This analysis offers resources for future study. For one thing, since law is by definition the expression of class exploitation, Althusser holds that it will “[wither] away” under communism. (62) The form of communist society is notoriously under-explored in Marxism, and Althusser here provides a thesis for consideration. Communist society, far from the statist models of historical socialist regimes, will be lawless, its governing ideology secured somewhere other than in legal codes.
Althusser thus sees conventional morality as moral ideology, a vital “supplement” to legal ideology. (67) Thus we show up (on time!) to work or school, and fulfill our other obligations, not only because we “freely” agreed to do so, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Second, Althusser distinguishes between historical materialism and dialectical materialism. Historical materialism is the science of social formations and their history. This is distinct from dialectical materialism, which is the theory of science. Historical materialism depends upon dialectical materialism to prevent it becoming prey to ideology.
Following Marx, Althusser elaborates a notion of practice. For Marx, an analysis of conscious human activity was necessary if philosophy was to be materially grounded. Althusser identifies four levels of such 'practice': the economic, with its resultant socially useful products; the political, with the resultant new social relations; the ideological, which produces new forms of representation; and the scientific, which produces knowledge. These four levels involve different types of material and labour and generate very different products. Althusser argues, therefore, that each practice is distinct and not collapsable into a notion of practice in general.
The law also gives rise to what Althusser calls “legal ideology” — the unquestioned affirmation, realized in the everyday activity of subjects, of the reality of the law’s fiction of social relations. In other words, we all act as if the law’s representation of society as a set of free and equal individuals with property, rights and obligations were in fact true: we respect private property as if it weren’t the fruit of exploitation, we show up to work as if we freely contracted with our employer.
Despite Althusser’s insistence that ISAs are riven by internal struggles determined by economic class conflict, many readers have seen the main arguments of the essay as effectively theorizing away the possibility of revolutionary agency. After all, Althusser renders capitalist society as a set of institutions that reproduce capitalism by programming the very nature of individual subjectivity to conform to ruling-class ideology.
Thus, for Althusser, reflecting , science is founded only at the cost of a complete rupture with the ideological problematic that precedes it, a thorough going mutation of its basic structure. This rupture or mutation, which founds a science, Althusser calls an . (Geras, 1972, p. 68).
'It remains to ask, if science produces knowledge, what are the criteria which guarantee that this knowledge is true, that it is indeed knowledge? The question, according to Althusser, is 'false', and the classical Problem of Knowledge is not a 'real problem'. Any epistemology that sees the relation between the object of knowledge and the real object as a problematic one, i.e. that regards knowledge itself as a problem, is simply ideological and to be rejected for that reason.' (Geras, 1972, p. 68).
Althusser presents an unusual theory of ideology. Within occasionally uneven and self-contradictory argumentative turns, Althusser tries to define ideology as both reflecting and securing ruling-class domination — but not as merely false consciousness, brainwashing, or bourgeois illusion. Nor is ideology, strictly speaking, ideas, something one consciously thinks or believes.
He goes on, 'Behind the details of the arguments, textual analyses and theoretical discussions, these two interventions reveal a major opposition; the opposition that separates science from ideology.' (Althusser, 1969, p. 13)
For Althusser, science is conceptually and epistemologically autonomous science (unlike Bachelard who posits the institutional collective character of scientific research embedded in the 'scientific city' similar to that of Price and Beaver's (1966) ''). Science as an autonomous realm is thus apparently unrelated to any specific system of social relations or mechanisms. Science is, for Althusser, opposed to ideology (and not to Bachelard's 'reverie').
For Althusser, knowledge resides in thought. The development of knowledge is not through a 'working on' a given, a 'real object', but through practice applied to concepts and abstractions. The raw material to be transformed is already 'worked up' material, the result of previous practice that is partly scientific and partly , the latter (like the former) is not reality itself but abstraction based on previous ideological practice. The real object and the object of knowledge are distinct as theoretical practice has its own material and its own product both being distinct from the reality it aims to know. There is a relation between the real object and the object of knowledge while the
For Althusser, the obstacles to the advancement of science are not rooted in the individual psyche, but in the theoretical articulation of the ideologies (religious, political, ethical etc.) through which individuals live their relationships to their conditions of existence.