subjective, objective Re: [xmca] Natural vs. Human Dialectics

From: Tony Whitson <twhitson who-is-at UDel.Edu>
Date: Tue Sep 18 2007 - 11:26:23 PDT

A very different ... almost opposite ... usage for "subjective" and
"objective" -- one that's highly relevant for this topic -- is offered by
Peirce scholar John Deely.

Deely argues that modernism (from, say, Descartes and Locke, through
contemporaries like Foucault, Derrida, Jameson, Lyotard, etc. who might be
considered "postmodern" [Deely argues these have not escaped the crucial
misstep of the early moderns, and he sees Peirce as inaugurating a
genuine post-modern development that does offer a way out from modernism])
inverted the understanding of subject and object that can be excavated
from pre-modern Latin thinkers. Things exist objectively as objects of
signification. Things exist subjectively and express themselves
subjectively in how their qualities (characteristics of their properly
subjective existence, independent of their objectivization) inform (i.e.,
participate in the formation of) the semiosic relations in which they
participate as sign-elements.

The subjective characteristics of something in nature are those
characteristics proper to it as an existing subject, apart from being an
object of knowledge, thought, perception, etc. It's objective
characteristics are characteristics it takes on as an object of knowledge,
thought, etc.

This makes a lot of sense to me.

My explanation mixes in some of my own language. Deely's exposition makes
constant use of Latin words and Latin syntax. I'm not sure how
comprehensible it would be to someone who has never studied Latin. (You
don't need to be literate in Latin to read Deely, but some elementary
knowledge of the language is an enormous help.)

Plus, you need to be tolerant of, if not appreciative of, the musty
Scholastic aroma of Deely's sources, which infects his own style as well.

So, if anyone on this list is up to it, I think the rest of us would
appreciate what you'd get out of Deely's work. For a start on these
topics, I'd recommend:
(the second part: the "dialogue between a 'semiotist' and a 'realist'"

and (more recent, with a critique of modernist phenomenology):

On Tue, 18 Sep 2007, armando perez wrote:

> It s late but........of course, Bourdieu always mantein the nalitical unity
> between the subjectivity and the objectivity of habitus....What do you think
> realy about bourdieu.... In my personal feeling, I more often (not
> always) do what I believe I want do..... But I recognize that it is not so
> easy to resolve and proof any theory about the dialectics of subject and
> object. The last 40 years (for not move much more back) in Sociological
> Thought proof that.
> Armando
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Andy Blunden" <>
> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <>
> Sent: Saturday, September 08, 2007 7:01 AM
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Natural vs. Human Dialectics
>> Fair enough Geoff.
>> But the problem is like this for me. I have known "experts" who claim that
>> their ability to raise their arm when they want to and their ability to
>> know when it is them that is raising their arm and not someone else, is
>> evidence of their agency - analytical, positivist types. I have also known
>> "experts" who claim that great leaders who have led revolutions which
>> overthrew entire states were after all only carrying out an historical
> task
>> that someone else would have done if they hadn't, that history worked
>> "through" them, so to speak. Indeed, if I look back across my own life,
>> while I know that I made choices for better or worse in my own life and
>> bore the consequences, the ideas I had as a teenager, as a young adult,
> the
>> political choices I made in my late-20s, etc., etc., although I
>> passionately believed in them at the time, even thought I was original, I
>> now know were little more than stereotypical versions of ideas that were
>> quite typical of the social stratum (habitus) of which I was a part. So,
> is
>> there a line, this side of which we have agency in and the other side of
>> which we don't? And where the hell would that line be if our passionate
>> beliefs are on the far side of it? I like Bourdieu as well, and I too
> think
>> his idea of habitus is a useful concept for dealing with this problem,
> but
>> most people regard him as an extreme objectivist, i.e., that even our
>> highly personal tastes and preferences are actually "programmed" by our
>> social environment.
>> What do you think?
>> Andy
>> At 03:45 PM 8/09/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>>> Thanks for the welcome Andy.
>>> Yes, I'd agree with the idea that we adapt to and add to culture. I've
>>> been wrestling with the idea of agency to identify the "add to" part of
>>> this process. I think I want to define agency as a type of doing where
>>> we have to respond beyond what is already habitual (learned). This would
>>> range from an average driver (as far as skill is concerned) having to
>>> respond immediately to avoid an impending car accident, through to
>>> working creatively. I'm not sure if this is a valid definition of
>>> agency, but it's one that I've come to after thinking about innovation.
>>> I think Vygotsky's ZPD could be used to describe how humans live, not
>>> just "learn" vis a vie pedagogy. And that Vygotsky's idea that
>>> development is scaffolded, the new being built upon the old, seems to
>>> fit nicely with Bourdieu's idea of habitus, the habitus being the "old".
>>> (I don't have a sense of what Bourdieu's position would be on how
>>> habitus is added to.)
>>> I haven't give animal bahaviour a lot of thought regarding agency, but
>>> off the top of my head I don't think that animals are capable of agency,
>>> or if they are it is limited because they lack a developed culture to
>>> transmit what is learned and can only learn in limited contexts or
>>> periods, like chicks imprinting who (or what) their mums are. Non human
>>> animals don't seem to be able to adapt inter-generationally - one
>>> generation bootstrapping itself. Humans on the other hand........ :-)
>>> Cheers, Geoff
>>> PS, do chicks learn a fear of hawk-like silhouettes or is it hard wired?
>>>>>> Andy Blunden <> 08/09/07 12:40 PM >>>
>>> Welcome Geoff. It's good to hear new voices.
>>> Many animals are intelligent though, and respond to their environment by
>>> learning. Whatever "agentive" means, I don't think that a chick learning
>>> to
>>> recognise and a avoid a predator by learning the shape of their
>>> silhouette
>>> is thereby "agentive". Surely it's what you mention in passing, that our
>>> environment is cultural, that is, we adapt to products of previous
>>> generations and create more cultural artefacts in the process?
>>> BTW, what *do* you mean by "agentive"? :-)
>>> Andy
>>> At 11:50 AM 8/09/2007 +1000, you wrote:
>>>> Hi I'm new here and feeling my way through these ideas.....
>>>> On natural selection, while a driver might be chaos and random
>>>> mutation, the important thing is not the mutation but the adaptation.
>>>> What matters is the relationship between the organism and its context.
>>>> Human learning is not best described in these terms but as a fast
>>>> track (non genetic) form of adaptation. The difference between our
>>>> genetic and cultural adaptations is that our cultural adaptations are
>>>> not random but responsive (agentive) to the physical and cultural
>>>> niches that we are adapted to via our abilities to, amongst others,
>>>> learn and, importantly to forget. Our practices, those things that
>>>> we've already learned, underpin our ability to learn and or respond to
>>>> changes in our relationships to our physical/cultural world(s).
>>>> Cheers, Geoff
>>>> On 08/09/07, David Kellogg <> wrote:
>>>>> Steve and Andy:
>>>>> Here's a puzzle. On p. 120 of "Mind in Society", the Afterword by
>>>> Vera John-Steiner and Ellen Souberman begins with the following
>>> epigraph
>>>> (pardon the long quote, but it's necessary to explain the puzzle):
>>>>> "The great basic idea that the world is not to be viewed as a
>>> complex
>>>> of fully fashioned objects but as a complex of processes in which
>>>> apparently stable objects, no less thatn the images of them inside our
>>>> heads (our concepts) are undergoing incessant changes. (...) In the
>>> eyes
>>>> of dialectical philosophy, nothing is established for all time,
>>> nothing
>>>> is absolute or sacred. On everything and in everything it sees the
>>> stamp
>>>> of inevitable decline; nothing can resist it sav the unceasing process
>>> of
>>>> formation and destruction, the unending ascent form lower to higher--a
>>>> process of which that philosophy itself is only a simple reflection
>>>> within the thinking brain."
>>>>> You can see that this quote, if accurate, answers quite well
>>> Andy's
>>>> question about in what sense nature can be said to be dialectical. It
>>> is
>>>> the same sense in which dialectical philosophy can be said to be
>>>> dialectical, and for the one and same reason: dialectics is simply a
>>>> description of how change takes place.
>>>>> But IS the quote accurate? Here's the SAME passage from my copy of
>>>> Marx and Engels' selected works (Moscow: Progress, 1970, Vol. 3, pp.
>>> 362-363):
>>>>> "The great basic thought that the world is not to be comprehended
>>> as
>>>> a complex of ready-made things but as a complex of processes, in wich
>>> the
>>>> things apparently stable no less than their mind images in our heads,
>>> the
>>>> concepts, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and
>>>> passing away, in which, in spite of all seeming accidentality and of
>>> all
>>>> temporary retrogression, a progressive development asserts itself in
>>> the
>>>> end--this great fundametnal thought has, especially since the time of
>>>> Hegel, so throughly permeated ordinary conscousness that in this
>>>> generality it is now scarcely ever contradicted. But to acknowledge
>>> this
>>>> fundamental though in words and to apply it in reality in detail to
>>> each
>>>> domain of investigation are two different things. If, however,
>>>> investigation always proceeds from this standpoint, the demand for
>>> final
>>>> soclutions and eternal truth ceases once and for all; one is always
>>>> conscious of the necessary limitation of all acquired knowledge, of
>>>>> the fact that it is conditioned by the circumstances in which it
>>> was
>>>> acquired."
>>>>> NOTHING here about the "reflection of the dialectics of nature" in
>>>> the thinking brain--only the much weaker idea that the transience of
>>>> concepts is reflected in the limited nature of human knowledge! That's
>>>> the puzzle.
>>>>> I'm sorry if I sounded flippant in my last post--my position is
>>>> rather like that in the SECOND version of Engels' quote (not the
>>> version
>>>> in Mind in Society), and it's quite serious. I think that the idea
>>> that
>>>> Jews are a particularly intelligent race (and also the idea that
>>>> fertility and intelligence are inversely correlated, and this somehow
>>>> represents a threat to human survival) is a very serious misconception
>>>> about the relationship between ontogenesis and phylogenesis. Humans
>>>> "choose"; nature "selects", and for humans to "choose" to select when
>>>> they cannot even manage to make economic and social relations obey
>>>> rational will is a little like a lay person trying to cure obesity by
>>>> vivisection rather than by diet and self-control.
>>>>> Right now, I think that the attempt to reduce human creativity to
>>>> chaos/complexity is flawed in the opposite direction; not too much
>>>> chutzpah but too little. It reduces learning to a trial-and-error
>>> process
>>>> driven by random variations. Lorenz's wonderful book "The Origins of
>>>> Chaos" points out that MOST games are not good producers of chaos,
>>> either
>>>> because they are really random (and chaos is only apparently random)
>>> or
>>>> contrariwise, because they are subject to deliberate strategy and
>>> skill
>>>> (he gives the marvelous example of pinball, which was initially banned
>>> in
>>>> his hometown as a game of chance, but then legalized as a game of
>>> skill).
>>>>> Natural selection really is random and bottom up, at least at
>>> first.
>>>> But it gives rise to humans, and these replace natural selection with
>>>> human choices, at least in the terrain of ideas. Learning is not
>>> usefully
>>>> described in chaos/complexity terms; the principle of human choice has
>>>> clearly replaced random variation and natural selection as soon as the
>>>> process of variation itself is subject to volitional control (as soon
>>> as
>>>> people start to generate particular language strings and not others
>>> and
>>>> then select these).
>>>>> Amongst humans, at the level of culture, language, games, and that
>>>> great cultural language game we call philosophy, the idea of
>>> deliberate
>>>> choice is clearly more powerful than the principle of natural
>>> selection.
>>>> That is why I think nature is dialectical, at least in the weak sense
>>> of
>>>> incompletable (if you will pardon a bit of volitional linguistic
>>>> creativity) indicated by Engels.But dialectical philosophy is a
>>>> non-natural selection rather than a natural reflection of the
>>> dialectics
>>>> of nature in the human brain.
>>>>> David Kellogg
>>>>> Seoul National University of Education
>>>>> Andy Blunden <> wrote:
>>>>> Steve, could you give a simple, 2 or 3 lines maybe, explanation of
>>>> what you
>>>>> *mean* by "nature is dialectical"?
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> 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?
>>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>>> 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
>>>>>>>> (or
>>>>>>>>>> language teaching (which is what I do)
>>>>>>>> volition-free approaches are
>>>>>>>> very
>>>>>>>>>> popular (nativism, subconscious acquisition, and
>>>>>>>> now
>>>>>>>> chaos-complexity
>>>>>> _____________________________________________________________________
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>>> 9435, AIM
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>>>> --
>>>> Geoffrey Binder
>>>> BA (SS) La Trobe, BArch (Hons) RMIT
>>>> PhD Candidate
>>>> Global Studies, Social Sciences and Planning RMIT
>>>> Ph B. 9925 9951
>>>> M. 0422 968 567
>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435,
>>> AIM
>>> identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651
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Tony Whitson
UD School of Education

"those who fail to reread
  are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                   -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)

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Received on Tue Sep 18 11:36 PDT 2007

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