File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0010, message 3

Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2000 18:15:32 +0100
Subject: BHA: Althusser and Dialectics.

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,

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.


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