File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0010, message 14

Date: Tue, 03 Oct 2000 21:51:46 +0200
Subject: Re: BHA: Althusser and critical realism

Dear Nick,

I will propose a few thoughts on the relationship Althusser - critical
realism, and add this to your very clear and interesting points.

One essential point why Althusser saw a 'rupture epistemologique'
between the philosophies of Hegel and Marx were their qualitatively
different conceptions of the relation between philosophy and sciences.
Hegel claimed that he had shown in a absolute logical-necessary way the
steps from 'sinnliche Gewissheit' in 'Phaenomenologie des Geistes' to
the 'Absolute Idee' in the 'Wissenschaft der Logik'. Of course Hegel had
studied history, economy and so on, and many of his research results
were integrated into his system, but 'in principle' all scientific
(historical, political, etc.) considerations were dominated by his
teleological and idealist philosophical system, a closed system.
Whereas Marxist thinking can only "flourish" (see Reclaiming Reality, p.
183) when there is no hierarchical relation between philosphy and
sciences. And this is only possible when philosophy is not confronting
the sciences with a closed (transhistorical) system. Althusser's
conception of critical-materialist philosophy was that such a philosophy
would have to liberate social sciences (including the various versions
of historical materialism) from empiricist, teleological, reductionist,
individualist, pragmatist ideologies=fallacies. Critical philosophy - in
Althusser's, Bachelard's, Bhaskar's view - has to eliminate
epistemological obstacles IN social sciences. This means that for
Althusser (and I think for Bhaskar too) the realtion between philosophy
and sciences is an internal relation; philosophy is relative autonomous
but never a system for itself. And only with the support /
underlabouring of such a critical philosophy it is possible for social
sciences to do "concrete analyses of concrete situations" (Lenin).
In Reading Capital and For Marx Althusser tried to reconstruct and to
make explicit this ind of critical (dialectic-materialist *) philosophy.
And I would say that Bhaskar tried - accepting zhis basis of Althusser's
philosophy - to make explicit some implicit ontological assumptions of
Althusser's epistemological theses. So falling back into a
pre-Altusserian paradigm (be it Kantian, Hegelian, Husserlian, etc.) -
or 'problematique', as Althusser and Bacelard would call it - means to
fall back into a pre-criticalrealism-problematique. Of course this
doesn't mean that the philosophical conceptions of Althusser and Bhaskar
would be identical , but that they have many fundamental theses in
A specific difference between Althusser and Bhaskar (and most critical
realists??) could be found in their conceptions of ideology. Presumably
Althusser's theory of "ideology and ideological state apparatuses" tends
to be much more complex because he tries to understand (supported by
Spinoza, Marx and Lacan) the 'inner logic' of ideology. Whereas Bhaskar
remains in the rationalistic conception of ideology as 'false
consciousness' (conf. PON, 3rd edition, p. 65ff). Of course ideological
discourses/practices (f.e. racist discourses/practices) are not right -
but one can never analyse the specific dynamic of racism, sexism,
nationalism etc. if one describes it simply as 'false cousciousness'.


Nick Hostettler wrote:
> Dear Phil,
> Have you the time to say more about this?
> >  "critical realism shouldn't fall back into a pre-Althusserian
> >paradigm".  I'm afraid you'll have to explain that one to me.  Althusser
> >worked extensively on Hegel for his dissertation, so it seems he did not
> >share your negative attitude towards Hegel as a thinker.  Of course,
> >famously, Althusser's work lacks dialectics but that seems to me to be a
> >problem for Althusser and not for Hegel.
> >
> >Warm regards,
> >Phil
> I was delighted to see some positive references to Althusser on the list:
> He's a much maligned and misunderstood figure. I think that identifying
> Althusser as a critical turning point in recent philosophy is right. In his
> excellent book on Althusser, Resch makes a brief nod to Roys work in RTS as
> 'Althusserian' and moves on. I would say that in many respects Althusser's
> work was in advance of RTS in some significant ways and is already a form
> of DCR. His critiques of expressive and linear, or 'transitive', causality
> are very clearly directly related to the critique of anthropism and
> therefore to monovalence, although Althusser does not explicitly develop
> his work in this direction the category of real absence is definitely
> there. Althusser's positive conception of structural causality is an
> advance over the still abstract conception of causal mechanisms developed
> in RTS as it clearly encompasses the idea of transfactuality and sustains
> the relations between the abstract structures identified by contemporarly
> science and the wider totalities in which they are embedded. Althusser is
> rigorously consistent when it comes to the primacy of the object over the
> subject and his subjects seem eminently dialectical to me: his conceptions
> of the constitution of agentive capacities clearly utilising a conception
> of emergence. I say this against the grain of the bad press his accounts of
> ideology and subjectification have had.
> Specifically on dialectics in Althusser: the two essays in "For Marx", on
> the Materialist Dialectic and Historical materialism, have always seemed to
> me to be similarly clearly dialectical works, bringing out a conception of
> a differentiated, structure, complex and contradictory whole (totality)
> which point to both absence and emergence as he grapples with the key
> problem of real, structurally deep, change. "Reading Capital" should be
> read as an elaboration of this within the field of social theory. Finally,
> Althusser's own (later) rejection of rationalistic absolutism and
> perfectionism stand in sharp contrast to Roy's work on Eudaimonia (not to
> mention that in FEW).
> This is not to say that Roy's work in both RTS and Dialectic is not of
> tremendous significance. Althusser's account of philosophy is never as good
> as Roy's. The implicit rationalism of "Reading Capital" and the interesting
> if limited later idea of philosophy as 'class struggle in theory' neglects
> the extent to which explicitly (systematic) categorial development is
> itself a dimension of developing the scientificity of thought. Generally
> speaking, (and this is the key point I think) Althusser's handling of
> abstractions only makes sense if he is a dialectician who has thoroughly
> rejected analytics and if he is taken to be elaborating a form of DCR. Once
> this is accepted then the bulk of criticisms of his work can be seen to
> have missed the point because they have been trying to read him back into
> an irrealist/analytic problematic.
> Nick.
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