Tojalar This oerdetermination in Catholicism and his participation in Catholic organizations would continue even after Althusser joined the Communist Party in Instead, he contends that Marx is guilty of committing the same error as Hegel in mistaking historical content for the fulfillment of the dialectic. We could therefore take over the dialectic from him and apply it to life rather than to the Idea. Contradictions of large-scale capitalist and imperialist exploitation in the major cities and their suburbs, in the mining regions, oil-fields, etc. How are these new overdeterminatioon arranged? And how many peremptory attacks on economism althussef are to counterbalance that well-thumbed piece on the steam engine! Goshgarian in Philosophy of the Encounter: For these reasons, it is natural when discussing these texts to focus upon the contexts that engendered them and upon the positions within Marxist philosophy that Althusser stakes out by their means.
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No doubt this is only a letter. But as it constitutes a decisive theoretical document for the refutation of schematism and economism, and as it has already played a historical role as such and may well do so again, we should not conceal the fact that his argument for this basis will no longer answer to our critical needs.
How should we think the relation between these distinct effectivities? These effects are accidents, the economic movement is necessity, their necessity.
For the moment I shall ignore the accidents-necessity model and its presuppositions. What is remarkable in this text is the role it attributes to the different elements of the superstructure. It is just as if, once the action-reaction system was set in motion between them, they were charged with finding a basis for the infinite diversity of effects things and events as Engels puts it between which, as if between so many accidents, the economy picks its sovereign way.
In other words, the elements of the superstructure do have an effectivity, but this effectivity is in some way dispersed into an infinity, into the infinity of effects, of accidents, whose inner connection may, once this extremity in the infinitesimal has been reached, be regarded as non-existent.
So the effect of this infinitesimal dispersion is to dissipate the effectivity granted the superstructures in their macroscopic existence into a microscopic non-existence. Two comments should be made here.
First comment This schema does not give us a true solution, but an elaboration of one part of the solution. We see that the solution must be based at the level of these accidents, since their object is to introduce the counter-concept of the economic necessity which is determinant in the last instance.
But this is only a half-solution since the relation between these accidents and this necessity is neither established nor made explicit; since in what is really a denial of the relation and the problem posed by it Engels presents even this necessity as completely external to these accidents as a movement which finally asserts itself amid an infinity of accidents. But if this is so then we do not know whether this necessity is really the necessity of these accidents, and, if it is, why it is.
This question is left unanswered. Second comment It is astonishing to find Engels in this text presenting the forms of the superstructure as the source of a microscopic infinity of events whose inner connection is unintelligible and therefore negligible.
For, on the one hand, we could say exactly the same of the forms of the infrastructure and it is quite true that the detail of microscopic economic events might be said to be unintelligible and negligible!
But, more important, these forms as such are certainly forms as principles of reality, but they are also forms as principles of the intelligibility of their effects. For their part they are perfectly knowable, and in this respect they are the transparent reason of the events that derive from them. How could Engels pass so rapidly over these forms, their essence and their role, and only consider the negligible and unintelligible microscopic dust of their effects?
More precisely, is this reduction to a dust of accidents not absolutely opposed to the real and epistemological function of these forms?
The forms of the superstructures are indeed the cause of an infinity of events, but not all these events are historical cf. We also find that he answers the question by giving us the relation between the accidents and the necessity, that is by finding a basis for it. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event This may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a whole, unconsciously and without volition.
For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no-one willed. Thus past history proceeds in the manner of a natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion. But from the fact that individual wills — of which each desires what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the last resort economic, circumstances either his own personal circumstances or those of society in general — do not attain what they want, but are merged into a collective mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that their value is equal to zero.
On the contrary, each. Here indeed, the necessity is established at the level of the accidents themselves, on the accidents themselves, as their global resultant: so it really is their necessity. The answer missing from the first analysis we really are given here.
But on what condition do we get it?. On condition that we change objects, that our starting-point is no longer the superstructures, their interaction and ultimately their microscopic effects — but individual wills, confronted and combined in relations of forces.
So it is as if the model applied to the effectivity of the superstructures had really been borrowed from its true object, the object we are now dealing with: the play of individual wills.
It is now clear why it failed with its first object, for that was not its real object, and why it should go on to a second, which is its real object.
How, then, does this proof work? It relies on the model of a parallelogram of forces derived from physics: the wills are so many forces; if they confront one another by twos in a simple situation their resultant is a third force, different from either but none the less common to both, and such that though neither can recognise itself in the third, each is none the less a party to it, that is, its co-author.
So one basic phenomenon appears straightaway, the transcendence of the resultant with respect to the component forces: a double transcendence, in relation to the respective size of the component forces — and in relation to the reflection of these forces on themselves that is, to their consciousness, since we are dealing with wills.
It is clear that we have now found a basis and an origin for this force that triumphs in the last instance: determination by the economy is no longer external to the accidents amid which it asserts itself, it is the internal essence of these accidents.
This is not a proof, it is a tautology. Note that this is merely a matter of the model used and that the dialectic of nature is obviously not at stake in this exposition, for the very good reason that it arises in a quite different context. Epistemologically, a tautology is null and void; but it may nevertheless have a heuristic role. It is reassuring to be able to refer directly to nature, to be sure.
Hobbes said it long ago: men tear out their hair or their lives over politics, but they are as thick as thieves over the hypotenuse or falling bodies. But what do we find? A harmony between model and object at the immediate level. But beneath en deca this level and beyond au dela , this harmony is postulated, not proved, and in its place we find an indeterminancy, that is, from the point of view of knowledge, a void.
Beneath the level of individual wills. The transparency of content which strikes us when we imagine the parallelogram of forces of individual wills disappears once we ask as Engels does himself! For we are referred to infinity. It is clear that here Engels is mixing up two types of explanation. The First Type a non-Marxist type, but one adapted to its present object and to its hypotheses, viz. It puts forward an infinity without content, an abstract and hardly even programmatic generalisation.
The Second Type However, at the same time, Engels introduces a Marxist type of explanation, when he ranks among the infinite circumstances which are in essence microscopic those determinations which are at once both general and concrete, viz.
But this type of explanation does not answer to its object, since it represents at the beginning the very solution which it is supposed to be producing and establishing the generation of this determination in the last resort. To sum up: either we stay with the object and the problem which Engels has posed, in which case we come face to face with the infinite, the indeterminate and therefore with an epistemological void ; or from this moment we take as the beginning itself the content-ful solution which is precisely what is in question.
But then we are no longer either in the object or in the problem. Beyond the level of individual wills. We find ourselves confronted by the same alternatives. For, once the first parallelogram is given, we only have a formal resultant, which is not equivalent to the definitive resultant.
The definitive resultant will be the resultant of an infinity of resultants, that is, the product of an infinite proliferation of parallelograms.
Once again, either we trust to the infinite that is, the indeterminate, epistemological void for the production in the final resultant of the resultant we are hoping to deduce: the one that will coincide with economic determination in the last instance, etc.
At this formal level there is no assurance of any kind as to the content of the resultant, of any resultant. Or we surreptitiously substitute the result we expect for the final resultant, and duly rediscover in it, along with other, microscopic determinations, the macroscopic determinations which were secreted in the conditioning of the individual at the outset; this expected result, these macroscopic determinations will be the economy.
I am obliged to repeat what I have just said of what was beneath the immediate level: either we stay within the problem Engels poses for his object individual wills , in which case we fall into the epistemological void of the infinity of parallelograms and their resultants; or else, quite simply, we accept the Marxist solution, but then we have found no basis for it, and it was not worth the trouble of looking for it.
So the problem we face now is this: why is everything so clear and harmonious at the level of individual wills, whereas beneath this level or beyond it, it all becomes either empty or tautological? How is it that this problem, so well posed, corresponding so well to the object in which it is posed, should become incapable of solution as soon as we move away from its initial object?
A question which must remain the riddle of riddles until we realize that it is this initial object which commands both the transparency of the problem and the impossibility of its solution. This is his real presupposition, both in method and in theory.
In this respect the model does have meaning: it can be given a content, it can be manipulated. At this level what was previously the infinite diversity of microscopic causes might seem to be organised in real, and discrete, and visible unities. At this level accident becomes man, what was movement above becomes conscious will.
This is where everything really begins, and it is from this point that deduction must begin. But unfortunately this so secure basis establishes nothing at all, this so clear principle merely leads to darkness — unless it withdraws into itself, reiterating its own transparency as a fixed proof of all that is expected of it.
Precisely what is this transparency? We must recognise that this transparency is nothing but the transparency of the presuppositions of classical bourgeois ideology and bourgeois political economy. What is the starting-point for this classical ideology, whether it is Hobbes on the composition of the conatus, Locke and Rousseau on the generation of the general will, Helvetius and Holbach on the production of the general interest, Smith and Ricardo the texts abound on atomistic behaviour, what is the starting-point if not precisely the confrontation of these famous individual wills which are by no means the starting-point for reality, but for a representation of reality, for a myth intended to provide a basis for all eternity for the objectives of the bourgeoisie?
How, if not by a fiction quite as optimistic as the fiction of bourgeois economics, a fiction closer to Locke and Rousseau than to Marx, could he suggest to us that the resultant of all the individual wills and the resultant of these resultants, actually has a general content, really embodies determination by the economy in the last instance.
I am thinking of Rousseau, whose dearest wish was that the particular wills, cut off from one another, might come together in a fair vote, producing that miraculous Minerva, the general will! The ideologues of the eighteenth century with the exception of Rousseau did not demand that their presupposition should produce anything but itself. They just asked that it should provide a basis for the values already embodied in the presupposition, and that is why the tautology did have a meaning for them, but one obviously denied Engels, who, for his part, hoped to discover the exact opposite of the presupposition.
This is why, in his own text, Engels ultimately reduces his own claims almost to nothing. This is a thought which in a quite different context might reassure minds uncertain of their grasp on history, or, given that God is dead, uncertain of the recognition of their historical personality.
I would go so far as to say that it is a desperate, honest thought which nourishes despair, that is, hopes. What have we left now? So individual wills produce historical events! But a closer look shows that strictly speaking we can only admit that the schema gives us the possibility of an event some men confront one another: something must happen, or nothing, which is also an event waiting for Godot , but absolutely not the possibility of a historical event, absolutely not the reason that will distinguish a historical event as such from the infinity of things which happen to men day and night, things which are as anonymous as they are unique.
The problem must be put the other way round for once! It is never possible to explain a historical event — not even by invoking the law which makes quantity pass over into quality — if one proposes to derive it from the indefinite possibility of non-historical events. What makes such and such an event historical is not the fact that it is an event. An event falling within one of these forms, which has the wherewithal to fall within one of these forms, which is a possible content for one of these forms, which affects them, concerns them, reinforces or disturbs them, which provokes them or which they provoke, or even choose or select, that is a historical event.
But once this ideology without which this particular problem could not have been Dosed, had been swept aside by Marx, how could this problem still remain the problem posed by this ideology, that is, how could it still remain a problem? To close this too lengthy commentary, allow me two more remarks: one epistemological; the other historical. But if the same scientific discipline should set out from another level than its own, from a level which is not the object of any scientific knowledge such as, in our case, the genesis of individual wills from the infinity of circumstances and the genesis of the final resultant from the infinity of parallelograms.
This is the fate of the search for a basis Engels undertook in his letter to Bloch: and we find it impossible to distinguish in it between the epistemological void and the philosophical vertigo, since they are nothing but one and the same thing. Precisely this passage, with its arguments borrowed from the kinds of model used in the natural sciences and ultimately this is their only precaution, a purely moral one , Engels is merely a philosopher.
I insist on this point deliberately, for there is a more recent example of the same kind, that of Sartre, who also tries to find a philosophical basis for the epistemological concepts of historical materialism he has one advantage over Engels in this respect, he knows it and says so. It is enough to refer to certain pages from the Critique de la raison dialectique for example, pp.
All that separates them is a quarrel over- the means employed, but on this point they are united in the same philosophical task. It is only possible to bar Sartre from his path by closing the one Engels opened for him.
CONTRADICTION AND OVERDETERMINATION ALTHUSSER PDF
Humans, by nature, desire to know. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell. How should we really understand its use in this quotation? The shell, the mystical wrapping speculative philosophy , should be tossed aside and the precious kernel, the dialectic, retained. But in the same sentence Marx claims that this shelling of the kernel and the inversion of the dialectic are one and the same thing, How can an extraction be an inversion? Let us look a little closer.
Louis Althusser: Contradiction and Overdetermination
Edit Freud wrote in The Interpretation of Dreams that many features of dreams were usually "overdetermined," in that they were caused by multiple factors in the life of the dreamer, from the "residue of the day" superficial memories of recent life to deeply repressed traumas and unconscious wishes, these being "potent thoughts". The concept was later borrowed for a variety of other realms of thought. Richards used the idea of overdetermination in order to explain the importance of ambiguity : in rhetoric , the philosophy of language , and literary criticism. An instance of a popular riot calling for revolution could exemplify this. The event has to it, in capitalist culture, an over-application determination of agitation. The determinant contradictions the reasons for popular revolt are not addressed and so their great mass is "displaced" onto the singular event. For Baudrillard and Theoretical Sociology towards a Theory of Hyperreality Another conception of overdetermination is present in the later writings of Jean Baudrillard.
In analytic philosophy[ edit ] In contemporary analytic philosophy an event or state of affairs is said to be overdetermined if it has two or more distinct, sufficient causes. In philosophy of mind, the famous case of overdetermination is called mental-physical causal overdetermination. If we accept that a mental state M is realized by a physical state P. Another example is that Billy and Suzy each throw a rock through a window, and either rock alone could have shattered the window. In this case, similar to the example of firing squads, Billy and Suzy together shatter the window and the result is not overdetermined. Or, we can say, even if these two examples are a kind of overdetermination, this kind of overdetermination is benign.