Martin Packer's points RE: [xmca] Copernicus, Darwin and Bohr

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jun 26 2007 - 17:17:37 PDT

I agree with Martin’s basic points.

Martin asks about ‘the insistence that "there is no thinking without
tools".’ I’m not certain that I understand what’s being claimed by this.
Peirce said “all thought is in signs.” Is the idea something like that? But
for Peirce, signs are not tools of/for thought, they are the mode of being
of thought itself—i.e., thought is always fundamentally semiosic.

It seems that “toolforthoughts” as a one-word plural noun is an attempt to
eliminate the syntax of “tools for thought” that would render tools and
thoughts as two interrelated things. But if that is the attempt, I’m not
sure it succeeds. The syntax is preserved even inside the one-word plural,
and the unity or non-unity of tool and thought is not developed enough to
clarify what this means—at least for my own limited powers of comprehension.

Latour’s use of actants is something he himself describes as a semiotic
turn. But Latour’s “semiotics” comes from Greimas, not from Peirce (or
“Pierce,” as Latour spells it—confirming that he really doesn’t know). The
structuralist semiotics of Greimas (which I respect, and have used myself
for limited purposes) is derived from Saussure, and is squarely founded on
binaries and dualisms, such as those between signifier and signified, or the
realm of pure thought and the realms of oppositionally-structured concepts
and vocabulary (never mind the realm of concrete things in the material
world, which is another thing entirely.

Latour’s “symmetry” is symmetry between human and non-human actants, as in
science and nature; presupposing a dualism to be reconciled—a dualism that
is not recognized in the first place from a Peircean perspective.

As for Martin’s point about ‘access to the literacies that, one might argue,
offer the possibility for freedom, for a different kind of thinking that
steps out of "the system," at least for a moment’:

Sociologically, I tend to think of the current hegemonic order as one that
in which the needs of capitalism are prioritized. There are a few
institutionalized sectors such as law, medicine, education, and religion in
which cultural-historical tradition provides some basis for operating on
principles that are not subservient to the needs of capital or the dictates
of capitalists and employers/managers. This is in principle, of course, and
often not realized in actuality. But I would argue that it is not just na´ve
to seek realization of counter-hegemonic possibilities. This requires
competence in the distinctive discourses of these worlds of practice. If
critical intelligentia are ready to abandon even the hope of
counterhegemonic autonomy in education, law, medicine, etc., that will leave
only the church as an institution with any capacity to operate on principles
other than those of the capitalist marketplace, and if that’s our only
choice, I’ll take the capitalism, thank you.

Jay points to MySpace as a space for life that NewsCorp can’t control.
Actually, I found Jay’s entire post enlightening, as providing some grounds
for hope in the future he envisions; but not enough to satisfy my doubts.
The thing about hegemony is that it does not NEED to CONTROL: It only needs
to articulate relationships within the hegemonic order. Not only
uncontrolled, but even oppositional cultures and developments can be
articulated (i.e. linked or joined) into their places within the hegemonic
order in ways that render them not really (i.e., effectively)
counter-hegemonic. “MySpace” seems like it could be a perfect example of
this – we can have all the uncontrolled MySpaces we want, what we don’t have
is the OURSPACEs for activity that really could provide the kinds of
activities that Martin writes about.

What do you think?

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Tuesday, June 26, 2007 12:26 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Copernicus, Darwin and Bohr

Some quick thoughts...

The "premise that persons and artifacts are equivalent actants" might be
viewed as the triumph of scientistic, materialist reductionism, no? People
are just soft machines, after all. And the insistence that "there is no
thinking without tools" is a wonderful limitation of thinking to no more
instrumental calculation.

And what better way to ensure that people really are no more than soft
machines, extensions of technology, than to deny them access to the
literacies that, one might argue, offer the possibility for freedom, for a
different kind of thinking that steps out of "the system," at least for a

What do you think? Do you think?


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