Situational realism, critical realism, causation and the charge of positivism

History of the Human Sciences 23 (4):37-51 (2010)
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The system of realist philosophy developed by John Anderson — situational realism — has recently been dismissed as ‘positivist’ by a prominent critical realist. The reason for this dismissal appears not to be the usual list of ideas deemed positivist, but the conviction that situational realism mistakenly defends a form of actualism, i.e. that to conceive of causal laws as constant conjunctions reduces the domain of the real to the domain of the actual. This is, in part, a misreading of Anderson’s philosophy because, contrary to Hume’s constant conjunction account, Anderson viewed causation as pluralistic and non-linear. However, the critical realist charge does point to two important ontological differences between these realist philosophies — a levels-of-reality thesis and the notion of causal powers. Situational realism has always maintained that the arguments for both lead to difficulties that are logically insurmountable. Unfortunately, this is not addressed in the critical realists’ dismissal of Anderson’s philosophy. Regardless of who makes the charge of positivism, it frequently involves inattention to the real character of its target



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