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STRATIFIED EXPLANATION AND MARX’S CONCEPTION OF HISTORY

Andrew Collier

Continents or strata?

In theorising the relation of revolutionary scientific advances to the philosophies to which they gave rise, Althusser uses the metaphor of theoretical continents ‘before Marx, two continents only had been opened up to scientific knowledge by sustained epistemological breaks: the continent of mathematics with the Greeks (by Thales or those designated by that mythical name) and the continent of physics (by Galileo and his successors)’ (Lenin and Philosophy [LP], p. 42). Althusser goes on to locate chemistry and biology, which achieved their ‘epistemological breaks’ with Lavoisier and with Darwin and Mendel, within the continent of physics. Marx is ...

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