Re: [xmca] Vygotsky's historicism

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Mon Apr 07 2008 - 14:37:54 PDT

Andy, your comments on three very central theoretical but very
difficult concept pairs, ideal/material, subjective/objective, and
abstract/concrete are interesting, and thought-provoking as always.
Your point about what people generally take to be "ideal," and also,
may I add, "subjective" and "abstract," is a good one, and triggers a
little comment here from me.

Ilyenkov emphasizes this point in his essay The Concept of the Ideal:
plain, everyday (he says vulgar) versions of materialism AND idealism
both agree that there is a universal boundary between what is "inside"
and "outside" the individual human head. I find that to be a very
helpful insight. It helps me to see how many contentious, winner-take-
all-style debates between these plain versions of materialism and
idealism over questions like what causes what (e.g. when does being
determine consciousness and vice versa), how do the natural and the
supernatural (if such exists) are at the same time NOT about the
existence of this universal boundary, which is taken for granted. One
thing that makes the Hegel/Marx/Vygotsky etc. intellectual lineage so
different from the plain materialist/idealist mainstream is it
recognizes the biological, but flatly denies the psychological
existence of this boundary, relating and locating the ideal and
material, subjective and objective, and abstract and concrete very
differently, stretching the meanings of these concepts well past what
they normally refer to. I find it takes concentration and
deliberation to think this way, constantly having to reapply it anew
and figure it out all over again as I go. In everyday usage
especially I find it hard to not use these words in the "vulgar" way
to refer to one side or the other of this plainspeak Ultimate Divide.
I find myself contrasting, for example, an ideal job with a real one,
talking about one opinion being more "subjective" while another more
"objective," speaking of "abstract" thoughts versus "concrete"
actions, etc. I think that a close look at these kinds of everyday
uses reveals a straightforward, mechanical reference to that Ultimate
Divide, the one DesCartes codified so well. It is almost as though
our grammar, number system, logic and vocabulary - nearly every
everyday tool we have to think with - are collectively based on a
coordinate system that zeroes out at that Ultimate Divide, referencing
to that place where our "head" ends and the "world" begins, to that
great dividing line that figures in so ubiquitously in so many modern
cultures and ideologies. To flip that reference system entirely over
and make our starting point something radically different - our
interpenetrating social relationships - and the zig-zaggy historical
development of those relationships - in short, activity - is an
enormous paradigm shift, and one that seems to take constant, rigorous
theoretical focus in order to to speak clearly in terms of. In trying
to be rigorous, in making the point you make below that it is the
existence of the ideal that distinguishes an artifact from raw nature,
I might say that the "ideal" is *necessarily always* material, as in
inseparable from it, not just something that can "also be" material.
But I am always walking on eggshells a little when I try to speak at
that level. I enjoy trying, and do so here on xmca from time to time,
but by no means do I always get it right.

- Steve

On Apr 6, 2008, at 6:30 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
> I think part of the difficulty with getting people to accept that
> unity of material and ideal is that people generally take ideal to
> be almost synonymous with "subjective" or "in consciousness" whereas
> "material" simply means "outside of and independent of
> consciousness". For us, however, "ideal" can also be material,
> distinguishing what is artifact from what is nature.

> On Apr 6, 2008, at 10:07 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> 1. The contrast of ideal to material is simply a mistaken one. It
> does not help at all.
> <snip>
> 3. The abstract/concrete relation is a different contrast again, a
> very important one but a different issue altogether from the problem
> of the ideal.

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Received on Mon Apr 7 14:39 PDT 2008

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