Between ‘Dialectic: The Pulse of Freedom’ and the ‘metaReality’ series, there is a resounding echo, a reverberation created, a shockwave on the ocean of absence. Across both works, Roy Bhaskar works to revindicate the negative, which in his terms was eschewed by Hegel in the name of Hegelian ‘becoming’ – with Hegel emphasising a positive account of becoming, at the expense of fully embracing, embodying, revealing and shedding a full and stratified revelation of the negative and absence, pure of form.
‘We know that matter is largely constituted by empty space at whatever level we look. We know that this room, whatever way we look at it, is punctuated by absence. Actually there is no way you could have purely positive being. There is no way in which positive being, unmarked by absence or space, could exist. But the contrary is not the case. You could have nothing, there is no logical impossibility in having no positive being at all. So actually absence and negativity is in ever way prior to presence and positivity. Absence is essential to change. What happens when anything changes is that there is an absenting of something which was given, which was already there, and a presenting of something new. In human action what we are always doing is transforming what was there and presenting something new. So every human act is a transformative operation on the world. Obviously then, absence is a critical category. And the mystical shell in the Hegelian dialectic and indeed in western thought was just the absence of the concept of absence. Because, what Hegel had done in his Logic was to go from being to nothing to becoming. After nothing, which is indeterminate, no more negative concepts are treated by Hegel. Instead, arguing that negation always cancels itself in the process of becoming, he had removed the very concept which would enable him to reflexively situate his own scientific discovery. That really is the rational kernel and the mystical shell in the Hegelian dialectic clearly accounted.’
pg 130 – 131, ‘Social science and self-realisation: Non-duality and co-presence in ‘Reflections on metaReality’ by Roy Bhaskar
Ontological monovalence for Bhaskar is a purely positive account of reality which is fatally flawd by the failure to account for real negation or absence, screening epistemological assumptions via an ontological actualism. He identifies it as part of an ‘unholy trinity’ accompanied by the epistemic fallacy (where knowledge is confused with simple being) and the primal squeeze (between metaphysical categories, for example, speculative illusion, experience and empiricism, all together, a mash of meta-something. Probably with peas.). It is corrected by ontological polyvalence. The deal with ontological polyvalence is that we need to account for absence not only in the alter, which is often negated in positivist accounts, we need to account for absence across different planes of being (causality, spatio-temporarily, totality, agency and morality for example) to stratified depths (non-being, nothing, absent and emptiness are all different).
Bhaskar’s dialectic of freedom is entirely grounded on the absenting of absences, giving a ground for fact/value relations that can be guidance for human behaviour. But more than this, I thoroughly adore that he draws our attention to the space of not-ness, this space where even as we see it, we can acknowledge in some way that we are, even when we are clearly not.
Alien-nation suddenly becomes a visible, adoptable, and definitely lovable and re-enchanted space, to inhabit.