Critical Realism, Post-Positivism, and the Possibility of Knowledge

Critical Realism, Post-Positivism, and the Possibility of Knowledge

Critical Realism, Post-Positivism, and the Possibility of Knowledge

Critical Realism, Post-Positivism, and the Possibility of Knowledge

Synopsis

By connecting issues in metaphysics and philosophy of science to the problem of relativism, Groff bridges the gap between the philosophical literature and broader debates surrounding socio-political theory and postculturalist thought.

Excerpt

The problem at the heart of this book is the recent resurgence of relativism. In the wake of the well-deserved breakdown of positivism, it no longer seems possible to rationally assess competing knowledge claims. In the social sciences in particular, the fashionable post-positivist view is that any belief can be valid, depending upon one's perspective; that truth is simply a term of praise (or, alternately, a display of power); and that there is in fact no such thing as a reality that does not belong in quotation marks.

Relativism is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its political implications. If all beliefs about the world are equally valid, then no claims may be challenged on cognitive, or epistemic, grounds. At best, relativism can therefore be expected to discourage critical analysis and exchange - for what is the point of attempts to persuade through argumentation, if all claims about the world are by definition equally valid? At worst, it implies that critical exchange ought to be abandoned in favor of the use of force and/or non-rational charismatic appeals. In saying this I do not mean to paint a rosy picture of politics as consisting merely - or even essentially - of rational exchange between well-meaning public servants. It is worth responding to relativism not because ill-informed political leaders need only be enlightened, but because the widespread acceptance of false ideas plays a role in the perpetuation of unjust social relations.

In the following chapters I shall defend the merits of a position called critical realism. I believe that critical realism offers us a way out of the current morass. Specifically, critical realism allows us to cast off the anti-realism about causality that has dominated Western philosophy since Hume, and to replace it with a viable, realist alternative. Realism about the causal relation prohibits relativism on ontological grounds. If the relationship between causes and their effects is one of natural necessity, then, regardless of one's perspective - and notwithstanding the limits of our knowledge - it cannot be the case that all claims about the world are equally valid.

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