Underlabouring for Science: Althusser, Brassier, Bhaskar

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Abstract

Throughout the twentieth century, an epistemological orientation proved attractive for philosophers wishing to defend the cognitive autonomy of science from the encroachments of Hegelian idealism and phenomenology. The recent speculative turn repeats the same pattern: Graham Harman’s phenomenological Object-Oriented Philosophy is opposed by Ray Brassier’s Sellarsian ‘critical epistemology-rationalist metaphysics’ nexus for failing to justify its tethering of the scientific image to the manifest image. This essay examines a genealogical antecedent to this dispute in Louis Althusser’s epistemological programme of the 1960s. It tells the story of how Althusser took it upon himself to transform Gaston Bachelard’s historical epistemology into a new Marxist dialectical materialism and why this endeavour culminated in a philosophy which Althusser later castigated as a speculative-rationalist deviation. Drawing attention to the analogous motivations of Althusser’s and Brassier’s projects, this chapter addresses the possible limits of the latter’s critical epistemology in light of the former’s story. Roy Bhaskar’s scientific ontology, it is then shown, responds incisively to the most salient points raised by Althusser’s self-critique: the need for an account of how science gains access to the real-object and the problem with reducing science to the singular.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGenealogies of Speculation
Subtitle of host publicationMaterialism and Subjectivity since Structuralism
EditorsArmen Avanessian, Suhail Malik
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
ISBN (Print) 9781472591685
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2016

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