Aleatory Matter

The resurgence of interest in French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser has largely centered around his late concept of “aleatory materialism”, based on a reading of Lucretius on the alleged spontaneous swerving of atoms in the void.

Like most other recent French writers, Althusser had little use for Aristotle. He repeated many old bad stereotypes and counterposed a good Lucretius to a bad Plato and Aristotle, to whom he mistakenly ascribed — among other things — a modern-style univocal notion of causality. Althusser’s Lucretius, by contrast, stands for recognition of the contingency of events.

It is therefore all the more intriguing to note that Althusser was unwittingly recovering a key feature I have associated with Aristotelian matter. I like the Aristotelian version better, because it does not rely on a quasi-myth of a miraculous originary swerve, but just appropriately asserts the contingency of things.

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