Collier about Althusser

Thomas Meisenhelder tsmeisen at
Mon Apr 24 14:20:21 MDT 1995

>Does anyone have a good word for Althusser?  I must say that
>in context -- that is, 25 years ago and a long time before
>Bhaskar and co. had published anything of note -- I found
>A's writings on philosophy very stimulating and liberating.
>This was for one who was 'brought up', so to speak, on the
>British Empiricists, and who was interested in Marx but
>had an impression of Marxist philosophy as either a musty
>Dialectical Materialism redolent of Stalinism, or an
>ultimately unconvincing Hegelian Idealism.  Althusser,
>by contrast, offered an exciting glimpse of a Marxist
>philosophy that was related to, but more sophisticated
>then, the then-current Anglophone philosophy of science
>(Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos).  And his rehabilitation of
>Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was brilliant, particularly
>since this work was commonly seen as just the polemical
>ravings of an amateur, not fit to be put beside 'real'
>philosophical writing.
>I'm interested to note that A's conception of philosophy as
>'lacking an object', and in this respect being fundamentally
>different from science and fundamentally incapable of resolving
>any issue in itself, seems to be recapitulated in Colin
>McGinn's recent work 'Problems of Philosophy'.  I haven't
>read the latter yet -- only heard of its arguments at second
>hand -- so this claim is an hypothesis rather than a
>considered judgment, but I plan to investigate it when I
>get some reading time.
>Allin Cottrell
>Department of Economics
>Wake Forest University
>cottrell at
>(910) 759-5762
>     --- from list marxism at ---
Actually I also find A. very interesting.  As a sociologist I find ideas
such as the three levels/moments within the structure of society,
overdetermination, etc, to be very useful as ways of orienting sociological
analysis.  Although he is so very often unclear ---he is a model of clarity
compared to Balibar.  He also provides a pretty good approach to the process
of reading Marx and I think his stuff on ideology and state apparatuses is
very good.  Just look at what Poulantzas accomplished with A. as a starting
point.  Beyond his personal troubles and political choices what is wrong
with these ideas?


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