The Realist Critique of Materialism

Just invoking materialism without specifying exactly what the sense is does not get you very far. It is often claimed that ideas and ideology have a material existence ultimately rooted in physical matter. But what is physical matter? If you go down one level of the stratification of nature you come to atoms that are weird in terms of our normal conceptions of concrete materiality and in fact turn out to be not a-tomic at all! If you go down another couple of levels you are dealing with distributions in space and successions in time. You are very far removed from ‘concrete materiality’. The world of quantum fields and quarks is not the world of concrete objects and solid material things. What the belief in brute physicality as exhaustive of the world depends on is in fact a species of commodification; it is an ideological materialism that commodifies and fetishises the properties of concrete material things. By downplaying or denying the possibility of intentional agency, it is just as much orientated against the possibility of social science as is supernaturalist idealism or the resort to faith in totally transcendent, supernatural causes. In many cases I would rather not use the terms ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’: I would rather just talk about ‘science’, ‘realism’ and ‘ontology’.

Roy Bhaskar. The Formation of Critical Realism: A Personal Perspective. Pg 85

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