The Order and Connection of Ideas: Theoretical Practice in Macherey’s Turn to Spinoza

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Rethinking Marxism


This essay examines the “turn to Spinoza” by contemporary Marxist philosophers, arguing that far from being a scholastic exercise, the turn to Spinoza furthers and resolves problems of Marxist philosophy. Specifically this essay argues that Pierre Macherey's research on Spinoza furthers the project of outlining the materialist understanding of philosophy initiated by Karl Marx's critique in The German Ideology of the supposed autonomy of philosophy. While many have understood that critique as a simple denunciation of philosophy, Louis Althusser argued that Marx's thought offered the conditions of a new “practice of philosophy.” However, Althusser's conception of “theoretical practice” remained stuck in irresolvable paradoxes. Spinoza's philosophy offers a necessary resolution of Althusser's limitations. While many consider Spinoza to be a philosopher who thought sub specie aeternitatis, contemplating eternal truths, Macherey demonstrates not only that Spinoza wrestled with the ideologies of his time, but that his philosophy offers grounds for a materialist conception of philosophy through his insistence on the causal order of thought. Through the lenses of Althusser and Macherey, Spinoza's philosophy can be understood to offer a materialist reevaluation of philosophy as an activity conditioned by the relations of bodies and affects. Finally, this essay argues that an understanding of philosophy as conditioned, as a specific theoretical practice, or operation, makes possible a transformation of philosophy.