Roy Bhaskar, 1944-2014

The chief architect of the philosophy of critical realism has died

December 11, 2014

Ram Bhaskar, generally known as Roy, was born in London on 15 May 1944. He was educated at St Paul’s School in London before going to the University of Oxford to study philosophy, politics and economics at Balliol College (1963-66), where he got a first. He continued in Oxford as a lecturer in economics at Pembroke College (1967-73) and a research fellow in philosophy at Linacre College (1971-73) before moving to the University of Edinburgh as a lecturer in philosophy (1973-82).

At the end of this period, Professor Bhaskar withdrew from full-time academic work in order to concentrate on his writing and promote his philosophy, although he continued to take up temporary teaching positions in Oxford, elsewhere in the UK and increasingly in Scandinavia. From 2007 he served as a part-time professorial world scholar at the Institute of Education, University of London. “His impact at the IoE,” said his colleague Michael Reiss, professor of science education, “cannot be overstated”, adding that he was “a true intellectual” and “unfailingly generous with his time to students and colleagues alike”.

Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Professor Bhaskar believed that people are born free but are everywhere in chains. His philosophical project was devoted to universal human emancipation, subject to “the highest norm of all, fundamental truth”. His method was a realist version of Kant’s transcendental method. This put him very much at odds with then-fashionable linguistic philosophy and postmodernism, so that the argument of his first book, A Realist Theory of Science (1975) – now regarded as a classic – was rejected when he submitted it for a DPhil at Oxford in 1974. He went on to develop his original philosophy of critical realism in two further stages known as dialectical critical realism and metaRealism, where the key works were Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom (1993) and The Philosophy of MetaReality: Creativity, Love and Freedom (2002). The first of these moved beyond previous dialectics in order to arrive at an adequate account of absence (negativity) and so of change, while the second articulated a spirituality “consistent with all faiths and no faith”, which he believed to be already pervasive, although largely unnoticed, in everyday life.

Although Professor Bhaskar suffered serious financial hardship over the last years of his life, his work is increasingly recognised across the humanities, social and biological sciences. He died of heart failure on 19 November and is survived by his partner Rebecca Long and his wife and close friend Hilary Wainwright.

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