Daniel Little's blog post 'Moral progress and critical realism' raises some important issues for critical realists and indeed social scientists more generally. I'm sympathetic to the general orientation of his piece, and have made similar arguments elsewhere (summarised in my previous post on Materially Social). I thought it would be useful, though, to add some further discussion of how Daniel's argument relates to critical realism itself, and in particular to the status of Roy Bhaskar's theory of explanatory critique
Monday, 28 August 2017
Monday, 21 August 2017
One of the many ways in which critical realism goes beyond positivism is in rejecting the idea that social science can or should be ethically neutral. Like most critical realists, I see it as part of the role of the social scientist to criticise unjust social arrangements. But for philosophically oriented social scientists, critique cannot come from nowhere - it requires an ethical justification and that justification must be coherent with our wider ontology. Critical realists have taken a variety of conflicting positions on how such a justification could be developed. This post, based on my 2010 paper Realist critique without ethical naturalism and moral realism (open access version) and my address to the Beyond Positivism conference in Montreal in August 2017, argues briefly against Roy Bhaskar's attempts to justify critique on the basis of moral realism. Instead, we must recognise that values are social products and cannot have absolute justifications. That means abandoning the belief that values could be objective, but as I will argue below we can still be judgementally rational about values when we recognise that our values are the product of continuing social debates.