non-duality as absolute reality) thereby gives way to binary oppositions, and in doing so ‘reality’ becomes characterised by dualism, split, alienation, reification, commodification, and the ensuing TINA formations and master-slave relations which arise. Relative reality, when characterised by these dualisms is called ‘demi-reality’, and is a world of causally efficacious illusions; falsities which presuppose a truth, but act to mask and mystify the underlying reality and connection. Relative reality is the world of becoming, encompassing change, process, evolution and development, structured by difference and grounded in non-identity. Demi-reality radicalises the duality of non-identity and difference into alienations, repulsions, and indeed divisiveness, hate, and fear in the social world. Thus, metaReality < relative reality < demi-reality. From this basis, metaReality theorises, love, creativity, action, learning and education, perception and consciousness, the self, the discursive intellect, and the sociology of the everyday, from the categories of non-duality and transcendence to the thematisation of thinking being to being being. Of particular interest to us is the re-vindication of re-enchantment and creativity at the deepest level of being.

Re-enchantment is thematised in chapter 3 and chapter 5 of The Philosophy of metaReality (PMR), and proceeds from the collapse of subject-object duality, and with it the collapse of the semiotic triangle. Here we have immediate unmediated identity of being and meaning, that is reality is seen as meaningful in itself, entailing, among other things, that we can learn from it. The world, as it were, becomes (or more correctly, is seen to have been) a meaningful text which speaks to us. Likewise, values are no longer seen as subjective classifications of the mind, but rather, they are already constitutive of reality itself (peace, love, creativity etc…).

Creativity, thematised in PMR chapter 3, develops from the DCR categories of emergence, holisitic causality, and totality, which in DPF were already considered in terms of autopoeisis and creativity. In metaReality this is deepened, and creativity becomes central to being itself, as the production of something new but something already implicitly or potentially in what was there before. Creativity, is therefore not only characteristic of human thought and action, but of being itself as being is punctuated by emergence (the flaring and fuming of primary matter), transformation, objectification, reflection, etc… The understanding of creativity thereby opens the door to an understanding of the world of becoming, of time and change and of process, and in metaReality this becomes one of the keys to accessing the deep interior of being.


Key Texts

Roy Bhaskar, Reflections on metaReality

Roy Bhaskar, The Philosophy of metaReality

Roy Bhaskar, From Science to Emancipation


Bhaskar – [excerpt] From Science to Emancipation – Introduction to metaReality (pdf)

Bhaskar – [Excerpt Ch. 11] FSE, Educating the Educators (pdf)