Ralph Dumain rdumain at
Sun Apr 30 00:19:10 MDT 1995


Arvon, Henri.  "Concerning Marx's 'epistemological break'",
PHILOSOPHICAL FORUM, vol. 8., nos. 2-4, p. 173-185.

Some time ago on this list I rather brutally made light of someone
who takes Althusser and Bhaskar seriously and is obsessed over the
alleged omission of ethics from Marx's world view.  (It's hard to
keep track of all the people I offend.)  This article gives a
little support to the position I opposed.  However, the author
comes to bury Althusser before praising him.

My notes are rather sketchy, so bear with me.  I don't understand
my first note, which mentions only Bernstein and the rediscovery
of the young Marx.  Note 2 says Althusser relies on Engels, won't
question Marx.  Well, on to the notes that make a little sense.

Althusser is blind to the real intellectual dynamics among Bruno
Bauer, Stirner, and Marx (p. 176-7).  Marx's break with his
one-time friend Bauer is outlined.  Stirner's attack on Marx was
less discreet than Bauer's, and Stirner attacked Marx's
Feuerbachianism (p. 177-80).

Marx was convinced of the weakness of his position by Stirner,
opposing to abstract ethical imperatives the notion of communism
based on the historicity of man rather than appeal to conscience
(p. 183).

"Thus, from the polemic begun by Bruno Bauer and intensified by
Max Stirner directed against the combination of socialism and
humanism that Marx had attempted to establish during 1843 and
1844, there arose a communism purified of all ethical components.
>From now on, Marx turns his back on German ideology and begins to
build a world view with new concepts he borrows essentially from
political economy; the ideological relationships between
individual and species are replaced by those developed in the
course of history between the forces of production and the
relations of production." (p. 184)

There are not many surprises here for those who know the story.
However, Arvon's exact wording here is misleading in spots.  This
paragraph deals essentially with Marx's world view and the germs
of his scientific theory.  The key problem is rooting communism in
the logic of historical development rather than in appeals merely
to "ought".  This is the meaning of "communism purified of all
ethical components."  However, this phrase could also mean an
amoralism or Machiavellianism in conduct, an absence or disregard
of scruples or ethical principles in human interaction, which is
in my view not a warranted conclusion.  At best, one could say
that Marx left ethics out of his mature theory, and there is the
grist for many in this discussion group.

Arvon immediately goes on to say:

"Louis Althusser's choice of terms to define the sudden change in
Marx is remarkably apt; but because he did not want to say that
this change was inspired by the attacks to which Marx had to make
an immediate reply, he has cloaked the "epistemological rupture"
with a quasi-religious halo of mystery.  Marx is no longer the man
who starts from philosophical reflection to arrive at an
understanding of the true history of man, rather he is Saul living
in error and receiving sudden enlightenment on the road to
Damascus.  It is important for many reasons and not just from the
simple historical point of view, to understand that Marx's passage
from Feuerbachian humanism to historical materialism was
influenced by outside pressure.  Louis Althusser is happy that it
was a break and not a transition and that a virtually
insurmountable barrier separates the philosopher from the
scientist.  The least that can be said is that this view is not
unanimously shared." (p. 184)

Well, it looks like, after praising Althusser, Arvon buries him
again.  I can think of no more telling ridicule of Althusser for
his clumsiness in explaining Marx's development by adapting it to
his abstract, schematic, miraculous and ill-defined disjunction
between ideology and science.

Just when people now are trying to cross back from historical
materialism and social praxis backward to philosophical
anthropology and subjectivity, Arvon regrets the absence of a
bridge between the mature and the young Marx.  ONe will find
something in the young Marx erased in the old Marx:

"In point of fact, jolted by the criticisms of Bruno Bauer and Max
Stirner, Marx never went beyond Feuerbach, choosing instead to
ignore the purely human problems noted by Feuerbach.  Was it
really impossible to put the problems of modern man into an
historical perspective, to create a more elaborate type of human
praxis while considering the perceptible impulses of man, in
short, to reconcile the permanence of the elementary dynamic
analyzed by Marx?" (p. 184-85)

Well, here is ammunition for those of you who feel the Marxism
that we know and love lacks an ethics (in the theory).  But you
can still find it in the young Marx, before he dropped it with

"There were a few attempts on the past of the young Marx which
were stopped by the "epistemological break"; that is why, contrary
to the result sought by Louis Althusser, an investigation has once
again begun not of the mature Marx but of the young Marx engaged
in polemical dialogue with the young Hegelians.  It is, so to
speak, a kind of revenge on the past of the latter against Louis
Althusser, who had sought to ignore tham at all costs." (p. 185)

[R. Dumain, 30 April 1995]

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