Critical Realism and the Philosophy of Meta-Reality
Critical Realism begins with a double argument, an argument for ontology and against the epistemic fallacy (or the reduction of statements about the world to statements about our knowledge of the world); and an argument for a new ontology, sustaining structure, difference and the possibility of change, and against the dominant implicit ontology of Humean empiricism, pivoting on the actualist account of causal laws as invariant empirical regularities. Indices of this double argument are the distinctions between the ‘intransitive’ and ‘transitive’ dimensions, or between ontology and epistemology, or between being and knowledge; and the distinction between the domains of the real and the actual, bearing witness to the stratification of the world.
In the development of critical realism, the simple opposition between being and knowledge gives way to the notion of knowledge as part of being, in the idea of what I have called a ‘developing integrative pluralism’ , that is of a metaphysically Copernican-Darwinian world. Generally, in order to come to terms with and understand process and change, the positions of what has been called basic, or original critical realism (constituted by transcendental realism as a philosophy of science, critical naturalism as a philosophy of social science and the theory of explanatory critique as an ethics) need to be ‘dialecticised’. The key move that critical realism in its dialectical form (‘dialectical critical realism’) makes is to assert the reality of absence, necessary to the understanding of change, and to critique the ‘onotological monovalence’ or generation of a purely positive account of reality by the philosophical tradition since the days of Parmenides. In the dialectical critical realist understanding, progress occurs in epistemic matters and in social life generally, when an absence or incompleteness (which is causing opposition, inconsistency or split) is identified and remedied or rectified by its incorporation into a more comprehensive, inclusive or complete totality.
Understanding being as incorporating absence, negativity and process deepens the ontology of basic critical realism; and indeed we can view the development of critical realism in synchronic terms as involving successive deepenings of our understanding of being.
Thus at a first level, we think being as such (following the argument for ontology referred to above) and being as structured, and differentiated (following the argument for the new ontology). At a second level, we think being as incorporating absence, negativity and so on, that is we think being as process. At a third level we think being as incorporating internal, as well as external relations, that is ‘holistically’ or to put it another way we think being as a totality or a whole. At a fourth level we think being as incorporating transformative human agency, and thus also the whole human and social sphere. At a further, fifth level we think this agency as incorporating reflexivity, and being as incorporating ‘spirituality’. At a sixth level we think being as re-enchanted, as inherently meaningful and valuable in itself. At a seventh level we think being as incorporating non-duality; more generally as involving identity and unity and indeed the priority of identity over difference and unity over antagonism and split.
Each of these seven levels presupposes the earlier ones; so that the seventh level, which is that distinctive of the philosophy of meta-Reality, does not involve the denial of any of the previous levels. It follows from this that the kind of unity and identity involved at this level is very different from the atomistic, punctualist or blockist identities and unities thought by conventional philosophy.
The philosophy of meta-Reality sees identity (and unity) as essential to social life in three ways:
As vital to its mode of constitution, or reproduction or transformation – this is the sense of unity involved in non-duality;
As its basis – this is the sense of unity involved in what I call ‘the ground state’ or the transcendentally real self;
As its deep interior.
The first sense is the sense of unity involved in transcendental identification, which takes in four kinds of phenomena:
Transcendental identification in consciousness;
Transcendental holism or teamwork
The transcendental self
This last connects with the sense of unity involved in the ‘ground state’. Human beings typically have three concepts of the self:
The concept of the self as separate from everyone else and the world at large, the concept of the ‘ego’, which Philosophy of meta-Reality argues to be an illusion (though a widespread one);
The concept of the self as an embodied personality, which is a relative and changing one; and
The concept of the ground state, which is argued to be transcendentally real.
Self-realisation occurs when the embodied personality is at one with the ground state, which is also the condition for social agency to be maximally effective. This goal is seen to be logically presupposed by the dialectic of emancipation in Dialectical Critical Realism in the deep pulsar movement towards a society in which the ‘free development of each is a condition of the free development of all’, a society of eudaimonia or universal human flourishing.