Anti-empiricism or idealism?

Adam Schaff, Structuralism and Marxism (New York: Pergamon Press, 1978)

Bookmarks by Erik Empson

Schaff states that Althusser uses the term empiricism in a way different to its common usage: i.e. as a form of deduction from facts or the general from the particular. Schaff says this is actually positivism (p. 82) and against it he defends a type of empiricism where knowledge is derived from experience.

Schaff argues that Marx's work was empiricist although he tends to quote Engels to substantiate the point. For Schaff it is Althusser's interpretation of empiricism as working on simple and self-evident facts that is problematic. He says that Althusser is wrong to posit two objects - concrete reality and reality as an object of knowledge (mental construct). (p. 83) Althusser disregards the theory of reflection wherein thought mirrors reality and reproduces it in the head. Alhusser's claim that Marx starts from the abstract is dangerously close to denying the material basis of Marxism through confusing the mode of cognition with the presentation of results (p. 87). Schaff claims Marx worked from factual data but took as his starting point the understanding of it as it existed in the minds of real individuals. For Schaff there is only one concrete in Marx's view, and Althusser draws out a Kantian separation from it.

Schaff says that reality is ontologically material, it exists objectively but it is in a constant state of motion and change. We need to explain the laws of equilibrium as much as those of change. Diachrony and synchrony are not exclusive but complementary. Structuralism has four elements: 1) The whole is more than the parts and the whole determines the relations between them 2) Cognition maps an ojective system with a specified structure 3) It is concerned with laws of structure, co-existential laws above laws of causality; it makes a section in time (time = 0), thus it is static and synchronic; co-existential laws are idealisations. 4) general disregard for dynamism and causality.

"If we want to study the laws of development (i.e. genetic, causal laws) of something, then we must know what something is, i.e. we must know its structural (coexistential, morphological laws)". (p. 17)

The history of scientific cognition vacillates between diachronic and synchronic - at particular times the 'retarded' sphere gets increasingly emphasised. The structuralist fashion begins with the linguistics of the Prague School of Phonology in the 1930s. This had the positivist goal of giving the humanities and the social sciences the exactitude characteristic of the natural sciences. In France existentialism and humanism was popular in the immediate post war period but the subjectivism of existentialism was problematic for radicals (p. 25) and the reaction to the ideological cult of personality created a longing for a pure science. (p. 26) The high point of the Marxian form of structuralism was in France and had little purchase elsewhere other than in Italy. (p. 31)

Schaff does not see Althusser as either a structuralist or a Marxist (p. 31 & p. 94). Althusser is seen as an ambiguous thinker who uses Hegelian language too freely. (p. 40) Althusser claims that philosophy and science are ideological when it is not conscious of its own problematic (For Marx, p. 69). Schaff defends a scientific ideology...

The distinction between science and ideology falls apart when scientific discovery is understood in context of social relations. Science can be ideological or ideologically neutral depending on the prevailing complex of society. (p. 65) Science and ideology exist in a relationship.

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