Re: [xmca] Response to David Kellogg about Volition

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Sat Sep 08 2007 - 23:12:10 PDT

Rather than spend time on me trying to summarize
the thesis that "nature is dialectical" in a few
lines in my own words, let's take a look at some
things Vygotsky had to say about this. Vygotsky
had some really interesting, and I think,
inspiring things to say about the dialectics of
nature and how it he saw it connected to his
program for developing a new psychology. I will
quote from his posthumously published manuscript
"The Historical Meaning of the Crisis in
Psychology: A Methodological Investigation" (1927), and add some comments.

BTW, Andy transcribed this document for the
internet from the Plenum Books translation by Rene van der Veer (Vol 3).

The below passages are from the end of Chapter 5,
Vol 3, pg 255-256. I added *italics* where they appear in the book.

Vygotsky says:

"Engels [1925/1978, p. 514] has pointed out many
times that for dialectical logic the methodology
of science is a reflection of the methodology of reality. He says that

"The *classification of sciences* of which each
analyzes a different form of movement, or a
number of movements that are connected and merge
into each other, is at the same time a
classification, an ordering according to the
inherent order of these forms of movement
themselves and in this resides their importance."

"Can it be said more clearly? In classifying the
sciences we establish the hierarchy of reality itself"

Note Vygotsky's interesting phrase "the
methodology of reality" and his suggestion that
the "methodology of science" should reflect it.

Vygotsky continues, offering another quote from Engels:

"The so-called *objective* dialectic reigns in
all nature, and the so-called subjective
dialectic, dialectical thinking, is only a
reflection of the movement by opposition, that
reigns in all nature [ibid., p. 481]."

Let's take a moment to remind ourselves that
Engels suggested that dialectics can generalize
three laws of motion that apply to all aspects of
reality. These three laws pertain to:

1) the transformation of quantity to quantity
2) the unity and conflict of opposites
3) the negation of the negation

Back to Vygotsky, who is speaking to his above
quote from Engels. Note his distinction of the
objective dialectic, the dialectics of nature (an
ontological perspective regarding the nature of
reality), from the subjective dialectic, the
dialectics of thinking, (an epistemological
perspective regarding how we come to think what we do):

Here the demand to take account of the objective
dialectic in studying the subjective dialectic,
i.e., dialectical thinking in some science, is
clearly expressed. Of course, by no means does
this imply that we close our eyes to the
subjective conditions of this thinking. The same
Engels who established a correspondence between
being and thinking in mathematics says that “all
laws of number are dependent upon and determined
by the system that is used. In the binary and
ternary system 2 x 2 does not = 4, but = 100 or =
11” [ibid., p. 523]. Extending this, we might say
that subjective assumptions which follow from
knowledge will always influence the way of
expressing the laws of nature and the relation
between the different concepts. We must take them
into account, but always as a reflection of the objective dialectic.

There is a lot going in in Vygotsky's argument
here. Just prior to where I began these quotes,
Vygotsky was criticizing Binswanger. "Binswanger
is prepared to admit that the method of knowing
determines reality, just as in Kant reason
dictated the laws of nature." Vygotsky in the
just-quoted passage is emphasizing that while
subjective outlooks certainly do influence how
the laws of nature will be expressed - this is
the subjective dialectic - ultimately, the actual
way nature works must be taken as the foundation
- this is the objective dialectic. Vygotsky
continues, offering another quote from Engels:

We must, therefore, contrast epistemological
critique and formal logic as the foundations of a
general science with a dialectic “which is
conceived of as the science of the most general
laws of all movement. This implies that its laws
must be valid for both movement in nature and
human history and movement in thinking”[ibid., p.
530]. This means that the dialectic of psychology
– this is what we may now call the general
psychology in opposition to Binswanger’s
definition of a “critique of psychology” – is the
science of the most general forms of movement (in
the form of behavior and knowledge of this
movement), i.e., the dialectic of psychology is
at the same time the dialectic of man as the
object of psychology, just as the dialectic of
the natural sciences is at the same time the dialectic of nature.

Vygotsky, following Engels, is arguing that "the
dialectic" (Americans like myself seem to prefer
the term "dialectics") is the study of the most
general forms of motion. Vygotsky applies this
to a general science of psychology, and explains
that a dialectical psychology would be a study of
1) the general forms of movement of human
behavior, and 2) the forms of knowledge about
those movements. He makes a parallel between
this study of the laws of motion of human
behavior with the study of the laws of motion of nature.

Vygotsky now turns to Engels on Hegel:

Engels does not even consider the purely logical
classification of judgments in Hegel to be based
merely on thinking, but on the laws of nature.
This he regards as a distinguishing characteristic of dialectical logic.

Vygotsky quotes Engels:

What in Hegel seems a development of the judgment
as a category of thinking as such, now appears to
be a development of our knowledge of the nature
of movement based on *empirical* grounds. And
this proves that the laws of thinking and the
laws of nature correspond necessarily with each
other as soon as they are known properly [ibid., p. 493]

Vygotsky then ends the chapter with this summary
sentence, which enthusiastically embraces the above quote from Engels:

The key to general psychology as a part of
dialectics lies in these words: this
correspondence between thinking and being in
science is at the same time object, highest
criterion, and even method, i.e., general principle of the general psychology.

Vygotsky clearly allies himself with Engels on
the claim that through dialectics (or if you
prefer, "the dialectic") we can generalize laws
of motion that apply to both thinking and nature
(they can apply to both the subjective and the
objective dialectic, to use the earlier
terminology). In fact, Vygotsky argues, doing so
must be a core principle of a general
psychology. According to him, a dialectical
approach - generalizing about the laws of motion
of human action and operation - reaches to the
very core of the object of such a
psychology. Furthermore, these dialectical laws
of motion are the highest criterion such a
psychology can submit to, and should even be its method.

Summarizing: Vygotsky, basing himself on Marx
and Engels, agrees with the idea that nature is
dialectical, and that the laws of dialectical
motion can be applied to nature. He goes on to
use this idea as the basis of his argument that
the laws of dialectical motion must also be
applied to the formulation of a new, general psychology.

Returning to you, Andy, I take it that you
disagree with Vygotsky, and Engels, and hold the
view that nature is not dialectical, and that the
laws of dialectical motion do not or can not be
applied to nature. Do I have that
right? Perhaps not. I am actually not sure what
your position is. I am perfectly okay with
whatever view you hold. Perhaps you would like
to explain your opinion on this in a few lines, or whatever you need.

- Steve

At 12:13 PM 9/9/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>At 12:22 PM 8/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>>At 10:37 AM 9/8/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>>>Steve, could you give a simple, 2 or 3 lines
>>>maybe, explanation of what you *mean* by "nature is dialectical"?
>>Sure,I can give that a shot. Three aspects
>>initially come to mind regarding the claim
>>"nature is dialectical." First, it is a claim
>>that nature is always in flux, always changing,
>>constantly developing and ever-transforming itself.
>This is trivial, isn't it? Who on Earth would deny it, since about 1000 BC?
>>Second, it is a claim that nature's motions and
>>their history are comprehensible through human
>>practice, science, and the special science of
>>dialectical reasoning (which Engels defined as
>>"the science of the laws of motion").
>The claim about the intelligibility of Nature is
>as much a claim about human thought. While it is
>a claim of profound significance, it is really
>nothing to do with dialectics and the argument
>over whether Nature is dialectic or only thought
>or only history, as has been disputed over the past century.
>> Third, it is a claim that dialectical
>> reasoning - more precisely, materialist
>> dialectics - incorporates and has advanced
>> beyond mechanical and metaphysical methods of
>> thinking, which offer more limited and less
>> robust views of understanding nature.
>That is just a sectarian claim, Steve. It will
>convince no-one who is not already convinced.
>>- Steve
>>>At 09:23 AM 7/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>>>>This is a dense but not too long post on this
>>>>discussion of volition and complexity
>>>>theory. I think we bump into the question of
>>>>whether "nature is dialectical" in thinking
>>>>about the question of how complexity theory
>>>>can figure into the study of
>>>>consciousness. Yesterday I sent David
>>>>Kellog some links to Ethel Tobach
>>>>(integrative levels) and Ken Richardson
>>>>(levels of self-regulation), two authors I
>>>>find to be on the right track. Both Tobach
>>>>and Richardson use important ideas from CHAT
>>>>in their theorizing, and have a strong
>>>>leaning toward integrating natural and social
>>>>science, in ways I find both dialectical and materialist.
>>>>Vygotsky was a strong advocate of Engels'
>>>>position that nature is dialectical, as was
>>>>of course Marx, who I believe contributed two
>>>>chapters to the book Anti-Duhring, where
>>>>Engels develops this concept. The Dialectics
>>>>of Nature by Engels, a manuscript never
>>>>published in Engels' lifetime, was first
>>>>published in Russia in the 1920's and is
>>>>clearly influential on Vygotsky, who quotes
>>>>it favorably numerous times in his manuscript
>>>>"The Meaning of the Historical Crisis of
>>>>Psychology" (1927). But this is a minority viewpoint today, it seems.
>>>>I found myself spending some time browsing
>>>>the book Mike mentioned earlier this
>>>>week, Human activity - contributions to the
>>>>anthropological sciences from a perspective
>>>>of activity theory by Benny Karpatschof,
>>>>available online at
>>>>. This book is a rich and highly worthy
>>>>exploration of the philosophical
>>>>underpinnings of CHAT, one of the best I have
>>>>seen on that level, but Benny adopts the
>>>>position that nature is not dialectical,
>>>>disagreeing sharply with Engels - and
>>>>therefore, Marx, Vygotsky, Leontiev, and all
>>>>the classical Marxists on this
>>>>question. This idea that Engels was wrong,
>>>>that nature is not dialectical, that
>>>>dialectics does not apply to nature
>>>>(Karpatschof allies with Sartre on this), is
>>>>quite popular among many dialectical thinkers
>>>>today, all around the world. The position I
>>>>lean toward, that nature is dialectical, is a minority view today.
>>>>I think we bump into this question of the
>>>>dialectics of nature every time we try to
>>>>integrate explanations across different
>>>>domains of complexity - from the behavior of
>>>>atoms, to genes, to embryos, to children
>>>>learning to speak, for example - so the
>>>>question "is nature dialectical?" is both an
>>>>ontological question (what is the nature of
>>>>reality) and epistemological (how do we know
>>>>anything). I think Andy's remarks offer an
>>>>excellent basis for a critique of the
>>>>incorrect view that conscious human behavior
>>>>(volition) can be reduced to the laws of
>>>>complexity science. But if we go the route
>>>>Benny Karpatschof suggests and reject the
>>>>thesis that nature is dialectical altogether,
>>>>I think we can lose a vital link between the
>>>>natural and the social, both ontologically
>>>>and epistemologically, and how we can use, as
>>>>Engels began to, the discoveries of natural
>>>>science (laws of mechanics, chemistry in his
>>>>time, quantum electrodynamics, complexity
>>>>theory, etc. in our time) to understand how
>>>>the even more complex activities of human
>>>>society and the still even more complex and
>>>>chaotic actions and operations of the human
>>>>individual, emerge. In that way, I think
>>>>complexity theory is very much a powerful
>>>>tool in trying to link the explanatory laws
>>>>of nature and society, although by no means
>>>>is it sufficient. That will require a new
>>>>level of integrated science and general
>>>>psychology along the lines that Vygotsky envisioned.
>>>>- Steve
>>>>At 04:18 PM 9/7/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>>>>>Welcome aboard Steve.
>>>>>I have always thought that the proposition
>>>>>that thinking is like computation is so
>>>>>barren, so stupid and so obviously an
>>>>>reflected projection, that to argue against
>>>>>it is to enter into the stupidity, and I
>>>>>would rather not. It's similar to people
>>>>>finding proof of neo-liberal economics in
>>>>>Darwinian biology, overlooking the fact that
>>>>>Darwin imported liberal economic ideas into
>>>>>his view of Nature in the first place.
>>>>>Computers are the latest thing, and
>>>>>information scientists develop tools for
>>>>>humans to use by emulating human activity,
>>>>>and then other people discover that people
>>>>>think like computers. Upside-down. Generates
>>>>>lots of academic salaries and popular book sales anyway.
>>>>>Although I think complexity theory and the
>>>>>concept of chaos are very rich
>>>>>and interesting ideas, I think they are out
>>>>>of place in describing the working of such a
>>>>>"well-oiled machine" (he, he) as the human
>>>>>mind. One thing about the application of
>>>>>this theory to the mind, and this is David's
>>>>>issue I believe, is that it is a radically
>>>>>unfree concept of the human condition.
>>>>>Allied with the concept of emergence, it is
>>>>>a fig leaf to cover a lacuna in positivist
>>>>>knowledge of the mind. We cannot explain how
>>>>>a few bits of flesh can be so creative and
>>>>>so clever, so its must be emergence, complexity, chaos, etc., etc.,
>>>>>I am intrigued also by David's question as
>>>>>to why learners should be so in favour of
>>>>>learning theories which give them no power.
>>>>>Perhaps it is because those learning theories also give them no responsibility?
>>>>>At 09:41 PM 6/09/2007 -0700, you wrote:
>>>>>>First time poster here and this may be from out of
>>>>>>left field, I'm not sure. I am not active in the
>>>>>>field so forgive me if but:
>>>>>>Roger Penrose, a prominent asttrophysicist, (among
>>>>>>others) has advanced the case that human
>>>>>>thinking/consciousness/cognition is not
>>>>>>"computational". Here he follows Kurt Goedel in the
>>>>>>use of the term computational. He wrote a book that
>>>>>>started with this premise and then further wrote a
>>>>>>response to a chorus of influential academics, all of
>>>>>>whom issued polemics against his book and especially
>>>>>>the "non-computational" thesis.
>>>>>>The contents of his reply somewhat step into the
>>>>>>middle of the debate but should be perfectly
>>>>>>understandable even to someone who hasn't read the
>>>>>>book or the scathing reviews. The Contents are
>>>>>>numbered and I recommend especiallyr reading #s 3 and
>>>>>>4 and then some of the later items at your own
>>>>>>discretion, evocatively titled "Free Will", "What Is
>>>>>>Consciousness?" and so on.
>>>>>>Penrose is not really trying to answer those
>>>>>>questions, by the way, only remove them from a
>>>>>>reductive, emergent from matter, reducible to physical
>>>>>>properties and laws, perspective.
>>>>>>Might at least help center your search for how and
>>>>>>where volition fits into the puzzle.
>>>>>>This is a wonderful list by the way, thanks guys
>>>>>> > It's a good read too, but it wasn't what I was
>>>>>>looking for. I need
>>>>>> some
>>>>>> > > way of integrating complexity theory and VOLITION
>>>>>> > > language teaching (which is what I do)
>>>>>>volition-free approaches are
>>>>>> very
>>>>>> > > popular (nativism, subconscious acquisition, and
>>>>>> chaos-complexity
>>>>>>Need a vacation? Get great deals
>>>>>>to amazing places on Yahoo! Travel.
>>>>>>xmca mailing list
>>>>> Andy Blunden :
>>>>> tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
>>>>>xmca mailing list
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Received on Sat Sep 8 23:17 PDT 2007

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