RE: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

From: Alexander Surmava (
Date: Sat Jul 23 2005 - 16:21:11 PDT

Hi Michael and others,
Since I'm one of those "Russian participants on this list" I'll try to
comment :-).
I fully agree that "there is only one notion of activity and one object of
activity". Moreover I think that popular distinction between "two notions of
activity, one as explanatory principle, the other as "subject" of
psychological study" which derives to LSV "methodological" reflection in
"Historical sense." is not too productive.
Here LSV fell into contradiction with Spinozian as well as Hegelian and
Marxist roots of his theoretic culture. According to all listed thinkers so
called "methodology" can't exist in abstraction from substantial
(By the way, this point in LSV's reflection inspired the well known soviet
philosopher Georgij Schedrovitskii to put forward an idea that L.Vygotsky
wasn't a theorist of psychology but a "methodologist-for-psychologists". As
long as Georgij Schedrovitskii was very influential thinker in late 70-th
who had many disciples his ideas are still popular among many of Russian
As for A.N.Leontiev's comprehension of activity he despite his strong
dialectical intention still fell into dualism as a result of his reflection.
A.N.L. tried to put the activity as a third mediatory term between subject
and object (predmet) and insists that he understands activity as sensual
practical entity. But lately in so called "Home discussion" he confessed
that after all he can't explain how this external activity can help to
surmount the abyss between two Cartesian substances. There is only one
possibility to overcome this abuse - to turn to Spinoza. But ANL. somehow
ignores this way. (It's curious, but in contrast to LSV and EVI A.Leontiev
have NEVER even mentioned the name of Spinoza in his writings.)

>More so, emotion too has to be analyzed in a dialectical way, for
it >too is produced and reproduced, at the individual|collective >dialectic.
I agree with each word in this reflection, but it seems to me that first of
all we have to understand the essence of emotions (affects) as such in
strict abstraction from any possible culture and social mediation as
emotions of animals. Otherwise we have to repeat after Descartes his idea,
that animals are biological mechanisms without any real emotions.

Here I'll put a dot because I realize that my "explanations" turns the
conversation apart.

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Wolff-Michael Roth
Sent: Saturday, July 23, 2005 5:09 AM
Subject: Re: [xmca] RE: meaning and sense and has anyone any opinion

Hi Gordon,
thanks for the comment. What is interesting about the quote and your
comment is the role of emotion, which is hardly ever considered as an
INTEGRAL aspect of cognition, though Vygotsky, Leont'ev, Holzkamp. . .
all pointed to this important role of emotion. More so, emotion too has
to be analyzed in a dialectical way, for it too is produced and
reproduced, at the individual|collective dialectic. And we learn
emotions through social mediation. Together with the motive of
activity, it accounts for much of what I know to be treated as
motivation, and so much better.

By the way, I just re-read the intro do Thought and Language, and
wondered whether others noted Kozulin's comment about Leont'ev making a
mistake that LSV had pointed out not to make--using activity as an
explanatory principle and as a subject of concrete psychological study
(p.lii ff).

My sense was that does not do justice to the approach Hegel outlined,
for I saw the relationship between an activity system (i.e., concrete
activity) and the category of activity as one of object and notion,
object and theory. It is through its engagement with the object that
consciousness externalizes itself, confronts itself, and reintegrates
itself as an other. It is in this dialectical way that I understood
Leont'ev to posit activity as the practical situation, which, as
object, forever escapes consciousness, which attempts to develop the
notion of activity as an aspect of its own development.

Kozulin writes about two notions of activity, one as explanatory
principle, the other as "subject" of psychological study. I think that
there is only one notion of activity and one object of activity--as
Leont'ev conceived of it, the object appears twice, which I here read
as the entity that forever eschews us, the out there, the other, and
the notion in consciousness (vision...).

Some of our Russian and Romanian participants on this list may have
something to add here. (this is an invitation!) :-)


On 22-Jul-05, at 5:48 PM, Gordon Wells wrote:

> Michaels and Others,
> I feel very comfortable with your suggestions. I should like to add
> some thoughts on the relationship among 'meaning', 'sense' and
> 'emotion' from the chapter by Vera John-Steiner and Holbrook Mahn in
> Learning for Life in the 21st Century.
> Gordon
>> Making Meaning
>> Vygotsky's examination of meaning as central to human consciousness
>> has provided the foundation for its extensive study by sociocultural
>> theorists (Prawat, 2000; Yaroshevsky & Gurgenidze, 1997). Vygotsky's
>> analysis of meaning, in which he approached the hidden, complex,
>> affective dimensions of thinking and speech by studying the emotional
>> subtext of utterances -- what he referred to as "sense" -- is also
>> central to his analysis of perezhivanie.
>> A word's sense is the aggregate of all psychological facts that
>> arise in our consciousness as a result of the word. Sense is a
>> dynamic, fluid, and complex formation that has several zones that
>> vary in their stability. (1934/1987, p. 276)
>> While meaning is often conceptualized as external and sense as
>> internal, there is a social aspect to sense. The individual sense of
>> an utterance includes attributes that are shaped by culture and
>> appropriated through social interaction. The manner in which Vygotsky
>> examined the similarities and distinctions between meaning and sense
>> illustrates his methodological approach -- seeking out the
>> integrative, dialectical connections among complex, separate, and
>> interdependent processes. He concluded, "Meaning is only one of the
>> zones of sense, the most stable and precise zone"(1934/1987, p.245).
>> In his examination of meaning and its interrelationships with
>> previous experience and affect, Vygotsky borrowed both from the
>> French psychologist, F.Paulhan and from the Russian stage director
>> and theoretician, Konstantin Stanislavsky. Stanislavsky searched for
>> the sense of words in order to identify the characters' motives
>> behind them; he was thus able to help his actors express these
>> motives through gesture, intonation, vocal range, and emotional tone.
>> Vygotsky's familiarity with and admiration for the work of
>> Stanislavsky contributed to his understanding of word sense. He also
>> relied on Paulhan's distinction between an individual's sense of a
>> word and the more general meaning of a word. Vygotsky used this
>> distinction to explain the way an individual uses language to capture
>> and appropriate affective aspects of social interaction -- an
>> important aspect of perezhivanie. This concept was foundational for
>> his examination of the relationship between affect and thought.
>> Michael.
>> You suggest:
>> "personal" to situate "sense."
>> Perhaps that gives us an entry point to understanding meaning, as a
>> generalized version of personal sense, that is, the possibilities of
>> sense available at the collective level.
>> Personal sense certainly seems to be what is mean't. (Where personal
>> is a synthesis of self-other interactions/experiences). And meaning
>> is
>> generalized, embodied in words and other semiotic means. Meaning
>> changes,but at a cultural-historical, not an ontogenetic or
>> microgenetic time scale..
>> We might be able to use this same example to illlustrate the way in
>> which
>> meaning, having become generalized (used to mediate activity in many
>> settings)
>> is "relatively" stable-- relative to the stabililty of the local
>> dynamics of life, at least.
>> I hope this makes sense. I am somewhat unuzed tothinking in triple
>> dialectics, Michael,
>> but your summary is plausible to me.
>> mike
>> On 7/22/05, Wolff-Michael Roth <> wrote:
>>> hi all,
>>> When I was reading Peg's lines, MY first question was not about
>>> linguistic issues but about what people are making in
>>> "meaning-making".
>>> Then after reading Mike's and Gordon's comments, I was further
>>> thinking
>>> about meaning and its relation to sense.
>>> If I understand right, sense is tied to the relation of activity
>>> (something collectively motivated) and action (something
>>> individuallyrealized). So sense arises from the dialectic relation
>>> of self and
>>> other, individual and collective. Some writers use the qualifier
>>> "personal" to situate "sense."
>>> Perhaps that gives us an entry point to understanding meaning, as a
>>> generalized version of personal sense, that is, the possibilities of
>>> sense available at the collective level.
>>> Such an approach would allow us to approach meaning in a dialectical
>>> way, paralleling the individual|collective dialectic, and therefore
>>> locating it as the dialectic of two other dialectics.
>>> Cheers,
>>> Michael
>>> On 22-Jul-05, at 8:08 AM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> > Great timing, Gordon. you answered part of my question re
>>> Halliday and
>>> > the
>>> > equivalent distinction. Thanks!
>>> > mike
>>> >
>>> >
>>> > On 7/22/05, Gordon Wells <> wrote: >Gordon, I've
>>> often
>>> > thought along the lines you explore about how it relates
>>> >> >to Vygotsky's meaning/sense discussion.Maybe it reflects his
>>> roots
>>> >> in
>>> >> >philology.If so, then maybe we can push it a little further.
>>> >> >
>>> >> >Gordon's list of alternatives were: "dynamic/everyday/narrative
>>> v.
>>> >> >synoptic/scientific/paradigmatic modes of meaning-making."When I
>>> >> see
>>> >> >"paradigmatic," I look for "syntagmatic."Maybe for Gordon this
>>> is
>>> >> in both
>>> >> >or either "dynamic" and "synoptic?"
>>> >> >I understand paradigmatic and syntagmatic as mutually
>>> constitutive
>>> >> not so
>>> >> >much "versus."So, for example, for linguists (I think whether
>>> you
>>> >> look
>>> >> >back to Prague School or further to Panini) the copula verb
>>> ("to be"
>>> >> in
>>> >> >English) as a paradigm (for example: be am is are were been) is
>>> >> relentlessly
>>> >> >tied to/emerging with its syntax (I am. She is. etc.).The
>>> >> syntagmatic
>>> >> >patterning is not just a methodological frame for the
>>> morphological
>>> >> >paradigm; neither one is necessarily primitive to the other (but
>>> >> theories of
>>> >> >language might explore to establish this).Each constitutes the
>>> >> other.
>>> >> >
>>> >> >So, maybe 'meaning' can be understood as the paradigmatic and
>>> >> 'sense' as the
>>> >> >syntagmatic of a mutually constitutive set.
>>> >>
>>> >> Peg,
>>> >>
>>> >> I agree that syntagmatic complements paradigmatic. One way of
>>> >> interpreting Bruner's narrative/paradigmatic distinction might be
>>> >> that narrative is concerned with the relations between
>>> constituents:
>>> >> who does what to whom, when and for what reason. Similarly,
>>> >> Halliday's dynamic/ synoptic distinction might be equated with
>>> >> narrative/syntagmatic - to some degree!!, while synoptic
>>> highlights
>>> >> the paradigmatic relationship between alternative
>>> lexicogrammatical
>>> >> realizations of the same event, with a focus on grammatical
>>> metaphor
>>> >> through nominalization.
>>> >>
>>> >> I think I'm happy with your final paragraph above but I'll give
>>> some
>>> >> more thought to this.
>>> >>
>>> >> Gordon
>>> >> --
>>> >> Gordon Wells
>>> >> Dept of
>>> >> Education,
>>> >> UC Santa Cruz.
>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> >> _______________________________________________
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>>> >>
>>> >>
>>> > _______________________________________________
>>> > xmca mailing list
>>> >
>>> >
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>> _______________________________________________
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> --
> Gordon Wells
> Dept of Education,
> UC Santa Cruz.
> _______________________________________________
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