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[The following interview was originally published in Issue 8 of The Philosophers' Magazine (TPM) as well as on the Web at, as part of the magazine's Web site, TPM Online. The interview is archived here with the kind permission of The Philosophers' Magazine, which retains the copyright. The editor of TPM Online is Jeremy Stangroom.]

Roy Bhaskar Interviewed


Q. You have been thinking and writing about issues in the philosophy of science for around twenty five years. Can you tell us what originally took you into this area and why it has remained such a central preoccupation?

A. I got a scholarship to Oxford to study PPE and I was equally interested in all three subjects, but it seemed to me in the mid to late sixties that clearly the most important problem facing mankind was that of world poverty. It also seemed to me that economic theory had very little of relevance to say about this, so I started writing a PhD thesis on the relevance of economic theory for under-developed countries, the answer to which, if it had been written, would probably have been very little, probably nil. But in order to elaborate this intuition it was necessary for me to go back to issues in the philosophy of social science and further back into the philosophy of science. I found the philosophy of social science to be dominated by a very unrewarding dispute between positivism and hermeneutics, and they all seemed to be dominated by an empiricist philosophy of science.

About this time, there was a very vigorous theoretical debate generated by Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos and so on. I found this extremely stimulating. These theorists called into question standard empiricist orthodoxies in what I call the transitive or epistemological dimension of science. They had virtually nothing to say, except by implication, about ontology, that is, the theory of being. They basically left the empiricist ontology intact, so they could not sustain their rational intuitions or insights. I found some clues about a possible alternative ontology from the works of people like Rom Harré, who were moving in a realist direction. Now they didn't have very much to say about the transitive dimension as such, but they were very critical about the deductive, nomological model of explanation. Implicitly they called into question the sufficiency of the Humean, Hempelian, Popperian orthodoxy. What I was doing in A Realist Theory of Science and related works was to call into question the necessity of these theories which dominated empiricism and anti-empiricism. In particular, I did this by re-thematising ontology and giving it a certain new content or shape. Really the whole of my work has stemmed from this essay into ontology. I should just say that within a year or so I was teaching economics, but I had changed my research topic to philosophy. After two years, I switched to become a full-time philosopher, which I realised was the true love of my life.

Q. Can you tell us what is distinctive about critical realism as compared with other realist epistemologies and philosophies of science?

A. The answer to this question would take an interview in its own right! But very briefly, it used a transcendental method of argument, which most philosophies of science didn't use, and then the transcendental argument became a dialectical one in which the force was immanent critique. Secondly, it had the various propositions about ontology, about the necessity of ontology, about the particular place or shape of ontology - that the nature of the world is presupposed by science – which it explicitly thematised, and it was shown that rival philosophies of science tacitly secreted or implicitly presupposed some distinctive, normally Humean, ontology that was quite inadequate to the real nature of being and the true character of science. The sort of ontology I was arguing for was the kind of ontology in which the world was seen as structured, differentiated and changing. And science was seen as a process in motion attempting to capture ever deeper and more basic strata of a reality at any moment of time unknown to us and perhaps not even empirically manifest.

So this created a radically new world view and this world view was taken into the philosophy of social science, into ethics, into politics to a small extent, into other branches of philosophy, into the history of philosophy, and above all into the area of dialectic.

Now there is a third thing besides the content of the particular thesis at issue at any particular stage in the development of critical realism. Through and through critical realism has been critical of what we can call the nature of reality itself. Not the nature of absolute reality, or the absolute structure of being - to be critical of that is to put oneself into the position of God or the creator of the universe - but rather it is to be critical of the nature of actual, currently existing, social reality, or of our understandings of social and natural reality. It has always taken epistemologies, philosophical thesis, etc., as reflections of the society in which they are generated and sustained. And as far as these theses are misleading, they point to deep categorial confusions and errors inherent in the very structure of social reality itself. So it was natural to find an identification between people who were influenced by critical realism and left-wing socialist, Marxist and other critical currents of thought in the 1970s and through on into the 1990s.

And so I would say that the three major distinctive things about critical realism are: its transcendental and dialectical character; the content of its particular theses; and the fact that it is critical of the nature of reality itself, in the first instance social reality, including the impact of human beings upon the natural world in which they are embedded and in which they are at present creating so much havoc.

Q. How do you see your work as having changed and developed in the period since your first book, A Realist Theory of Science, appeared in 1975.

A. I think looking at it over the last 25 years or so, there have been four major benchmarks and I'm now working on initiating a fifth. These can be associated with particular books: 'transcendental realism' with A Realist Theory of Science; 'critical naturalism', first promulgated in The Possibility of Naturalism; Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation, which forefronted the notion of 'explanatory critiques' and the refutation of 'Hume's Law'; and the 'dialectical turn', initiated in Dialectic: the pulse of freedom and recapitulated in Plato etc. Just to summarise briefly what I take to be the salient features of this development.

A Realist Theory of Science re-thematised ontology, argued for its necessity and irreducibility in any account of science, and gave it a radically different shape or context. In particular, it argued against the epistemic fallacy, that is the idea that one can reduce or analyse knowledge in terms of being. It was argued that being was an absolutely irreducible and necessary category.

The Possibility of Naturalism argued against the dualisms and splits that dominated the then contemporary human sciences – and which to a large extent, despite critical realism and related currents of thought, continue to do so now. What were these dualisms? They were dualisms between positivism and hermeneutics; between collectivism and individualism; structure and agency; reason and cause; mind and body; fact and value. In each case, critical naturalism argued for a third sublating position which could reconcile these stark polarities and oppositions, and which could situate the two extremes as special cases of the more general sublating position. Thus, against positivism and hermeneutics, it argued for a critical naturalism based on a realist philosophy of science. Against collectivism and individualism alike, it argued for relationism - that is, the conception of society as essentially relational in character, as not consisting either of collectivities of individuals or individuals, but as concerned with the relations between individuals. Then in opposition to the dichotomy of structure and agency, it argued for what I called the transformational model of social activity, which is not to identify structure or agency, but to trace their distinctive features and mutual interdependency, in a way that Margaret Archer and others have shown is distinct from, although related to, that position that Giddens has put forward under the theory of structuration. Basically, structure always tends to collapse into agency on his model, whereas on my model the agents themselves have natural and other perhaps transcendental components that can't be reduced to social structures. The fourth dichotomy argued against was the stark contrast between reason and causes, where I argued that reasons were in fact causally explicable and causally efficacious in my conception of intentional causality. Against a crude materialism and idealism, which would dislocate embodied human beings from the material world, I argued for what I characterised as a synchronic, emergent powers materialism, in which mind is seen as an emergent power of matter. And finally, I argued against the stark polarity and contrast between facts and values. There is a dialectical interrelation between facts and values, in which we are never situated in a value free context. Values always impregnate and imbue our social praxis and our factual discourse, but at the same time, facts themselves do generate evaluative conclusions. This paved the way for the refutation of Hume's law. Truth and factuality are themselves norms, but that is a presupposition of all factual discourse, and on the basis of that value we can generate other evaluative conclusions.

The fourth major development is I think the most radical and exciting, after the first – and this is the dialectical turn, taken in Dialectic: the pulse of freedom. And this put to the fore two notions which I think are absolutely crucial. The notion of absence and dialectic was defined recursively, in terms of absenting constraints on absenting ills, and if constraints and ills alike are understood in terms of absence, as absenting absence on absenting absence. The notion of absence I regard as ontologically, logically and epistemologically prior to that notion of presence. Positive being could not exist without negative being. And the full implications traced through of this dialecticalisation of ontology are very radical indeed, and presuppose a vision of the good society viewed as implicit in every human action or remark. The second major innovation in this book was the notion of truth as being ontological as well as absolute; that is, an expressive, ontic dualism, as well as epistemological, as well as being social.

The firth turn I'm working on now is the sense in which the highest order categorial structure of any domain of reality or being as such can have implications for our daily praxis.

Q. Your work has always had a strong ethical and political content, especially in a book like Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation. Could you explain in this connection just why you think it is so important to defend a realist conception of science against a marked anti-realist tendency that has typified so many recent movements of thought.

I think there are three main reasons for this. First of all, there is the argument that one can derive facts from values. This allows the possibility of ethics and politics becoming, in principle, decidable disciplines. Following on from this, I argue that morality and moral sciences, including politics, have an intransitive dimension, that is, I say that they have real objects, which it is the job of these moral scientists to investigate. This allows the possibility of a rational critique of what I call actual existing moralities. Thirdly, I think it is important because I believe that truth is the highest truth, and that very radical implications can be derived from this idea.

Q. Critical realism is now quite a large scale and interdisciplinary movement of thought, with representatives in various branches of the physical, social and human sciences. Could you tell us something about the history of the movement, and why it has been able to bring them together despite the increasing specialisation of much academic life.

A. When I started out people who had been influenced by my work found themselves frequently marginalised in academic life. They had extreme difficulty in getting critical realist papers published, and I found myself acting as a sort of one person support mechanism for people influenced by my work. It was helped a little by the publication of books by Ted Benton, Russell Keat and John Urry, and others – and it began to develop an academic reputation. Nevertheless, there was still a feeling of isolation and fragmentation. Then four of us got together - myself, Ted Benton, Andrew Collier and William Outhwaite - in the early 1980s, and we would begin by discussing important theses in philosophy and end up by discussing what was wrong with the state of politics or whatever. Out of that was born the Realism and Human Sciences conferences movement. From 1983, we had annual conferences, characterised by friendliness and intellectual stimulation, solidarity and great enjoyment. Not really marked by careerism, position taking, fractious argument, but a real sense of comradeship and an idea of the exploration of truth.

These conferences gradually grew bigger and bigger, and critical realism began to take off in the different disciplines – in sociology, economics, biology, even in physics – it took off in the States, in European countries and all over the world. There were journals, like Radical Philosophy, which were sympathetic to critical realism – that published articles more easily by critical realists. And then around 1995, we decided to begin to formulate a centre for critical realism which was instituted as a registered charity in 1997-98. We have our own website and about 30000 people have subscribed to the Bhaskar list on the internet.

I think critical realists are understanding the importance of networking and mutual solidarity. It is still a very radical and somewhat fragmented movement. And I would argue that there are profound reasons for this, because the nature of any society dominated by instrumental reason - by reification, by alienation, by master-slave relations - the categorial structure of such a society will be irrealist in character. Irrealism, of one sort another, will always have the backing, as it were, of the superficial currency of social reality. So critical realists will always be at odds with what appears to be the case in society. So we are marginalised now, by the nature of social reality itself, but despite that we are forming a resistance movement to that categorial structure, in tune and in keeping with deeper categorial structures, which irrealist categorial structures mask, obscure and occlude.

Q. The concept of stratification is extremely important in your own thinking and much of the work produced by your colleagues in the CR movement. It has to do with the need for complex, differentiated grasp of the various strata or levels of reality, some of them exerting their causal powers wholly independent of human intervention, while others are affected by the kinds of observation we make or the sorts of experiment we carry out. Could you say a bit more about this aspect of your thinking and how it links up with ethical issues -for example, the scope for responsible choice in matters of applied scientific research?

A. I think Marx somewhere observed that the whole of science would be pointless unless there was a possibility of a distinction between essence and appearance - unless there was the possibility that what we thought about natural reality or any other form of reality was wrong.

Therefore, this notion of stratification is already necessary to sustain the idea of critique. The critique of some kinds of understanding or reflection - or the nature of a level of reality, including social reality - in terms of its misdescription of a more basic, deeper or autonomous level of reality. That is essential for the notion of critique or argumentation generally.

Additionally, the development of science has revealed a process of a continual stratification of knowledge, as we attempt to capture ever deeper or wider strata of reality. This is an evident fact about the nature of scientific process, only sustainable by a critical realist ontology in which the world itself is seen as stratified.

Putting these two points together, the critical impulse in science is one of demystification and the central norm with which I have been concerned recently is that of human freedom. Human freedom depends upon understanding the truth about reality and acting towards it, so it is essential that science and philosophy should be concerned with human liberation. This takes us into the realm of ethical issues in scientific research. Because we are very far from perfect or free, by which I mean we are far from the full realisation of our potentials, and because we're dominated by a capitalist society in which reification, alienation, dualism, illusion, categorial error are dominant and manifesting themselves in modalities of instrumental reason and a whole complex of master/slave relationships, there must be necessary constraints on generating anything that goes by the empirical name of science. So people have recently, quite rightly, become worried about the abuses of science involved in genetic engineering research. We have very good reason to believe that many increases in scientific understanding will actually be abhorrent.

This raises the important question that we cannot prosecute science in an intellectual or moral vacuum. It may be necessary for morality to correct bad science, but it corrects it in the name of a higher norm, true freedom. And that is guided by a highest norm of all – fundamental truth.

Q. Some present day cultural theorists – e.g. Lyotard – would say that we have moved into an era where the very idea of scientific knowledge has undergone a kind of dramatic mutation, a large scale Khunian paradigm shift. Thus Lyotard argues that post-modern science is no longer concerned with such old fashioned values as truth, accuracy, theoretical rigour, causal explanatory power, etc. Rather, it is concerned with undecidability, uncertainty, the limits of precise measurement, and a range of other currently fashionable themes, often drawn from the field of quantum mechanics and field theory. What is wrong with this, from your point of view?

A. I think the familiar point that it is inherently auto-destructive is basically correct. For what are this strand of post-modernist thinkers doing but making certain truth claims about uncertainty? They seem to be very certain about the truth of their claims. Therefore, in no way does their discourse presuppose that truth ceases to be a fundamental and overriding value.

Now what I think they in fact do is to subjectivise the true impact of contemporary physics. This indeed has fundamental implications for our understanding of notions of events, of things, etc. For example, we must differentiate the classical notion of a mass event, by which it is meant a mass or collectivity of events, from the quantum mechanical notion of an event as a mass or collectivity, as a distribution or spread in space, or a succession or flow in time. This is much more in keeping with our ordinary commonsensical notion of an event, than it is with the classical Newtonian mechanical conception of an event as punctual, atomistic and so on.

And again we need to rethink our notion of a thing. Why do we model it on a billiard ball or a solid compact material object. In fact, no such things exist, we know that billiard balls are full of empty space and couldn't sustain themselves unless they were.

Moving into the realm of biology, biologists are moving away from the notion of an organism being an individual, a big billiard ball, if you like, and are beginning to understand the notion of an organism being an individual in its ecological niche.

Basically, what's wrong with this line of reasoning is that it subjectivises the true impact of contemporary scientific thinking.

Q. Do you see quantum theory as posing any special problems for a critical realist approach to the philosophy of science.

A. As I think I've already indicated, only critical realism can begin to situate - by thematising notions of absence, etc., and breaking from atomistic notions of being - the true impact of quantum mechanics. One is only worried about it, if one is wedded to certain normally implicit, atomistic presuppositions of empiricist ontology.

Q. I'd like to hear your views about the strong programme in the sociology of knowledge, since it comes into conflict with critical realism on a number of crucial issues.

A. What critical realism does is that it allows us to sustain and to argue the mutual implication of ontological realism in the intransitive dimension, epistemological relativism in the transitive or social dimension of science and judgmental rationalism in the intrinsic aspect of science. This means that there is no conflict between seeing our scientific views as being about objectively given real worlds, and understanding our beliefs about them as subject to all kinds of historical and other determinations. At the same time, there will a be a right or wrong of the matter in any one discursive domain, which defines the possibility of judgmental rationalism in the normative aspect of science.

I think many of the objections in the strong programme of the sociology of knowledge confuse judgmentalism and realism. Realism is not judgmentalist, and realism is in fact a condition for the possibility of the strong programme in the philosophy of science. The strong programme wants to argue that all beliefs are causally generated. I have no problem with this, but the thing is that some beliefs are causally generated by the truth of the matter, other beliefs are generated by illusion, prejudice, superstition, which veil deeper structures from the protagonists supporting them. And hence there can't be a normative parity between true and false beliefs. I think articulating the distinction between ontological realism, epistemological relativism, and judgmental rationalism, and understanding the difference between ontological and epistemological realism, which is silly, ontological and epistemological relativism being at best an assertion of the historicity of the world, and between judgmental rationalism and judgmentalism, allows a certain rapprochement between the best sociologists of knowledge and realism.

Q. You have often acknowledged Rom Harré's strong, even formative influence on your thought. Just recently the two of you have engaged into some vigorous public debate, suggesting that you are now not so much in accord with respect to issues in the philosophy of science?

A. I think there was always a slight difference between Harré and myself, in that Harré sat halfway between transcendental idealism and transcendental realism. He talked in works like Principles of Scientific Thinking about the crucial role played by models. Models gave not only a heuristic role to imagination in science, but in some sense reflected a deeper level of reality unknown to science. But because he questioned only the sufficiency, not the necessity, of Humean and Hempelian ontology, and because he did not explicitly thematise ontology in the way that transcendental realism did (the radical thrust of the argument in Realist Theory of Science against the epistemic fallacy, in favour of ontology - a radically different kind of ontology), his work was always subject to certain tension.

In so far as he did not come out for transcendental realism, as distinct from transcendental idealism, it was natural to find that when he started to write on issues in the philosophy of social science, he was to replicate certain Kantian dualisms. So we have a dualism now in his philosophy between two kinds of entities, material objects or molecules, as he sometimes puts it, and people and their discourses. I think this dualism basically goes back to a failure to sustain transcendental realism as distinct from idealism. I should say that Rom Harré and myself are very good friends – and we have been engaged in polemics without any real offence to that friendship for about 30 years now. We both enjoy a good argument.

Q. It often strikes me that some of the central debates in the philosophy of science could be brought down to earth if they took more account of the developments in the history and philosophy of technology. Do you see critical realism as moving in that direction?

A. The initial arguments for and about ontology were sustained by the notion of immanent critique. So I drew attention to those human activities that had most prestige in the cognitive discourse of philosophy. And these were most typically what was called experience and experimental activity. But equally, I could have taken ordinary practical activities such as fixing a bike as sustaining this transcendental realist, critical realist and dialectical realist ontology.

How can we make sense of making a cup of coffee with sugar, except by the notion that the sugar has an independent intransitive existence with respect to our acts of finding it? How can I make sense of my discourse with you, unless I assume that what you say has a sense and intelligibility independent of my understanding of it? So I'm very sympathetic to this whole turn. I think the more deeply we go into all the forms of human experience, the more our ontology and our understanding of human beings in the world in which they live will be deepened and broadened.

Q. Could you name the three or four books that have most influenced your philosophy at some stage?

A. I'm afraid that my answer will probably be a little bit hackneyed. I would say Kant's Critique of Pure Reason; Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind; the early, middle and some late writings of Marx. I have already mentioned the importance of the work of writers like Lakatos, Kuhn, Feyerabend. I would say that the philosophers that I have admired most are Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Hegel. These are also the writers I have polemicised with. So my polemics are often an indirect form of flattery.

Q. Would you want to name any one thinker who in your view has exerted a harmful influence on the way that philosophy gets done nowadays? If our roles were reversed and you were asking me the question, I would nominate Wittgenstein and go on at great length about the kinds of cosily Wittgensteinian doctrine that have a regular mind-numbing effect whenever one comes across them.

A. Well, I think I'll talk about Wittgenstein! He is one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, but I do think he has had a baneful influence. As is well known, he moved through two phases – the first was a very vigorous and beautiful form of practical reason, the second was a form of transcendental idealism. I think the most baneful influence of Wittgenstein was to linguistify that important criterion of philosophy I refer to as reflexivity. This was important in so far as it made philosophers aware of language as perhaps the indispensable vehicle of our expression and understandings of the world – and to situate language as a topic of investigation.

But now the linguistic fallacy has almost become the orthodoxy. The linguistic fallacy is the idea that one can analyse or define being in terms of our language about being. Language can only be understood in terms of the co-ordinates of a matrix where human nature is defined in terms of the stratification of the personality, transactions between human agents, social structure and our material transactions with nature. Language is really only a fitting paradigm for our transactions with nature. It is not a good paradigm for the social structure. And even our interactions with each other have many dimensions which are non-linguistic. I think that only by situating language within the context of a human and social totality, which encompasses the natural world and dimensions of existence of which we are perhaps only partially or dimly aware, can we do justice to it. To do justice to language, one has to break from the linguistic fallacy. And therefore, perhaps in order to understand the true greatness of Wittgenstein, one has to be non-Wittgensteinian.

Q. Some philosophers argue that the realist versus anti-realist debate is one that will never be settled or achieve any genuine progress, since it is one that involves two utterly different world views and maybe two quite different sorts of ingrained philosophical temperament, so that the parties will always be talking at cross purposes and failing to see how the other could possibly want to maintain such an extravagant position. Then there is the case of someone like Hilary Putnam, who seems to have flipped right across from the one to the other camp, and recently half-way back again, and produced all manner of supporting arguments on both sides of the issue. So it's easy for a sceptic like Richard Rorty to treat this as evidence that the whole issue is a non-starter like most of the classical philosophical debates, and therefore that we should stop discussing it and find something better to occupy our minds. Your own book on Rorty gives plenty of clues as to what you might say in response to his diagnosis. Still I would like to hear your reaction in this currently widespread post-philosophical line of thought.

A. One of the things that I have tried to show is that arguments against ontology, in fact presuppose ontology. You can see this in the case of an anti-ontologist like Habermas, who in his generation of the knowledge constitutive interest in prediction and control, definitely presupposes a Humean theory of causality as constant conjunction or empirical regularity, and the Hempelian, Popperian idea of explanation as deductive, nomological. You can't get away without ontology. It's not a question of being a realist, or not a realist. It is a question of what kind of realist you are going to be – explicit or tacit. Insofar as you are not a realist, you secrete an ontology and a realism....You can't get far in the world unless you are implicitly realist in practice. And I would say that the whole categorial structure of transcendental, dialectical critical reason could be teased out of any remark or action in the world of any significance. This is a very strong claim to make: I would argue that critical realism, in its transcendental, dialectical forms, is the only form of philosophy which can do justice to the categorial structure of the world and so to the axiological necessity of the particular positions, arguments, actions and responses that we make in our ordinary life. From this standpoint, the development of philosophy can be seen as a progression in self-consciousness, in an understanding of what we're doing, when we're doing things about which we are normally unconscious.

Q. What are your thoughts about new Labour and prospects of any kind of genuine socialist renewal? How should critical realism be viewed in relation to such broader political and socio-cultural developments?

A. I think this has to be understood in the context in which capitalism has basically won the struggle against actually existing socialism as it was called, and 1989 was indeed a crucial year, in that it marked the decisive victory against Soviet style socialism. New Labour is just part of the universal accommodation to this fact. Capitalism itself is wrecking havoc on our environment, and quite frankly, unless capitalism is overturned, by a revolution, which will be at once much more peaceful and deeper than the one that overthrew socialism, that will draw on resources and aspects of our being that are at once spiritual and cultural, and set in the context of a programme of feasible transition, and done in a non-violent way - unless capitalism is overturned in this way, I can see very little prospect of humanity surviving much into the 21st century on this planet.

I think we need to consider what is wrong with the superficial categorial structures of the societies in which capitalism, socialism, contemporary new Labour, all equally cohabit. What is required is a revolutionary transformation far more profound that perhaps any of us imagine.

Q. One current version of anti-realism is the denial that we can ever have reason or adequate grounds for asserting the existence of objective transcendental truths. To the realist, about mathematics, for example, this would seem clearly wrong since truth in such matters, has nothing to do with the current, or indeed the ultimate scope of human knowledge. I wonder where you stand on this issue – and whether critical realism has anything to say about the more technical anti-realist stances.

A. I argue that truth has four aspects. First, fiduciary this is, if you like, the intrinsic aspect of science or knowledge – and to say that something is true is to say 'trust me, act on it'. It is quite obvious that we have to have a workable notion of truth to enable us to get around in a world we have only a limited grasp of. This is a pragmatic necessity. The more strongly this aspect can be backed by other aspects, the stronger it is.

The second aspect of truth is truth as warrantedly assertable. This is truth as epistemological. There is no way of getting around the notion of best possible grounds for acting one way rather than another, in a world in which we must act one way rather than another.

Moving now to the notion that lies behind the first two notions, the idea of truth as absolute. To say something is true is to say this is the way reality is. This is absolutely indispensable for any notion of intentional action and hence for any notion we as human beings can have. For intentionality presupposes two things, firstly a belief, and secondly, an orientation to act on the belief in some manner. Without beliefs human beings just aren't humans. So commitment to beliefs as expressive of reality, are transcendental features of any form of social life.

Now, what lies behind the truth of a well attested scientific or moral proposition – e.g., the fact that emeralds reflect light of a certain wavelength – is a higher order proposition, the truth of that truth - the reality that generates it, that is, the atomic structure of the crystal, the nature of the wavelength of light that is reflected in a certain way. What makes it true, for example, to say that if Socrates is a Man he must die is that it is the nature of human beings to be mortal. It is a proposition at a higher level, and it is this higher level truth that grounds the truth of the universal generalisation, the proposition which is expressed in the absolute conception of truth.

So truth at this higher level just is reality, and it is the reality that grounds or accounts for the mundane realities that we invoke in the absolute conception of truth, and it is that absolute conception of truth that backs our epistemological or social conception of truth. There is no getting away from ontology. And the only solution to all the forms of scepticism that the whole tradition of empiricist epistemology has generated, which encompasses the anti-realism to which you refer, is to see that what we're trying to do in science or morality or any other form of life, is to make fallible claims about the world, claims which if they are true are true in virtue of the real nature of beings, entities, things, the real nature of the universe quite independently of our claims. And it is the real nature of being that grounds well attested, universal empirical generalisations or other propositionalised claims of reality, without which no science, no discourse, no action, or no intentionality is possible. There is no escape from truth.

Q. Just to finish can you tell us what you are thinking about now and what is to be the topic of your next book?

A. I'm currently working on an exploration of the way in which we can draw on the resources of traditions and worldviews other than those of the west. On a book called East and West, which has a theoretical component and a component which is more popular in form – which actually takes the form of a novel. This is very connected to an earlier answer I gave, for if we are to have the cultural and spiritual resources that we need to generate a true alternative to and a true sublation of the tradition that has given us capitalism, etc., we must draw on the traditions of the East as well as those of the West. Greek and traditional Christian resources are our contemporary academic philosophical tradition, but looking at ancient Hindu philosophy, at Buddhism, at Confucianism, at Islam – going back to explore the origins and roots of Christianity, all this might give us the resources to fulfil the true potential of human beings and save our planet.

This is linked up to my other feeling that not only has Western philosophy drawn on far too restricted traditions, but it has also couched itself in a pretty inaccessible mode. I'm aware of the paradox that I have talked about human emancipation but in a relatively inaccessible form! So I'm writing a story, which I hope will be universally accessible, this will be backed up by theoretical works.

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