Roy Bhaskar (1944 – 2014) is a philosopher who is best known as the originator of the philosophy of critical realism and metaReality. He is currently World Scholar at the Institute of Education, University of London and Director of the International Centre of Critical Realism located there. A good account of his life and work so far is contained in his The Formation of Critical Realism (with Mervyn Harwig). What follows is a brief overview.
Ram Roy Bhaskar was born in London on May 15, 1944. His father was an Indian doctor who had come to London at the beginning of the Second World War to do his FRCS, i.e. his specialist qualification as a surgeon. His mother was English but had spent most of her childhood in South Africa. He had, in many respects, an unhappy childhood, experiencing an intense struggle to come into his dharma or vocation.
He went to school in London and then on to university at Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1966. Of these three subjects, he plumped for further work in economics, feeling that it dealt with the most urgent problems facing humanity, becoming a lecturer in economics at Pembroke College, Oxford and starting work on a DPhil thesis on “the relevance of economic theory for underdeveloped countries” at Nuffield College, Oxford. However he soon grew disillusioned with the difficulty of making reference to the real world in this thesis, and this led to him switching back to his first love, philosophy. He now began work, as a research fellow at Linacre College, Oxford on the project of at once revindicating ontology (the philosophical study of being) and establishing a new non-empiricist ontology characterised by structure, difference and change. This work eventually culminated in his first book, A Realist Theory of Science published in 1975 to great acclaim while he was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.
Since then he has published many other important and influential works, and he has lectured in universities throughout the world. A Realist Theory of Science was soon followed by a path -breaking work on the philosophy of the social sciences, The Possibility of Naturalism (1979). The theories put forward in these books, called transcendental realism and critical naturalism, came to be combined as ‘critical realism’ as a new distinctive position in the philosophy of science and social science. Shortly after, a third book, Scientific Realism and Human Emancipation, appeared articulating a strong programme combining ethical naturalism and ideology-critique, known as the theory of explanatory critique. Together these three books lay the basis for what is now known as ‘basic (or original) critical realism’, which has begun to change our understanding of both science (or knowledge) and the world it studies. Bhaskar’s contribution to the original corpus of basic critical realism was completed by a highly acclaimed book of essays, Reclaiming Reality (1989) and Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom (1991), which incorporated a devastating critique of the pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty.
In 1993 a new phase in critical realism, known as dialectical critical realism, was initiated by the publication of Bhaskar’s Dialectic: the pulse of freedom and, a year later, by that of his Plato etc. These books further developed the ontology and conceptual framework of critical realism, while at the same time mounting a riveting critique of the whole sweep of Western philosophy. Like A Realist Theory of Science and The Possibility of Naturalism these books are now widely regarded as classics of contemporary philosophy.
In 2000 Bhaskar inaugurated a new, contentious, phase of critical realist philosophy in what has become known as the ‘spiritual turn’ with the publication of From East to West. This was quickly followed in 2002 by Reflections on metaReality, From Science to Emancipation and The Philosophy of metaReality, which together securely established a third phase of critical realist philosophy known as the philosophy of metaReality, a phase which incorporates a trenchant critique of modernity, and its philosophical discourses, and radically new and sublime accounts of the self, social structure and the cosmos, oriented like dialectical and basic critical realism to the survival of the planet and universal wellbeing and flourishing.
Meanwhile in 1995 he had co- founded with colleagues the London-based charity the Centre for Critical Realism and became its first chair. The CCR entered into a publishing agreement with Routledge for the series Critical Realism:Interventions. The first book in this series (which he co-edited) was Critical Realism: essential readings, containing extracts from and commentaries on his canonical works. The CCR went on to establish an international membership body, the International Association of Critical Realism, and the peer reviewed Journal of Critical Realism. There are now four CCR book series with Routledge: Ontological Explorations, Classical Texts in Critical Realism, New Studies in Critical Realism and Education and New Studies in Critical Realism and Spirituality. The JCR is published four times a year, and IACR has had annual conferences in Europe (Norway, Sweden, Holland and Italy), America (Philadelphia, Rio de Janeiro) Africa (Grahamstown) and Australia (Sydney), as well as in the UK. At the same time IACR has spawned various regional (alongside disciplinary) bodies such as the Nordic Network for Critical Realism (in Scandinavia) and the Australian Association of Critical Realism.
In recent years Roy Bhaskar pursued the development and clarification of his philosophical interests, including work on the further elaboration of basic and dialectical critical realism and metaReality, with a renewed interest in its practical application, in the field of what we may call ‘applied critical realism’, publishing innovative work on topics such as interdisciplinarity and conflict resolution co-editing the works Interdisciplinarity and Climate Change and Ecophilosophy in a World of Crisis before passing away in the Autumn of 2014.