Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 31 (4):419–448 (2001)
The longstanding philosophical debate between idealism and materialism has recently entered the ontological terrain of critical realism and dialectical critical realism . This has been initiated by Roy Bhaskar’s most recent book, From East to West, which attempts an ambitious synthesis of philosophy, social theory and theology. On the one hand, Bhaskar’s attempt to root his philosophy and social theory in a ‘realist theory of God’ has found an echo within the CR and DCR research camp, some of whose members would urge us to take seriously the possibility of a ‘religious sociology’. On the other hand, Bhaskar’s abrupt ‘idealist turn’ has left many critical realists flabbergasted and horrified, particularly those working at the interface between realist philosophy and Marxist social science, especially since Bhaskar’s new philosophical trajec-tory is radically at odds with the ‘synchronic emergent powers materialism’ outlined in his The Possibility of Naturalism.In response to this ‘split’ within the CR and DCR camp, the spectre of ‘realist agnosticism’ has been raised and defended by Mervyn Hartwig in this journal. Since neither science nor philosophy can settle the issue of what kind of stuff constitutes ‘rock bottom reality’, it is rational to be agnostic on the ‘ultimate question’, to deny positively affirming the claims of either one side or the other. Now this is the move that is resisted in this paper. My argument is that ontolog-ical idealism is disputable on a number of grounds-philosophical, scientific, ethical and political. In particular, I argue that objective idealism is unsupported by rational knowledge, is riddled with conceptual and logical defects, is contrary to the logic of scientific discovery, and is an obstacle to eudaimonia . Further, since realist agnosticism rests its case on the myth of infallible knowledge, and obviously stands or falls with the defensibility or other-wise of objective idealism, this gives us ‘good enough’ reasons for accepting a thoroughgoing materialism as the ontological foundation of social theory
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