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Epistemological Problems and Ontological Solutions: A Critical Realist Retrospective on Althusser

Research in Political Economy

ISBN: 978-1-78441-007-0, eISBN: 978-1-78441-006-3

Publication date: 29 October 2014


This chapter undertakes one re-evaluation of Louis Althusser’s philosophical legacy for modern Marxism. While Althusser self-consciously undertook to defend the scientific character of Marxism and so permanently establish it on a firm footing, many of his closest followers eventually exited the Marxian paradigm for a post-structuralism post-Marxism. We will argue that this development was rooted in Althusser’s initial procedure as he attempted to ground Marxism’s scientificity in an epistemological argument whose main referent was Marxism itself. This initiated a circularity which was ultimately to prove fatal to Althusser’s project. Less remarked upon, however, is a further legacy of the Althusserian oeuvre, the critical realist conception of Marxism initiated by Roy Bhaskar. Bhaskar found part of his inspiration in Althusser’s successful posing of the question of Marx’s science. On the one hand, Althusser’s work can legitimately be seen as a bridge into the post-modern challenge to Marxism. On the other hand, it can be seen as clearing the ground and establishing some of the foundation for critical realism’s successful recuperation of the scientific character of Marxism.



O’ Boyle, B. and McDonough, T. (2014), "Epistemological Problems and Ontological Solutions: A Critical Realist Retrospective on Althusser", Research in Political Economy (Research in Political Economy, Vol. 29), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 183-237.



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