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Title: Aleatory materialism : Louis Althusser and the necessity of contingency
Author: Speer, Ross
ISNI:       0000 0004 7966 1142
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis examines the philosophy of aleatory materialism formulated by Louis Althusser. Aleatory materialism is an attempt to conceptualise history as open-ended but nevertheless amenable to scientific inquiry. Althusser argued that theories of history which supposed their object had a fixed direction or telos rested on unscientific premises. Such theories were premised on circular reasoning. By taking particular patterns of events to be universal and timeless, those particular patterns could only be explained by pre-existing themselves. Consequently, such 'origin' categories were exempt from requiring explanation. In this way, subjective values were introduced into supposedly objective theories to provide not scientific comprehension but legitimation for particular forms of social power. A scientific theory must dispense with first movers without simultaneously making itself unable to explain change at all. The way out of this impasse, Althusser argued, was to treat all social forms as contingent, rather than necessary, outcomes. Social structures included strategies and institutions to secure their continued reproduction. They were, however, unable to totally suppress the contingency that initially gave rise to them. It is because of contingency that the laws governing human behaviour can change. Social systems can transition into new systems comprised of new sets of laws. No particular configuration is destined to arise or persist indefinitely. Althusser showed that it is possible to accept both that history is amenable to scientific inquiry and that it is an open system, with a future that is not preordained but over which the actions of agents have a genuine influence. In doing so, this theory demonstrates how teleological theories are mechanisms of justification for prevailing forms of social power, by which they portray themselves as inevitable and natural outcomes, not accurate accounts of history.
Supervisor: Leopold, David Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Political Theory