Critical Realism

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Nicholas H. Hedlund-de Witt:

"CR holds that the world is characterized by a kind of duality in which (intransitive) objects (in a general categorical and dispositional sense) have their own existence (and agency) outside of human knowledge and interpretation, but can only be known in their specific contents, rich textures, and nuances in and through (transitive) scientific inquiry and human interpretation/construction." (


Nicholas H. Hedlund-de Witt:

"Three Phases of Critical Realism

Critical Realism also has gone through a number of phases since its inception. Generally, there are three recognized phases:

1. Basic Critical Realism:

CR’s transcendental realist ontology and philosophy of science (transcendental realism), arrived at by a method combining transcendental argument and immanent critique; philosophy of social science (critical naturalism); anthe theory of explanatory critique.

Key Texts: A Realist Theory of Science (1975), The Possibility of Naturalism (1979), and Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation (1986)

2. Dialectical Critical Realism:

the further development of transcendental realist ontology through the development of its theory of dialectics; critique of Western philosophy (including the philosophical discourse of modernity).

Key Texts: Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom (1993) and Plato Etc. (1994).

3. MetaReality:

CR’s spiritual philosophy, which followed the “spiritual turn” (inaugurated by Bhaskar’s From East to West ). In this way it builds on the foundational ontology of basic CR and the further deepening of ontology in dialectical CR, so a sto add to this a further three levels, culminating in the prioritization of identity over difference and unity over split, and the thematization of nonduality.

Key Texts: The Philosophy of MetaReality (2002) , From Science to Emancipation (2002), and Reflections on MetaReality (2002)."



CR and the Integral Approach

Nicholas H. Hedlund-de Witt:

"Critical Realism (CR) is an integrative metatheory founded in the 1970s by the British philosopher RoyBhaskar with the publication of seminal works in the philosophy of science and social science, such as A Realist Theory of Science, The Possibility of Naturalism, and Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation. Many integral scholars now regard CR, alongside Integral Theory (IT), as among the most comprehensive and sophisticated integrative metatheories developed to date. Numerous concepts and distinctions within CR share an uncanny resemblance to ideas within IT. For example, Bhaskar’s notion of “four-planar social being” and his emergent levels or strata clearly echo IT’s own all-quadrants, all-levels approach. Thus, viewed through thelens of IT, CR develops a robust approach that in some sense accounts for all quadrants and all levels of reality but arguably does so with a level of academic rigor unparalleled in IT as it is currently articulated. As such, CR is a sphere of theory and practice that can be deeply instructive for Integral Theory as it continues to develop into a compelling academic field, particularly with respect to key ontological and epistemic considerations as well as other important distinctions and integral principles. For example, CR has developed a sophisticated depth ontology as part of its philosophy of sciencecalled “transcendental realism,” which goes beyond positivism and constructivism alike. CR, like IT, identifies itself as an emergent intellectual formation arising in the wake of postmodernism—and it claims to do so by sublating (transcending and synthesizing) the partial truths of modernism and postmodernism.

CR and IT are also resonant in that they are both imbued with a dialectical logic, and both include a spiritual dimension.Furthermore, CR is a kind of panoptic or comprehensive metatheory that has been applied to a wide range of disciplines in a similar way to Integral Theory.

With all of the aforementioned resonance in mind, leading integral scholar-practitioner Sean Esbjörn-Hargens has stated that “Critical Realism is a viable integral alternative to Integral Theory and as such integral scholar-practitioners will benet from a more direct engagement with its distinctions and applications.”

However, while CR and IT share many points of convergence or commonground, there are also a number of points of divergence. Yet, as was the predominant view emerging from the2011 Critical Realism & Integral Theory four-day symposium at John F. Kennedy University (which was at- tended by Roy Bhaskar), the strengths of each often seem to coincide with the deciencies, or areas in needof further theoretical reection and development, in the other. This feature thus suggests the possibility of amutually enriching engagement between these approaches—and highlights the potential for a rich and generative dialogical encounter." (

CR and Transcendental Pragmatism

Matthew McNatt:

"As an anti-reductionist, I also align more with the epistemological approach sketched above, which I call "transcendental pragmatism" and which I think carries forward a "transcend and include" disposition better than some of what passes for "critical realism." To highlight the differences between the two schools, here are eight claims that some critical realists will have *no problem* with, but that every transcendental pragmatist I've met will question—if not reject outright.

While I accept some of the premises that follow, I also outright reject each of these conclusions:

1. Reality is fundamentally empirical: Measurement can reliably precede framing without distortion. It is not necessary to conceptually explore what "historical kind" one is investigating prior to discerning which measures to use, nor is it necessary to be clear why one's self or one's team is interested in a particular set of phenomena. The truest ideas are those open to testing that have survived efforts to falsify them.

2. Sensation is primarily summative: Most organisms aim primarily for accurate perception, rather than for control of interactions, including perception. Barring cases of injury or malformation, it is not necessary to study sensory organs, nor the neurological systems that coordinate their input, in order to appreciate the degree of distortion "built in" to achieving an illusion of coherence. Measurement of sensory inputs can reliably predict what organisms perceive.

3. Social facts are primarily linguistic: To be socially significant, any implicit reality must become measured or spoken about. Even so, speaking is often more declarative than descriptive—better thought of as performative actions that externalize the private self. To question someone's identity—his or her declarations about who or what (s)he is—is to do subtle violence against that identity.

4. Capacity is primarily summative: An organism's current capacity is generally the sum of his or her abilities, provided the organism is well rested and can readily ascertain which abilities are most appropriate for the context. Most organisms will spontaneously inhibit their use of capacities that would otherwise tend to interfere with their aims. Similarly, a group's current capacity is, in general, the sum of its members' capacities, provided that members' basic needs are met and the group is sufficiently coordinating its members' efforts. Given sufficient coordination, it is generally unnecessary to control for social dilemmas.

5. Group intent is primarily summative: A group's intent is, in general, the sum of what its members have been intending. Measurement of individuals' desires and personalities can reliably predict how a group will function; it is generally unnecessary to account for any willingness among a subset of the group to shame or punish those who undermine their priorities, nor to ascertain what those priorities are.

6. Adding perspectives reliably improves understanding: Insight can be reliably attained by accounting for more perspectives—particularly the perspectives of people who have deeply studied or been deeply affected by the phenomenon at hand—and/or by aggregating more data and looking for trends. Either approach is generally sufficient to correct for confirmation bias and conflict of interest.

7. Time as people experience it is fundamentally linear; that is, one event following another. Human memory is, similarly, primarily recall (re-call), like playing back a recording, not primarily remembering (re-membering), like actors re-enacting an event from whatever traces that remain. Any sense that in the face of another person, we encounter aspects of our human inheritance—including moments that we have not been party to—is less significant than the moment of our meeting and what chronologically occurs afterward. Likewise, any sense that in this moment, each of us will choose some of what we carry forward, while inevitably carrying forward many aspects of reality that exceed our control, is likewise less significant than whatever has been and will be "objectively" happening.

8. Each of us has a "true self", which we can know through guided self-reflection. An author's, coach's, or counselor's conviction that there is a "true self" to be found is not distorting in the same way that constraints of biology, history, and community are. Freedom is found by casting off the latter, in order to embrace the former. Anyone who questions this lacks the skill or fortitude to become all that (s)he can be." (