Does critical realism need the concept of three domains of reality? A roundtable

Dave Elder-Vass, Tom Fryer, Ruth Porter Groff, Cristián Navarrete, Tobin Nellhaus

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


The concept of the three domains of reality is widely used in empirical critical realist research. However, there has been little scrutiny of how the domains are conceptualized and what they contribute to critical realism and how they should be applied in empirical research. This paper involves four arguments. First, Tom Fryer and Cristián Navarrete argue that the three domains of reality are redundant, confusing, and unsupported by Bhaskar’s theorizing. Second, Dave Elder-Vass argues that the three domains schema embodies a distinction between the actual and the non-actual real. Regardless of whether we call them domains we need to retain this distinction. Third, Tobin Nellhaus argues that there are several reasons to uphold the three domains, but ‘the empirical’ is flawed and must be enfolded within a more encompassing theory. Fourth, Ruth Groff argues that the metaphor of ontological stratification is a problem when readers take it literally, often misconstruing the actual metaphysical content that it is meant to capture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-239
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Critical Realism
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Mar 2023


  • Bhaskar
  • Domains of reality
  • causal powers
  • critical realism
  • ontology


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