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Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom.

BHASKAR, Roy. Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1991. xii + 202 pp. Cloth, $47.95; paper, $19.95--This book focuses primarily on a critique of the thought of Richard Rorty, who, according to Bhaskar, provides an excellent commentary on the epistemological problem of contemporary philosophy. This commentary, however, is partial. This is because, as Bhaskar sees it, Rorty fails to reject the "positivist instrumentalist and Humean-Hempelean bias" of contemporary thought (p vii).

Bhaskar argues that certain assumptions underpin not only the contemporary philosophical tradition but also much of contemporary culture, including the social sciences. These assumptions are that (1) knowledge must be permanent and uncoruptible; (2) the world is essentially unstructured, undifferentiated and unchanging; and (3) the relationship between knowledge and the world is isomorphic or even identical. These assumptions, Bhaskar claims, provide the basis for the general epistemological fallacy of our times which generates common misconceptions regarding human nature and society. In examining Rorty's conception of science Bhaskar points out that Rorty assumes that science entails that prediction and control presuppose Humean causality. Rorty thus becomes committed to positivism in his approach to the structure of scientific theories. Because Rorty espouses empirical realism he cannot avoid the epistemic fallacy it contains. Bhaskar believes that the main drawback to Rorty's position is that he rationalizes the history of science and therefore ignores the continuity between science and philosophy.

For Bhaskar, any valid epistemology must recognize both the principle of the existential intransitivity of objects (things exist and act independently of their descriptions) and the principle of the historical transitivity of knowledge (man cannot know that that which is known exists and acts independently of those descriptions). Bhaskar believes mankind stands at the threshold of a new era when the explanatory--emancipatory, critical human sciences are waiting to revolutionize our understanding of reality. He claims that we stand in relation to these sciences as Hobbes and Descartes stood in relation to mechanics, and he intends to lay the groundwork necessary for their realization. Bhaskar asserts that freedom requires the recognition of social structures as objectively existing entities which, though they are concept dependent, are not merely conceptual. The crisis of social sciences and the humanities lies in the fact that they appeal "not just to irrelevant but to absurd and patently inapplicable philosophies like positivism" (p. 74). Bhaskar advises philosophers to abandon the search for permanent, ahistorical foundations of knowledge, and to focus instead upon the historical arts and sciences and other social practices where they can help bring forth Bhaskar's new age of human sciences.

The author agrees with Rorty that philosophical problems are produced by the unconscious adoption of assumptions built into the vocabulary in which the problem is stated. Though he admits that Rorty's work does effectively demolish the ontic fallacy, the epistemological fallacy is left untouched. This leads Rorty to replicate the classical problems of philosophy. Bhaskar asserts that his own position, which he describes as critical realism, does not suffer from these drawbacks. Its premises are historical and open to development, and this is particularly helpful in the social science where the approach of positivism is particularly out of place.

The author also relates his position to social theory and moral philosophy. The critical realist accepts epistemic relativism, which asserts that all beliefs are socially produced and, therefore, that all knowledge becomes transient, and that neither truth-values nor criteria for rationality can exist outside of historical time. Simultaneously, he rejects judgemental relativism, which claims that there are no good grounds for preferring one set of beliefs to another. Thus Bhaskar avoids both epistemic absolutism and judgemental rationalism. Freedom from this perspective becomes the ability to know one's real interest, to possess the ability, resources, and opportunity to act upon them, and to be disposed to so act.--David J. DeLeonardis, Jersey City, N.J.
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Author:De Leonardis, David J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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