Notes on Wright’s Critical Realism

From New Testament and the People of God.   Wright has since alluded to this topic in Paul and the Faithfulness of God.  I will utilize those insights as well, but since I don’t know how to “chart and graph stuff” on a blog (or I do but I don’t feel like it), I probably won’t go into detail with PFG.

Wright surveys the standard post-Enlightenment reactions towards the problem of truth.

positivism: affirms the reality and possibility of definite knowledge.  Only things that can be empirically tested can yield knowledge (I understand the nuances between falsification and verification; let those slide for the moment).  Unfortunately, it is self-refuting by its own criteria.  The only people who hold this today are tenured academics in social sciences and Freshman Neckbeards.  Wright offers a helpful diagream (Wright 35):

observer ————————————–>Objecty
*simply looking at objective reality
*tested by empirical observation
* if it doesn’t work, it’s nonsense

phenomenalism: the only things I can be sure of are what appear to me in the external world (34).

Observer———————————–> Object
* I seem to have evidence of external reality

Observer      <———————————
* but I am really only sure of my sense data

As Wright helpfully summarizes, the positivist thinks he is looking through a telescope.  The phenomenalist fears he might just be looking at a mirror.

Wright now advances his thesis on critical realism:

(1) acknowledges the reality of the thing known, as something other than the knower, while also acknowledging that the only path we have to this reality is a spiraling path of appropriate dialogue between the knower and the thing known (hence critical; p. 35).

A Reformed reader will say, “But this sounds just like presuppositionalism.”  Kind of, but there are important differences (and I think, advances).  Critical realism better accounts for “social imaginaries,” those symbols, values, and narratives which shape a consciousness while sometimes remaining on the tacit level. Such a picture would look like this:

Observer———————————–> Object
*initial observation

Observer      <———————————
*challenged by critical reflection

Observer———————————–> Object
*but can survive the challenge and speak truly about reality


This model has a number of useful dividends.  It accounts for the possibility and reality of knowledge.  Yet, it is not naive and understands how presuppositions work.  Unlike earlier presuppositional models, it takes into account how metanarratives, institutions, symbols and values influence not only the individual but the unconscious of the reading community.

Critical realism, perhaps in some ways most importantly, also takes account of liturgies.  I had one leading presuppositionalist on Puritanboard tell me I needed to repent and believe the gospel because I suggested the liturgy can function formatively on the tacit level.


2 thoughts on “Notes on Wright’s Critical Realism

  1. I know Charles Taylor critiqued the use of “world-view” because it sounds, and can function, too cerebral. Does world-view pair to Presuppositionalism as Social-imaginary pairs to critical realism?


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