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& Class
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Critical realism, Marxism and the critique of neoclassical economics


Brian O'Boyle and Terrence McDonough
Capital & Class 2011 35: 3
DOI: 10.1177/0309816810392963
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Critical realism,
Marxism and
the critique of
neoclassical
economics

Capital & Class


35(1) 322
The Author(s) 2010
Reprints and permission: sagepub.
co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0309816810392963
c&c.sagepub.com

Brian OBoyle

St Angelas College, Ireland

Terrence McDonough
National University of Ireland, Galway

Abstract
This paper argues that while critical realist insights are important for heterodoxy,
any engagement with the economic mainstream must remain faithful to Bhaskars
original formulation with its explicit focus on ideology critique. The article
proceeds by distinguishing Bhaskars more Marxian-inspired realism from the
broadly heterodox variety of the critical realism in economics (CRE) project. It
then highlights the weaknesses of the CRE critique of the economic mainstream
before positing an alternative critique in terms of ideology.
Keywords
critical realism, Marxism, neoclassical economics, capitalism, ideology

Introduction
There is an historical anomaly in the relationship between critical realism and mainstream
economics. While inadequacies within neoclassical development theory originally drove
Bhaskar to an analysis of its philosophical deficiencies, Bhaskar himself has never elaborated an explicit critique of the neoclassical mainstream. This is despite the fact that he
not only approves of Marxs analysis of the vulgar economy of his day, but actually posits it as the paradigmatic example of ideological critique.1 Indeed, this silence is all the
more striking given that others within realism, most notably Tony Lawson, have placed

Corresponding author:
Brian OBoyle, St Angelas College, Ireland
Email: B.Oboyle1@nuigalway.ie
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Capital & Class 35(1)

such a critique at the centre of the development of their positions, but have explicitly
eschewed the possibility of an ideology critique in doing so. Thus we have a situation
within realism wherein, on the one hand, its founder has chosen to restrict any criticism
of economic orthodoxy to its meta-theoretical underpinnings and, on the other, those
within the critical realism in economics (CRE) project a genealogically related school,
but one which is developing its own trajectory have sought to engage much more
directly with academic economics, but on a level which has little basis in Bhaskars
initial work.2
While some authors have noted this distinction and the tensions it entails (see, for
example, Nielsen, 2002), others such as Fine (2002, 2004) have taken the CRE critique
of orthodoxy as being the definitive (in fact the only) critical-realist position on the economic mainstream. This, however, is not the case, and it is the contention of this article
that conflating the CRE position with that of Bhaskar and critical realism as a whole has
been a mistake. We wish to propose an alternative line of critique of neoclassical economics to that developed within the CRE project, which is more in line with the more explicitly Marxian position of the (early) Bhaskarian tradition within critical realism.3 This will
be achieved by drawing out the tensions that Nielsen has perceptively noted, before using
these to delineate the CRE project from its Bhaskarian relative. It will be found in this
context that most of the weaknesses identified by Fine are confined to the CRE position.
We will contend that, ironically, CRE is often uncritical and despite its explicit attack on
positivism, frequently positivist. This is evident in both its preoccupation with the epistemological inadequacy of mainstream economics and in its clear lack of a critical sociology grounded in the structural reality of the mainstreams real historical trajectory (Fine,
2002).4 This is not the case for Bhaskarian realism, however, and in demonstrating this,
the paper will attempt to put clear water between the two traditions and in the process
provide criteria for preferring Bhaskarian (Marxian) realism to that of CRE.

Part 1
Two strands within critical realism
In an important contribution to the CR literature, Peter Nielsen (2002) has maintained
that in order to advance the position of realism within political economy, one must
initially attempt to resolve a number of currently existing tensions, centering on 1) the
presence of two distinct research programmes within political economy a Marxian
current and a broadly heterodox one; and 2) more generally, a tension surrounding the
status and importance of philosophy and the scope of critical realism. This section will
argue that while the analysis of the first tension is illuminating, the second is misspecified, and we therefore begin by recounting Nielsens case for distinguishing the two
perspectives before moving on to substantive concerns.
In his appraisal of the situation within political economy, Nielsen contends that a
particularly striking feature of Bhaskars critical realism is its Marxist pedigree (p. 728).
He offers evidence from Reclaiming Reality and The Possibility of Naturalism to suggest
that, in the main at least, Bhaskars work is centred on traditional Marxist themes such
as ideological critique and fetishism, and on a mode of reasoning that originates in
Marxs own mature work on political economy. He also substantiates his claim with a
decisive statement from Bhaskar himself:

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In the first place, radical social change presupposes depth realism; Marxs work at its best
illustrates critical realism; and critical realism is the absent methodological fulcrum of Marxs
work Secondly, the transitive dimension in critical realism is congruent with a Marxist theory
of society and is influenced by it. Thirdly, critical realism employs many Marxian analogues in
the analysis and critique of positivism and idealist epistemologies generally. (Bhaskar, 1991, in
Nielsen, 2002: 728, emphasis added)

Such a definitive account allows Nielsen to place Bhaskars realism squarely on the
Marxian side of an historical Marxist/non-Marxist divide within political economy. He
can then subsequently define this as a point of tension, given that the CRE project
within critical realism is explicitly embedded in the contemporary situation in heterodox
economics, which includes Marxism, but not centrally, and only as one of a potentially
large number of differing heterodox positions. Moreover, Nielsen argues that while this
Marxian/non-Marxian division continues to be important, it has in the modern period
increasingly co-existed with a sharper division of economics into a dominant and insular
orthodoxy and a heterodoxy which, by contrast, is characterised by shared insights and
numerous cross-references (at least within heterodoxy itself ). Therefore, as Nielsen
maintains, not only are there two strands within critical realism, but they also relate to
the aforementioned divisions in different ways. Thus, while the Bhaskarian variety is
highly attuned to the divide between Marxian and non-Marxian political economy, it is
virtually silent on the current situation within academic economics whereby such a
divide has been subordinated to the orthodoxy/heterodoxy divide. For Lawson, it seems
that the opposite is true. He is keenly aware of the chasm that currently divides orthodoxy from the broad heterodox tradition, but is relatively insensitive to the differences
that exist within heterodoxy.
Finally, then, Nielsen concludes that both strands have their merits and limitations.
He argues that while Bhaskar is right to focus on Marxism as an unavoidable concomitant of critical realism, his project is limited by its exclusive focus on the iconoclastic
Marx who broke with other traditions, and by a consequent lack of interest in approaching the contemporary situation in academic economics. In Lawsons case, Nielsen
believes the CRE endeavour has the merit of highlighting the commonalities within
heterodoxy, and the limitation of paying too much attention to contemporary orthodox
economics at the expense of externally developing heterodoxy. Consequently, Nielsen
argues that a constructive mediation between the two strands is both feasible and
necessary, and he even suggests, it seems that combining the merits and avoiding the
limitations cling together as aspects of the same critical synthesis within critical realism
in political economy (p. 736).
However, such a synthesis immediately runs into difficulties that centre on the nature
of the CRE projects engagement with contemporary economics. In particular, Nielsen
suggests that while Bhaskar is right to follow the iconoclastic Marx in departing from the
main road of economic thought, it is important that contemporary Marxists maintain
some form of critical engagement with the orthodox framework, particularly in light of
its hegemonic academic position and the pernicious real world effects that this entails
(such as its contribution to the dominant neoliberal ideology). Hence his insistence that
the anatomy and ideological function of current orthodox economics have to be analysed in depth (p. 733), and that consequently, it is very important to unpack and expose

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Capital & Class 35(1)

contemporary economics in a way similar to Lawsons (p. 733, emphasis added). Yet
precisely herein lies the problem, for to follow Lawson in his particular critique of the
mainstream is to relinquish the very tools that are needed to uncover the anatomy and
ideological function of orthodoxy, or indeed its contribution to neoliberal ideology.
Lawsons critique of the mainstream
Tony Lawsons critique of mainstream economics has been sustained for well over a
decade. Nevertheless, the essence of his position is readily discernible, and can be succinctly expressed in the claim that the failure of orthodox economics can be traced to the
persistent application of methods of explanation that are inappropriate to the object of their
investigation. More specifically, Lawson claims that the economic mainstream is best
characterised by its use of deductivist methods, and that these are singularly inapplicable
in the social domain (given the existence of open systems and intentional agency). As
such, there is a methodological disjuncture between the method of explanation on the
one hand (presupposing closed systems for its applicability) and the object of investigation on the other (being inherently open).
Clearly this dogmatic adherence to unsuitable methods is itself in need of explanation. Lawson believes that it is best understood in terms of the general standing of mathematics in the Western intellectual tradition, which has encouraged the mainstream to
interpret its (mathematical) methods as a necessary component of what it is to be scientific. Indeed, as Lawson himself relays, appreciating this (mis-) conception of science is
crucial, for it is a mistaken account of scientific practice that decisively weakens the
orthodox project, and ultimately dictates the poor choice of methods. Moreover, every
method is underpinned by some philosophical analysis; and in the case of the economic
mainstream, this is a positivist epistemology, rooted in a Humean theory of causality and
relying on an empirical realist ontology. If such an ontology is to be sustained, it can only
be on the basis that reality is exhausted in a series of isolated and atomistic events; and if
this is the case, the only possibility for building up reliable knowledge is through the
recording of event regularities or constant conjunctions of empirical phenomena.5
Yet if this is the case, it leads to the rather paradoxical conclusion that scientific laws
are in some sense dependent on human intervention (since most if not all of the soughtafter event regularities are restricted to conditions of experimental control). Moreover,
there is a further anomaly in the positivist perspective in that the resultant knowledge is
frequently intended to be applied in the open domain where the event regularities are
unavailable. Therefore, in order to make sense of this situation Lawson follows Bhaskar
in arguing that experimental activity should not be viewed as the production of a rare
situation in which an empirical law is put into effect, but as an intervention designed to
bring about those special circumstances under which a non-empirical mechanism can be
insulated and its tendencies empirically identified (Lawson, 1999a: 5). This further
entails that it is with these relatively enduring non-empirical mechanisms that the
scientist should be generally concerned; and consequently, if it is to progress at all, science
must be premised on uncovering these underlying structures as opposed to the elaboration of constant conjunctions of surface phenomena.
In sum, according to Lawson it is methodological deficiencies that best explain the current malaise of the economic mainstream: our best explanation of the widespread failures
of economics (as well as the fictions that abound) is just that mathematical-deductivist or
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OBoyle and McDonough

closed systems modelling methods are often applied to material for which they are
unsuited (Lawson, 2003: 21).
Significantly, moreover, given Lawsons characterisation of the mainstream as an orientation in method, it is this more than anything that renders the project irreparable.
Critical realism and the scope of philosophy
As we have just seen, Lawsons critique of the economic mainstream is purely philosophical. This reflects the commitment of both Bhaskar and CRE to maintaining a distinction
between philosophy and science, where philosophy should avoid commitment to the content of specific theories and the critical realist account of anything cannot exist. However,
Nielsen suggests that such a commitment is problematic. We expand on this below.
First, while an existing philosophy of science can be restated in the absence of substantive accounts, it is impossible to elaborate a new philosophy of science without reference to examples of scientific practice. There is no consensus within social science
concerning which practices could constitute evidence of science, and hence no social
science analogue of Bhaskars initial transcendental interrogation of the possibility of
experiment within the natural sciences. The selection of particular practices (and hence
practitioners) within social science (and political economy especially) is therefore
charged. By contrast, the range of practices (and practitioners) within the physical sciences is in a sense pre-selected, and philosophy within this realm can proceed in relative
innocence of controversial substantive commitments.6 No such privilege exists for the
philosophers of social science. A second problem is that a specifically new philosophy of
social science must be motivated. The most compelling motivations are necessarily found
in the deleterious consequences for scientific practice of existing and inadequate philosophical foundations. The selection of deficient practice within the social sciences is then
necessarily also charged.
Thus, while on the one hand honestly building critical realism as a meta-position
charged with the rather modest task of under-labouring for the social sciences, both
Bhaskar and Lawson are inevitably and necessarily implicated in a larger set of concerns.
For Bhaskar, this implies a substantive involvement with Marxism and, further, a totalising vision of social practice in which philosophy is assigned an important role in the
struggle for human emancipation. Similarly Lawsons under-labouring project is bound
up with a critique of mainstream economics and the reconstitution of economics as a
realist social science. Nielsens argument is consistent (though not identical) with the one
elaborated above. He observes that for both Bhaskar and Lawson,
on the one hand, philosophy and science are sharply divided, and critical realism is firmly
placed within the philosophical realm, but, on the other hand, the philosophy/science divide
is clearly overstepped and critical realism is seen to be much more wide-ranging and pervasive.
(p. 731)

Thus there are two opposing sets of problems. The first is that of stretching the realm
of philosophy to cover elements of the science side of the divide. Nielsen accuses both
schools of this error through overstepping. The second strategy is, however, the bigger
problem in Nielsens view. This is that of at other moments retreating into a philosophical reductionism characterised by an overwhelming focus on philosophical issues, and
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Capital & Class 35(1)

the loss of the creative interaction of philosophy and concrete practice. As such, Nielsen
emphasises a straightforward critique of reductionism reminiscent of Fine (2002)
wherein critical realism is itself critiqued for being insufficiently alive to the primarily
substantive and empirical nature of political economy. As a result, according to Nielsen,
it has a tendency towards instituting an inappropriate philosophy/science divide that
leads to a disconnected analysis unable to sustain the Marxian dialectic between (abstract)
philosophy and (concrete) substantive theory. But is Bhaskarian critical realism really
guilty as charged? We believe not.
Philosophical under-labouring and emancipatory projects
Central to Nielsens argument is the contention that there exists a further tension between
conceiving critical realism as both an emancipatory project and an under-labouring project charged with the reconstitution of the human sciences. However, once one accepts
that, on the one hand, the philosophy of social science must engage with particular social
sciences in order to advance, and that, on the other hand, emancipation cannot proceed
without an adequate understanding of reality (and of the possibilities for change that this
entails), one can immediately appreciate that rather than being mutually exclusive, these
two positions are compatible and can co-exist in a reciprocal relationship. Indeed, one of
the reasons for the original elaboration of critical realism was Bhaskars belief in the
causal interdependency of social theory and reality, which consequently dictates the need
for a critique that moves beyond identifying unscientific theoretical productions to
analysing the underlying social structures that both support and condition them.
Moreover, as a socialist, Bhaskar has consistently championed the need for emancipation based upon structural change, and he advances his philosophy as an essential aid in
its eventual achievement. Hence he writes that transforming society towards socialism
depends upon knowledge of these underlying structures (Bhaskar, 1989: 5), and that
the relationship between social knowledge or theory and social (or more specifically
socialist) practice will take the form of an emancipatory spiral in which deeper forms of
understanding make possible new forms of practice leading to enhanced understanding
and so on (p. 6). For Bhaskar, critical realism is far from synonymous with philosophy,
and he explicitly defines it as a movement in philosophy and the human sciences and
cognate practices (Archer et al., 1998: ix, emphasis added). Consequently, the charge of
philosophical reductionism is without foundation, and it is both feasible and appropriate
for Bhaskar to engage in substantive theorizing, and to utilise a judgemental rationality
in choosing Marxism on the basis of its stated aims and explanatory power. While
Bhaskar does assert the need for philosophy7 to avoid any commitment to the content of
specific theories, he is intimately aware of the practical impossibility of this prescription,
and holds it merely as a regulative ideal.
Hartwig (2000) is therefore correct to assert that the development of philosophical
critical realism has gone hand in hand with a reassessment of Marxs mature work as
essentially critical realist, and that once the ontology has been elaborated, it is intended
to underpin and inform such emancipatory programmes as that of Marx (Hartwig,
2000: 37 emphasis in original). While it is true that Bhaskars insights have been primarily elaborated at the philosophical level, the projects impetus has always stemmed from
a desire to effect real emancipatory change, and this has ensured the relevance of the
project in the intransitive domain.

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OBoyle and McDonough

Is there a parallel thrust within CRE? The tension around a totalising emancipatory
project never arises for the CRE project, since it is more self-consciously delimited to
methodological enquiry than its Bhaskarian alternative, and consequently has little to say
about human freedom in general or of emancipatory projects in particular.8 Indeed, due
to its perceived audience of professional economists, CRE also differs decisively in terms
of its emphasis and point of departure. In attempting to reach the broader economics
community and engaging with orthodoxy, certain concessions have had to be made that
would otherwise be unnecessary. Furthermore, it is possible that these have included a
strategic decision to more consistently abstain from substantive enquiry, and to emphasise the role of realism in economics as that of a mere critical under-labourer. Therefore
we believe that Nielsens reductionist claims carry significantly more weight when confined to the situation within CRE, and this leads to a tension between the Bhaskarian
variety of critical realism, with its ambition for human emancipation, and the CRE projects much less ambitious intention to engage in under-labouring for an alternative academic economics. Moreover, it is this latter tension and distinction that is causally
efficacious, since the reductionist orientation of the CRE project leaves it incapable of
assessing the ideological nature of the economic mainstream.
Lawsons rejection of the mainstream as ideology hypothesis
As indicated earlier, Lawsons best explanation of the widespread failures of the mainstream project is the application of deductivist methods in contexts for which they are
inappropriate. Yet to posit this explanation is merely to invite a further round of enquiry
into 1) the historical rise to dominance of deductivist methods within economics, and 2)
the current hegemonic position of the mainstream project, despite the fact that it is
singularly unable to generate meaningful social scientific results. Indeed, Lawson himself
has at least partly realised this, and has dealt with it in terms of a Darwinian evolutionary story wherein mathematically oriented economics became the principle beneficiary of a changing political and economic environment in the post-war USA.9 For our
own part, we believe that there is much to commend in an analysis that attempts to link
the rise of transitive or theoretical productions to changes in the intransitive domain.
However, contrary to Lawson we believe that it is just this (dialectical) interaction
between the intransitive and transitive domains that entails an ideological function for
mainstream economics. Moreover, we further contend that this lack of an ideological
critique is the most damaging omission in the Lawsonian project, in light of its own
philosophical aim of critiquing mainstream economics.
That Lawson has generally elided the issue of ideology is relatively uncontroversial,
having been noted by Nielsen (2002), Nielsen and Morgan (2006) and Natasha Kaul
(2002). However, what is more troubling is that when the issue is broached, the idea that
mainstream economics might be ideologically charged is summarily rejected. Indeed, in
a recent paper (2005), Lawson attempts to buttress his own conception of orthodoxy by
critiquing the mainstream as ideology thesis of Bernard Guerrin (2004) and Rajani
Kanth (1999). Lawson accepts that ideology is a notoriously difficult concept to pin
down, but settles on an external function type conception in which adherence to a
theory hinges on its external functions or the purposes it serves, rather than any internal
coherence or explanatory power. This is indeed close to the view of Guerrin and Kanth,
who jointly maintain that the orthodox insistence on rationality and closed systems

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modelling is not due to an excessive commitment to formalism per se, but rather that it
derives from the need to supply a theoretical justification for capitalism (which these
models with their unique and optimal equilibrium solutions typically provide). Yet while
this position is widespread amongst critics of the mainstream, it is rejected by Lawson on
the grounds that by accepting it, one is further committed to the claim that mainstream
economists often consciously set about defending the capitalist system.
Thus he writes,
There is little doubt that some mainstream economists approach their subject in the manner
that Guerrin and others suggest. But most do not. And I do worry that portraying mainstream
economics as driven by the goal of achieving results in these terms is overly conspiratorial.
(Lawson, 2005: 5, emphasis added)

In addition, Lawson points out that the majority of economists working within the
individualistic-rationalistic framework are not involved in general equilibrium (GE)
theorising or concerned with the workings of the system as a whole, but rather content
themselves with highly specific or partial analysis of some restricted sectors or forms of
behaviour (Lawson, 2005: 5); and that even for those few leading theoreticians (such as
Frank Hahn) who were centrally involved in the elaboration of the GE framework, any
conclusions that link the (formal) existence of general equilibrium with a justification for
real world laissez-faire policies are to be firmly rejected. Finally, Lawson draws our attention to the existence of rational choice Marxism, which works within the deductivist
framework in order to criticise the capitalist system. Consequently, in light of the above
considerations, he believes that any ideological interpretation is unsustainable.
Responding to Lawson
Accepting Lawsons claims at face value, one might agree that ideology is not apparent
on the surface of the neoclassical practice of economics. However, as Marx was apt to
point out, the job of the scientist is to go behind the immediacy of surface appearances,
and in so doing, one readily finds the possibility of ideology, and is struck by the empiricism at the heart of Lawsons claims. In the first instance, Lawsons focus is on the
consciousness of individual economists and, in the case of Hahn, he is prepared to
accept a personal disavowal of ideology as definitive. Yet as any realist knows, there is
always the possibility that ideology resides in the structure of a given problematic,10 and
this stands whether its adherents are alive to its existence or not. Moreover, the fact that
many individual economists are engaged in fragmented and specialised endeavours may
be reason enough to suspect that ideological production is afoot.11 Finally, little can be
gleaned one way or the other from the existence of a group of Marxists who model for
just as there are Marxists who model, so there are bourgeois apologists (the Austrians)
who dont. Indeed, the irony of an anti-positivist position that never moves beyond
empirical phenomena is not lost on Wade Hands, who points out that a transcendental
realist would not generally stop at the identification of surface phenomena (such as the
widespread use of deductivism and apathy towards methodological inquiry), but would
rather want to enquire as to the nature of the underlying causal mechanisms (Hands,
1999). This of course is largely correct; and yet it misses something, whilst it remains
abstract and ahistorical.

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OBoyle and McDonough

11

Ben Fine (2004) can help in this regard. He contends that CRE is neither realist nor
critical enough, as it fails to situate itself in relation to the capitalist economy. According
to Fine, the project is guilty of the double separation of 1) economics from the economy
and within this 2) of methodology from theory, and this has resulted in its being
overly ahistorical and methodologically suspect. He goes on to suggest that until it
engages with that mode of production or period of history that has most obviously given
birth to it (Fine, 2004: 202), CRE will remain an insignificant force in the world. Part
of the reason that Lawson may be unwilling to countenance an ideological role for
neoclassicism is precisely because he fails to situate it (or his own project) historically.
While Fine is correct to indict CRE for its failure to recognise its own historicity, he
attributes its lack of a critical edge to an overemphasis on methodology. For us, however,
this lack goes much deeper, since CRE has hitherto been without a critical sociology.
This, then, means that whilst Bhaskar is explicit about the need for emancipatory
(oppositional) discourses to exhibit a mechanism of ideology critique (Bhaskar, 1991:142),
CRE consistently disavows this in favour of an overarching preoccupation with the
epistemological adequacy of given frameworks. As such, the failure to conceive of
economics as a specific discourse within and not just about capitalism not only renders
CRE overly ahistorical, but also decisively weakens the nature of its critique. In consequence, we suggest that CRE is neither critical, nor structural enough. To substantiate
this we now move to a more general elaboration of Bhaskarian critical realism.

Part 2
Bhaskars two sides of knowledge
In A Realist Theory of Science (RTS), Bhaskar makes much of the fact that knowledge
has two sides. He perceptively notes that on one side, much of the so-called problem of
knowledge stems from our (belated) realisation that people in their social activity produce knowledge much like other social products; and yet on the other side, that this
knowledge is of things that are not produced by mankind at all. Grappling with this
problem has led to numerous unworkable strategies from idealist and/or postmodernist/
poststructuralist approaches, which essentially jettison the intransitive side of knowledge,
to positivist attempts to collapse the intransitive into the transitive.12 Bhaskar intends to
sidestep both these positions, and his starting point is that any adequate account must
quite simply accommodate both transitive antecedent theoretical materials, and the
intransitive object that exists outside of the consciousness of persons (Bhaskar, 2008: 23).
Now, while critical realism has clearly focused much of its intellectual resources on just
this task, the implications of the two sides of knowledge have not been solely restricted to
the philosophy of science. For once we accept that knowledge is our creation, it allows us
to bring all manner of extra-theoretical considerations into our understanding of how it
is that knowledge not only gets produced, but also gets institutionalised, disseminated
and accepted (by the academic community and by society at large).
In short, just as knowledge has two sides, it also has two outsides, as it is simultaneously oriented towards 1) an object of investigation, and conducted within 2) a scientific
community, subject to all manner of political and/or ideological infiltrations (see Collier,
1989). Interestingly, the socioeconomic conditions of theory production are frequently

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disregarded by positivism, and since it is just this problem that substantially conditions
ideological infiltration, critical realism must devote some of its intellectual resources to
illuminating this under the banner of sociology of knowledge (including ideology critique).
Specifically, the transitive domain is not only reliant on antecedent theoretical materials,
but also on funding and institutional mechanisms that control the dissemination of
knowledge and bestow it with authority. Similarly, while there must be an intrinsic object
to investigate, this object will always be abstracted from elements of a socioeconomic
environment that impact on it in numerous ways. We may say, then, that (social scientific) knowledge takes the real as its object of investigation, and that the real impacts on
it in numerous ways. This dialectic is key to understanding the many determinants that
impact on the generation of knowledge, and formalising this, we may say that knowledge
is not only created in society but that it is generally created in specific institutions within
this society. As such, we have a model wherein knowledge is created within a set of social
structures by individual scientists who are subject to socialisation, both in a general sense
(into the social milieu) and in a specific sense (into their academic communities). This
means that even if we momentarily presume that that object of investigation is (relatively) unproblematic, there is still a massively complex process of knowledge generation.
We have been stressing that a distinction must be drawn between the two outsides of
knowledge, and in this connection, Steinmetz and Ou-Byung Chae (2002) make a useful contribution. They argue that critical realism in its guise as sociology of knowledge
is essentially in the business of unmasking the social determinants of ideas, while as a
philosophy of science, it is primarily concerned with the substantive adequacy of a given
theoretical position. In short, as a philosophy of science, and as a research activity critical realism refutes; as a sociology of knowledge, it unmasks (Steinmetz and Ou-Byung
Chae, 2002: 121).
As we observed earlier, Bhaskar has never developed a sustained critique of neoclassical economics. He has, however, posited a paradigmatic critique of positivism (1989)
that simultaneously refutes (its epistemological adequacy) and unmasks (its social basis).
This, moreover, bears directly on the situation in neoclassical economics, and to substantiate this we will use the next section to develop the contrast between the Bhaskarian and
CRE approaches to positivism, and the subsequent one to apply Bhaskarian realism
(albeit briefly) to the neoclassical framework.13
Positivism
Positivism is an epistemological position that pertains most centrally to the limits and
nature of our knowledge. However, as Lawson has pointed out, every epistemology
ultimately presupposes an attendant ontology, and in the case of positivism this is
constituted by atomistic events contingently conjoined (otherwise known as empirical
realism). The critique of positivism is a key prelude to the critique of neoclassical
economics, for while its deductive methods are indeed a proximate problem, these are
ultimately premised on a positivistic ascription of deduction as an appropriate method
for understanding the social world. However, a focus exclusively on the intrinsic element of a science (a failure to come to grips with the nature of its object) would be only
a partial critique. The critical realist must go further, and this can only be achieved by
highlighting the secretion of an attendant sociology with covert and/or overt ideological
significance.
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Specifically, positivism presupposes an individualistic sociology characterised by passive


scientists observing a world that is unproblematically available to them (Bhaskar, 2008:
55). This is predicated on an attempt to reduce the world to our experience of it, as
positivism, in its search for foundations, ultimately transcends the problem of knowledge
by fusing experience and the world so that science becomes an epiphenomenon of nature
(Bhaskar, 1989: 59). Charting the ideological consequences is relatively easy as knowledge
in this framework becomes unproblematic and imbued with a level of certainty and
authority. Moreover, knowledge becomes neutral and objective as the scientist is doing no
more than asking questions of the world and waiting to record its answers. This clearly
renders the resulting knowledge beyond reproach, as the scientist and his or her listeners,
lacking any conception of the scientific communitys active (and fallible) role in theory
construction, cant but feel that the knowledges they produce are monistic and free from
non-scientific influence. As such, positivism denies the social character of science and in
so doing renders the scientist systematically unable to interrogate the social context of
theory development, and the science systematically insulated from rational critique.
While the ideological import of certain knowledge is obvious, Bhaskar is willing to
accept that positivism (in the transitive realm at least) does resonate with common-sense
experiences of the world, which seems to be made up of facts that are independently out
there. Yet in positing facts as somehow out there, positivism both naturalises and
dehistoricises them, so that things just are as they appear. Not only is it is up to the
scientist to move beyond these appearances, but it is precisely this endeavour that
characterises the movement into science (p. 61).
Moving to the intransitive domain, Bhaskar becomes far less forgiving, arguing that
positivism here supports a mystification. Following Marxs lead, Bhaskar points out that
just as the necessity of the wage-form is its concealment of exploitation, so the social
function of constant conjunctions is their concealment of structures irreducible to events
and societies irreducible to people (p. 62). Society thus becomes unstructured and utterly
contingent (not to mention unchangeable); and the world contains no hidden mechanisms, but is rather a passing flux of events that are accurately captured in pre-critical
consciousness. The message, then, is that whilst all may not be rosy in the Humean garden, all is at least apparent, and in a moment in which Bhaskar comes unusually close to
a direct critique of the neoclassical framework,14 he explicitly equates the Humean philosophical system with the ideological presuppositions of utilitarian contractarianism at
the (capitalist) societal level:
In perfect resonance with the conception of science as a behavioural response to the stimulus
of given facts and their conjunctions, society is conceived as being constituted by individuals
motivated by given desires and conjoined, if at all by contract. When it is necessary to conceive
the components of such a society, the atomized individuals, as agents, a form of consistency is
preserved by the simple expedient of the separation of reason from desire. A persons freedom
then consists in their ability to calculate their own interests in relation to given desires (that is
performing an optimizing calculation). Utilitarianism is the natural handmaiden of positivism.
(Bhaskar, 1989: 63)

Indeed it is, and as we shall see in the next section, neoclassical economics relies on a
curious juxtaposition of positivism and utilitarianism to throw a spurious veil of scientificity over what is in fact an ideological apology for capitalist inequality.
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Using positivism for ideological ends: The case of neoclassicism


Attempting a panoramic sweep of 140 years of theoretical development is difficult
enough on its own terms, and to achieve this against the backdrop of contemporary
developments in positivism and capitalism is simply unachievable in an article of this
nature. That said, it is important to give some indication of the complex intertwining of
these elements, and to this end we are aided (as critical realists) by a heuristic which
demands the (retroductive) move from the myriad surface practices of neoclassicism
towards the meta-theoretical core of the project. Having hitherto focused on positivist
strictures, it is now important to point out that our primary assertion is not that the
neoclassical commitment to deduction flows primarily from an ideological motive. Nor
are we suggesting that neoclassical ideology is to be found primarily at the methodological level, or even that deduction is ideological per se (although it does have ideological
effects, such as the neglect of the social basis of science, etc). Our position is rather that
if one is to take the idea of two outsides (of knowledge) seriously, one must attempt to
dialectically link the two through the interactions of their respective structures, and that
in the case of neoclassicism; it is within the nature of these interactions that the ideological
benefit for capitalism resides. Positivist strictures predominated in the period in which all
of the key contemporary traditions (of economics) developed, and given this, it is relatively
unsurprising that adherents to deduction can be located across the ideological spectrum.
Indeed, we accept the Lawsonian account of the rise to dominance of positivist methods
as partly located in the reification of mathematical methods (itself a function of the drive
to expunge the messy realities of common sense and everyday prejudices from the lexicon
of science). However even in accepting this, we believe that the specific use of positivism
by the neoclassical school marks it out as a special case, and that this can be brought to
light by examining numerous examples wherein the ostensive move towards scientificity
actually resulted in important ideological benefits at the substantive level. The ideological functions of neoclassical economics deserve (and have received) extensive analysis.
Thus the argument below can be only indicative.
Neoclassical economics has, from the beginning, located its scientificity in positivist
strictures, as it dates its (claimed) transition to scientificity in the marginalist revolution
and the adoption of a utility theory of value. The traditional account of this incident is
well known, as proto neo-classicists, not content to infer the presence of metaphysical
or abstract labour in concrete commodities, sought to place their discipline on a scientific
footing via the instigation of a subjectivist theory of value and the further mathematisation
of the discipline. On the one hand, this move mirrored later (logical) positivist attempts
to establish a protocol language, and so could be characterised as scientific. On the other
hand, it ensured a decisive move away from a value theory that had been well and truly
sullied (from their perspective) by the Marxist equation of labour and (surplus) value.
Thus whilst there is no doubt that increasing scientificity may have been part of the
reason, there are still questions to be answered in relation to a move from a metaphysical
theory of value to one that renders value essentially non-observable. After all, it remains
a stubborn fact that utility maximization has not, and cannot, be directly perceived
despite the best efforts of Samuelson to address this within a revealed preference model.15
A second ideological benefit flows from a (positivistic) belief in monistic science
(progressive development in a unilinear fashion), as neoclassicism has interpreted its late
arrival as a sign of its ability to supersede all of its theoretical competitors. Indeed, as it is

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the latest and therefore most modern set of developments in economic thinking,
neo-classicism generally absolves its practitioners from doing methodology (or indeed
disciplinary history), and this leaves the discipline unable to interrogate its own scientificity in anything like the manner approached by thinkers in the other traditions.16 Moving
on, the axiological distinction between facts and values has allowed neoclassical economics
to portray itself as a system of value-free knowledge while systematically throwing up
injunctions as to what can meaningfully be said about the world by the conscientious
scientist. This distinction is pervasive in the discipline, from the introductory textbooks
through to the welfare theorems, and prominently asserts the impossibility of making
interpersonal utility comparisons. And yet, as Putman has cogently pointed out, the
resulting Pareto optimality criterion itself only gets off the ground if one accepts the
underlying value judgement that every agents right to maximize his or her utility is as
important as every other agents (Putnam in Pressman, 2004: 487). Indeed, it gets worse,
as the whole neoclassical framework can be interpreted normatively if one accepts, as
Hosseini does, that neoclassical economics has sought refuge in the ideal utopian world
of perfect competition,
Instead of explaining what is which should be the main task of a science including positive
theories of economics neoclassical economics, in spite of its claim to the contrary, has
concentrated on what should be. It is to explain the ideal world of a perfectly competitive
world that the assumptions of rationality and optimization of economic agents have become
relevant. (Hosseini, 1990: 84)

It would be possible to continue for some time discussing the ideological import of
various more specific positivist propositions within neoclassical economics. We will,
however, restrict ourselves to discussions of 1) the maximisation assumption and 2)
(ahistorical) methodological individualism, before moving on to chart some of significant effects of these strictures for the undergraduate project (as found in mainstream
text books). With the institution of a maximising agent, we find a powerful justification
for the market, as sovereign actors with autonomous preferences allow for a society that
can achieve its optimal position via the hidden hand of capitalist competition and the
partly visible hands of individuals in maximisation mode. This then allows the market
as panacea position to pervade neoclassical orthodoxy, as every action within markets is
destined to increase welfare (utility), and the result is a framework that is constitutionally
blind to exploitation. Moreover, if utilitarianism is one handmaiden to positivism, methodological individualism is another, and under the combined forces of reducing society
to its individual constituents (reductionism) and further reducing these to automata
(atomism) with simplistic motivations (utilitarianism), neoclassical economics is afforded
the opportunity to sidestep such essential social scientific categories as history, geography, class and gender in favour of the representative agent that can be said to be maximising, whether they be scavenging for metal on a dump, or short selling on the stock
exchange (subject to very real constraints, of course). Having rejected both time (history)
and space (structure), neoclassicism can now get on with the really important business of
building a theoretical edifice that is both tractable and internally consistent with the
D-N model. To this end, the framework as presented to the undergraduate is fully
congruent with a positivist analysis, and yet it also sustains a number of the important

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features of capitalist ideology. To see this, one must remember that while the initial
supply and demand model is often defended on pedagogical grounds as the most
manageable starting point for the uninitiated, it relies on a series of assumptions about
ontology and the nature of agency to even get off the ground. In particular, neoclassicism
posits a constant conjunction of moving prices (whenever x) and appropriate agential
responses (then y), and so the whole discussion of markets, and by extension society, is
premised on the idea that rational agents will respond exclusively to one source of
information embodied in the price mechanism. If this is the case, we have a powerful
normative account of the benefits of markets, as Says Law always holds, money becomes
a neutral medium, and every economic decision can be brought into harmonious
interaction with all the rest. The ideological import is surely obvious as voluntary unemployment becomes all but impossible, all resources are allocated efficiently (no waste),
welfare is maximised, and government intervention is both superfluous and sub optimal.17
Added to this account of the beneficence of markets is a strategic manoeuvre designed to
neglect the foundational dependence of markets relations on prior exploitation within
production. To this end, an atomistic ontology is absolutely indispensible as it allows
(neoclassical) marginal productivity theory to define both capital and labour as discrete
elements, contingently conjoined on the basis of their respective productivity (see
Samuelsons stark claim that it doesnt really matter who hires whom; so let labour hire
capital (Samuelson, 1957: 894)). Ideologically, this denial of concrete social relations
completely elides the foundational dependence of capital on dead labour, and allows
the neoclassicals to assert that each owner merely turns up with whatever factor they
happen to have, only to subsequently receive the equivalent marginal payment to the
factor they happen to own. Income distribution is therefore equitable and rational and
the market as panacea message has completely usurped the once contested landscape of
capitalist production.
Taking stock, it seems that whether we begin at the meta-level or at the level of initial fundamentals, neoclassicism utilises a form of utilitarian-positivism, and that just as
Bhaskar has suggested, both isms are pressed into ideological service in the defence of
capitalism. Clearly there is much work to do to round out this picture, and again we
stress the indicative nature of this discussion. For now, we will finish by highlighting (as
Marx did) one last ideological benefit of ahistorical method centering on its ability to
naturalise those social relations that are currently most in evidence. Neoclassical economics begins and ends with forms of behaviour most associated with capitalism, and
so limits the horizons of social change to just these forms of relationships. This more
than anything else renders the framework eminently ideological.
Blind spots and strategic manoeuvres in Lawsons critique of the mainstream
What we have so far discovered is that 1) Lawson relies on a critique of positivism in his
designation of neoclassical economics as unscientific; 2) Lawsons critique relies heavily on
Bhaskars elaboration of positivism; and that 3) Bhaskar conceives the latter as a multifaceted system containing an epistemology, an ontology and a sociology of science. Bhaskar
conceives positivism as inherently ideological and eminently congruent with the ideology
propounded by utilitarian contractarianism. We have also found that 4) Lawson chooses
not to accuse neoclassical economics of ideology, being content to rest his critique on the

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immediacy of the lack of scientific merit in constant conjunction analysis, without


questioning the possible relevance of this outlook for capitalist society. In this section, we
will attempt to round off this picture by charting the ways that Lawsons refusal to countenance an ideological function impacts negatively on his own account of neoclassical
economics.
We earlier established that theory is never generated in a vacuum, either in terms of
its theoretical antecedents or its social determinants, and that failing to appreciate this
will inevitably lead one into difficulty. Now, on the face of it, Lawson has at least come
to grips with the intransitive domain as this is the realm of the object of investigation,
and Lawson is (quite rightly) adamant that neoclassical economics simply cant cut the
mustard in this domain. Ironically though (as Fine has pointed out), while Lawson continually attacks the mismatch between neoclassical tools and their specific object of
investigation, he himself is content to stick to unspecific meta-theoretical accounts of
abstract structures in abstract open systems. This leads to two specific blind spots in the
CRE position and one strategic manoeuvre, all of which must be radically critiqued if a
rounded appraisal of the neoclassical framework is to emerge.
The first blind spot is Lawsons distinctly uncritical account of ideology. Lawson
insists on focusing on the thoughts of individual economists rather than on the structural
emergence of the mainstream paradigm. The account of ideology is thus couched in
terms of economists who are seeking to defend the system, and this can then be rejected
as overly conspiratorial. Yet clearly there exists the possibility that the reproduction of
the ideological biases of orthodoxy can be achieved through the unintentional consequences of intentional action or by the unconscious motivations of its adherents etc.
Indeed, this is exactly the type of scenario envisaged by Bhaskars transformational
model of social activity (TMSA). Granted, the TMSA argues that social structures are
ultimately dependent on the praxis of individuals; but it also suggests that structures in
turn are causally efficacious on the forms of action that emerge and generally ensure
behaviours congruent with structural reproduction. As such, to continually focus on the
consciousness of individual agents is essentially, from a critical-realist perspective, to miss
the point.18
A second theoretical blind spot relates to the continual (over) emphasis placed on
form. For Lawson, neoclassical economics pertains to positivism most fully in its aspiration to translate the messy business of common-sense language into more formal pronouncements befitting of a science. However, it must be remembered that formal
methods have a substantial benefit over so-called messy language in their ability to
screen out unwanted influences and therein to patrol the nature of legitimate and
non-legitimate explanatory variables from behind the authority of (pseudo-) scientific
strictures (a point made particularly clear in the case of neoclassicism, which invokes an
atomistic phenomenalism to reject all talk of structure, class, power, gender, etc.). This
point is supported by Natasha Kaul (2002), who argues that Lawson concedes far too
much to the neoclassicals by engaging with them on their own terms. Yes, formalisation
occurs. Yes, it is irrelevant. But by focusing on this exclusively, Lawson misses the essential point that it is only irrelevant from the point of view of science. And that given its
scientific irrelevance, it must, (from an ideological perspective) be doing a fairly decent
job of being relevant for those social forces that it supports with its conclusions.

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Finally, we discuss the strategic decision. A striking feature of the Lawsonian project
is its continuous references to the mainstream or orthodoxy as an orientation in
method, rather than as neoclassical economics. Now, this might be considered as being
little more than an idiosyncrasy, and this indeed is the sense that Lawson himself conveys in response to a number of his critics:
although I think little, if anything turns on this particular exchange, unlike Hands I tend to
avoid making reference to neoclassical economics. Instead I refer only to the contemporary
mainstream project The category neoclassical, however is more problematic, unnecessarily
bringing into play, amongst other things, matters of historical lineage. (Lawson 1999b: 224)

If Lawson is to be believed, the distinction drawn between neoclassicism and the


mainstream project would seem to be of little import. However, we believe that on closer
inspection distinguishing the two becomes crucial, for it is only by doing so that Lawson
can then go on to define the mainstream in a way that is appropriate to his purposes.
Specifically, in dealing with neoclassicism one is immediately enveloped in a number of
substantive positions,19 and consequently the attempt to define the mainstream in terms of
formalism alone would be thwarted. It follows, moreover, that it is only by restricting the
mainstream to an orientation in method that one can sustain the hypothesis that the mainstream is most accurately defined in this way. But in so doing, Lawson merely succeeds in
offering us a truism of the following form: all those economic theories that are deductive make
up the mainstream, ergo the mainstream must be defined as an orientation in method.20
This tautology is, moreover, the best-case scenario. For at worst, Lawson has thrown
a protective cover over mainstream economic ideology, which is distinctive in its use of a
positivistic utilitarianism, which secretes its ideological benefits under the guise of proper
scientific method. Other modelling perspectives do not do this. And while they may be
guilty of the epistemological mistake outlined by Lawson above (viz, using methods that
are simply inappropriate),21 we believe that neoclassical economics is distinctive, as its
ideological impact emerges in the interaction of substantive and methodological elements, to ensure a framework that is constitutionally unable to deal with class conflict,
exploitation, gender or social inequality.

Conclusion
This paper is an attempt to add to the debate within heterodoxy surrounding the role of
critical realism in economics. While we accept that there are numerous benefits to be
gained from applying critical realist insights to both strands within economics (orthodoxy
and heterodoxy), we believe that any confrontation with the neoclassical mainstream
must remain faithful to Bhaskars original formulation, with its explicit focus on ideology
critique. We earlier suggested the untenability of a rapprochement between Bhaskar and
Lawson, and we conclude this essay by reiterating the reasons why. Bhaskarian realism is
a multifaceted system, and we believe that it cannot be used selectively. Indeed, we
suggest that one must engage the critical sociology in conjunction with ontological
and epistemological critiques in order to sustain the full force of the framework. In consequence, it is not enough to see the Lawsonian critique as merely one-sided. Rather, it is
compromised, as it fails to utilise the critical sociology and in so doing, only partly critiques

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the implications of positivism, and fails to address the ideological resonance at the heart
of neoclassicism. It must be granted that its critique of the epistemological inadequacy of
positivism is a cogent one, but without a discussion of its relations to substantive theory
(and the capitalist economy), CRE actually mis-describes its opponent and essentially
lets it off the hook. Contrary to the Lawsonian position, we follow Bhaskar in arguing
for a critique that moves beyond the shortcomings of specific theoretical productions to
the conditions that are necessary for their dominance. Yet this invariably means doing
what the CRE project has failed to do, and that is to focus much more explicitly on the
relations between the levels of theoretical productions and the real-world structures that
both condition and support them. Once this is achieved, it will be seen that contrary to
Lawsons position, mainstream economics is best conceived in terms of its apologetic
content, and appreciating this allows for a more cogent critique of the mainstream.
Lawson once noted22 that a big stick may well do a useful job of beating dust from a tattered mat, but is more than useless if one is in the business of cleaning windows.
Paraphrasing slightly, we may say that a broom would also be an ill-advised implement
for cleaning windows, but would certainly suffice if ones intention were to sweep things
under the carpet. This, then, is where we must take our leave from the Lawsonian project
and its presupposition that neoclassical economics, considered holistically, may actually
intend to clean the windows.
Acknowledgements
The research employed in this paper was supported by the Irish Research Council for the
Humanities and Social Sciences. The authors would like to thank Steve Fleetwood and two anonymous referees for the valuable comments they made on an earlier draft of this paper.

Notes
1. See Bhaskar (1998: 65-71) for a formal account of ideology critique that draws heavily on
Marx.
2. Tony Lawson is perhaps the best known representative of CRE, while others associated with
the project include Steve Fleetwood, Clive Lawson, Stephen Pratten, Paul Lewis and Jochen
Runde. See Lawson (1997, 2003) for the definitive position of CRE, and Fleetwood (1999)
for contributions that develop and situate the project from some of the others mentioned
above.
3. It must be noted that we follow Joseph (1998), Nielsen (2002) and Callinicos (in Bhaskar,
2003) in drawing on Bhaskars early critical realism, and not on his later dialectical/
transcendental reformulation. Like these authors, we believe that the earlier work holds
significantly more promise from a Marxist perspective, and we seek to extend the project
in this direction rather than that chosen by Bhaskar himself. This eschewal of Bhaskars
later formulation is also true of the CRE project, and we therefore have a coherent basis
on which to compare the two positions.
4. See Bhaskar (1989, Ch. 4) for the definitive account of the importance of a critical sociology
in relation to positivism.
5. See Lawson (1997: 19-20) for a more detailed account of the links between positivism,
Humean causality and empirical realism.
6. Steve Fleetwood has rightly pointed out that natural sciences such as meteorology have suffered quite badly due to their uncritical adherence to positivism. Our point is not to suggest
that the natural sciences are immune to such issues, but merely to sustain the impossibility of
avoiding substantive considerations in the social sciences.

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7. It is telling that Bhaskar asserts this need in relation to philosophy only, and therefore the
commitment to disengage from substantive pronouncements does not carry over into critical
realism itself.
8. This is not to suggest that those authors connected to CRE are unconcerned with emancipation. Indeed, Lawson has occasionally engaged with emancipatory themes, as one reviewer
quite rightly pointed out. However, given the differing emphases that emerge in the respective published outputs of the given writers, we believe our position to be at least defensible.
9. See Lawson (2003), Chapter 10.
10. See Althusser (2005) for an account of the importance of theoretical problematics in structuring the output of given thinkers.
11. Indeed, fragmented knowledge is one of the hallmarks of bourgeois ideology. See Lukcs
(1971) for a definitive critique of fragmented knowledge as a source of ideological distortion
12. Most commentators would argue that positivism collapses the transitive into the intransitive,
but according to Bhaskar, this is incorrect since the world is collapsed into our knowledge of
it, and so positivism is itself quintessentially idealist.
13. Steve Fleetwood has correctly highlighted the interrelation of these two, premised on the fact
that some refutation is necessary to unmask. This is no doubt correct, since once one accepts
the truth of a position, its social origin may seem unimportant. However, we still feel it useful
to analytically separate the two, if only to highlight the necessity of interrogating the social
origins (class basis) of ideas that are found to be cognitively inadequate.
14. Although Bhaskar has never engaged in a sustained critique of neoclassical economics, it is
clear from his occasional criticisms that he regards this system in negative terms. See for
example Bhaskar (2003: 98); Bhaskar (2008: 23); and Bhaskar (1998: 132).
15. See Samuelson (1955) for a brief discussion of operationalism in economics. For a more
detailed discussion, see Seligman (1967).
16. Lawson has himself noted this point in the introduction to Economics and Reality (1997).
17. A similar conjunction is found in the Quantity Theory of Money, which allows the monetarists to reject discretionary monetary policy by government. If the constant conjunction whenever x (increase in MS) then y (equivalent increase in prices) is not obtained, then we have
much more space for active government intervention in the economic sphere
18. This is not to suggest that all other authors within CRE are unable to view ideology in structural terms.
19. Marginalist analysis, a rationality axiom and the existence of conditions for substitution are
just three of the substantive positions that immediately come to mind.
20. Again, we thank Steve Fleetwood for improving our exposition of this point.
21. Even allowing for the fact that deduction is a largely inappropriate method for doing concrete
social theory, the mathematical deductive method can be deployed productively in the small
range of situations where artificial closure can be achieved (thought experiments like those
carried out by Sraffa in his critique of neoclassical economics come to mind). See Hodgson
(2004) on this point, where he argues that Sraffa (1960) uses formal methods to affect an
internal critique of mainstream capital theory.
22. See Lawson (1994).

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Author biographies
Brian OBoyle is the academic programme director for economics at St. Angelas College,
Sligo. He is currently completing a Ph.D. entitled Extending the realist contribution to
Marxism: Essays on the nature of science and structure in the Marxist framework,
and his research interests include Marxist political economy, philosophy of science and
economics education for labour and community groups.
Terrence McDonough is a professor of economics at the National University of Ireland,
Galway. His published works as author, editor or co-editor include Contemporary
Capitalism and Its Crises: Social Structure of Accumulation Theory for the 21st Century; The
HEAP Chart: Hierarchy of Earnings, Attributes and Privilege Analysis; Was Ireland A
Colony? Economics, Politics, Ideology and Culture in the Irish Nineteenth Century; and
Social Structures of Accumulation: The Political Economy of Growth and Crisis. His current
interests include globalisation, American and Irish economic history, and economics
education for labour and community groups.

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