From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 07:58:35 PDT


My message came from a genuine confusion about the links among messages from
Andy, Elinami and David. Three types of confusion seemed to me to be going
on, though I'm still not sure.

First, a confusion between the analytic categories used by academics and
everyday understanding. Linguists use concepts such as 'subject,' 'verb' and
'grammar' in their intellectual reconstruction of speech. But there is
little reason to think that the everyday use of language requires the use of
such concepts, even at an unconscious level. This is something that Bourdieu
writes about convincingly. Researchers, in his view, generally fail to
examine their own procedures of objectification, and as a result attribute
the products of their analyses to the people being studied.

But, second, a more prevalent confusion, in my view, is to think that *any*
kind of intelligent behavior requires the use of concepts. Here the guilty
party is Kant, as Andy was pointing out some time back. Kant pretty much
gave birth to the view that has become common-sense today, that humans
construct mental representations of the world around us. Once one has
accepted a dualistic ontology of mind and world the relationship between the
two becomes a problem, and Kant's attempt at a solution was to propose that
the relationship is one of representation. Mental categories and concepts
underly all human action and knowledge, to this way of thinking. Hegel, Marx
and Vygotsky can be read as collaborators in an attempt to reject this view
and find a good alternative. If I understand it correctly (a dubious
presumption!), Ilyenkov's notion of the "thinking-body" is intended to be
the center of a model which proposes that intelligent human thought and
action is possible without mental representations. Humans are first of all a
corporal, incarnate intelligence. This is not to say that mental
representations are impossible, but that they are not necessary for smart
practical action. The formation of both mind and mental representations
might be a result of living in modern society, somewhere along the
ontogenetic line. (Bourdieu also explores such a model with his concept of
habitus. Merleau-Ponty is important too.)

But, third, I find I cannot completely agree with Sasha when he suggests
that practical understanding is more adequate than a scientfic
understanding. Of course it all depends on what one means by scientific. But
when Sasha writes that "the knife is something basically simple" and that a
"practical notion" of it is fully adequate, I find myself wondering how this
squares with Marx's description of the apparently simply commodities of
everyday life. The ability to use a knife to cut is certainly a "valid"
understanding of it. And (again) it is an understanding which requires no
mental representation. (Perhaps we will want to say (as I think Vygotsky
does) that there is a concept (or complex) *in* the practical action. That
is a notion that in my view deserves to be explored in much more detail.)
But is a knife only this? I think Marx would have said that a more
scientific understanding of a knife would include a grasp of the history of
its cultural evolution, its links with others tools, how to make it and keep
it sharp, and the relations of its production and exchange... I share
Shasha's frustration with the kind of scholastic (schoolboy, scholarly)
knowledge which seeks to replace practical knowledge and declare its
superiority, but I can't agree that the ability to use the tool is all that
is needed, or all that is possible.


On 4/28/08 6:36 PM, "Ed Wall" <> wrote:

> Martin
> I was composing a reply and thinking that it doesn't seem, for
> example, that a particular conception of hammer would contain all its
> uses. Perhaps what is confusing for me is 'use' is a little like
> game (re Wittgenstein) and 'the concept' isn't. What happens if one
> introduces 'the use' and 'conception' into the mix?
> Ed
> On Apr 28, 2008, at 4:13 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>> Ed,
>> I suppose that arguably the concept of a hammer will include a bit
>> of use.
>> (Though it's interesting how many are declaring that they don't
>> know what a
>> concept is!) But does that mean that the use of a hammer will
>> include a bit
>> of concept?
>> Martin
>> On 4/28/08 2:36 PM, "Ed Wall" <> wrote:
>>> Martin
>>> Now I'm confused. You say 'use a hammer' and then 'not use the
>>> concept of a 'hammer."' I suspect I don't know what a 'concept' of a
>>> hammer is, but wouldn't it include a bit of use?
>>> Ed
>>> On Apr 28, 2008, at 12:18 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> David, I'm confused. Are you saying it would be impossible for
>>>> someone to
>>>> use a hammer and not use the concept of "hammer"?
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 4/28/08 7:25 AM, "David Kellogg" <>
>>>> wrote:
>>>>> I don't understand, Elinami. How is it possible to be a language
>>>>> user and NOT
>>>>> use concepts like "subject", "verb", "speaker", "grammar" etc.?
>>>>> Even if you
>>>>> say that concept use has to be conscious, isn't the self itself a
>>>>> concept?
>>>>> David Kellogg
>>>>> Seoul National University of Education
>>>>> Elinami Swai <> wrote:
>>>>> I cannot resist Andy, who are these tribal people?
>>>>> Elinami.
>>>>> On 4/27/08, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>>>> Sasha,
>>>>>> I just wanted to probe you little on this question of concept
>>>>>> (Begriff) vs
>>>>>> "abstract general" (or complex or "representation", etc).
>>>>>> It seems to me that all of us, unless we have a psychiatric
>>>>>> problem or brain
>>>>>> damage or something serious, by the time we become adults operate
>>>>>> with
>>>>>> concepts. I notice that most theorists do not understand well
>>>>>> what a concept
>>>>>> is and even the average Nobel Prize Winner cannot distinguish
>>>>>> clearly
>>>>>> between an abstract general notion and a genuine concept. But
>>>>>> nonetheless we
>>>>>> all use genuine concepts. Difficulty in theoretically making this
>>>>>> distinction explicit is a matter really of whether you have been
>>>>>> exposed to
>>>>>> Hegelian ideas or Marx, Vygotsky, or other philosophy which
>>>>>> incorporates
>>>>>> these insights. Tribal people for example, just as much as Logical
>>>>>> Positivist philosophers, use concepts. Is that your understanding
>>>>>> as well?
>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>>> ------ Forwarded Message
>>>>>>> From: Alexander Surmava
>>>>>>> Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2008 13:01:03 +0400
>>>>>>> To: 'Martin Packer'
>>>>>>> Cc: Mike Cole
>>>>>>> Subject: RE: Life, psyche, consciousness.doc
>>>>>>> Dear Martin,
>>>>>>> You write:
>>>>>>> To my reading, Ilyenkov's concept of ideality, based on the
>>>>>>> notion of the
>>>>>>> thinking-body, is not the same as suggesting that artifacts
>>>>>>> have a
>>>>>> cultural
>>>>>>> meaning. To me, this risks reintroducing a dualism between
>>>>>>> matter and
>>>>>>> meaning. It is a short step, to my view mistaken, to the belief
>>>>>>> that the
>>>>>>> natural sciences study matter, while the social sciences study
>>>>>>> meaning. It
>>>>>>> also leads one to think that each artifact has a single meaning.
>>>>>>> Sasha,
>>>>>> when
>>>>>>> you said that the child really understands "the meaning" of the
>>>>>>> knife, I'm
>>>>>>> sure you would agree that a child cannot grasp the complexity of
>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>> relations that a single artifact like a knife has with society
>>>>>>> as a whole.
>>>>>>> Nor can a peasant understand the full complexity of the social
>>>>>>> world in
>>>>>>> which they are living, even though they have great practical
>>>>>>> wisdom.
>>>>>>> I entirely share your idea that ³Ilyenkov's concept of ideality,
>>>>>>> based on
>>>>>>> the notion of the thinking-body, is not the same as suggesting
>>>>>>> that
>>>>>>> artifacts have a cultural meaning? The latter is something banal
>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>> doesnıt need the first. No one of semiotics will disagree with
>>>>>>> the
>>>>>> statement
>>>>>>> that each artifact has some ³cultural meaning? while all of them
>>>>>>> have
>>>>>>> hardly ever heard the very concept of ³thinking body?and
>>>>>>> evidently donıt
>>>>>>> need in this notion.
>>>>>>> As well we never declare something like the statement ³that the
>>>>>>> natural
>>>>>>> sciences study matter, while the social sciences study meaning?
>>>>>>> As for a child with a knife we do insist that to have a real
>>>>>> understanding,
>>>>>>> real idea of knife a child needs only to be taught by adult how
>>>>>>> to use it
>>>>>> in
>>>>>>> historically developed cultural manner. The knife is a tool
>>>>>>> which helps
>>>>>>> humans to cut something and a child who practically grasps this
>>>>>>> mode of
>>>>>>> operation and adequately utilizes the knife has a valid idea of
>>>>>>> knife. All
>>>>>>> complexities ³of the relations that a single artifact like a
>>>>>>> knife has
>>>>>> with
>>>>>>> society as a whole?can add nothing to this plain fact. The
>>>>>>> role of
>>>>>> society
>>>>>>> consists in elaborating the artifact and in teaching new
>>>>>>> generations the
>>>>>> way
>>>>>>> to utilize it.
>>>>>>> The knife is something basically simple. The absolute majority
>>>>>>> of mankind,
>>>>>>> those who use knifes in their everyday life needs and have only
>>>>>>> practical
>>>>>>> notion of knives. On the contrary something that pretends to be a
>>>>>>> ³scientific notion?of knife is something ridiculous and
>>>>>>> scholastic.
>>>>>>> In exactly the same way illiterate, but experienced peasant has
>>>>>>> real,
>>>>>>> practical notion say of melon, while a schoolboy with all his
>>>>>>> ³scientific
>>>>>>> definitions?is far from real comprehension of it. He can
>>>>>>> successfully eat
>>>>>>> melon but he hardly can plant it. And here just as in previous
>>>>>>> case ³the
>>>>>>> full complexity of the social world in which they are living?has
>>>>>>> nothing
>>>>>> to
>>>>>>> do with the idea of melon.
>>>>>>> Surely there are objects which canıt be grasped practically by a
>>>>>>> single
>>>>>>> person. Thus for example an idea of agriculture as a socially and
>>>>>>> historically developed system of relations which combines
>>>>>>> individual
>>>>>> forces
>>>>>>> of people over the cooperative process of production and
>>>>>>> distribution
>>>>>> canıt be realized in abstract practical manner. Such attempts
>>>>>> can be
>>>>>> resulted in a
>>>>>>> way similar to famous fable about three blind and an elephant.
>>>>>>> The same we can say about such an object as atom or nuclear
>>>>>>> particle. A
>>>>>>> single person never deals practically with such objects. Only a
>>>>>> theoretical
>>>>>>> culture ?which is essentially a special type of cooperative
>>>>>>> practice
>>>>>>> ?lt;br>> can
>>>>>>> grasp the notion of such objects.
>>>>>>> Explaining all this I meet a great difficultness with the lack
>>>>>>> of proper
>>>>>>> English terminology (or, probably, my poor knowledge of
>>>>>>> English). In
>>>>>> German
>>>>>>> and in Russian there is a clear distinction between two notions,
>>>>>>> and two
>>>>>>> terms: Begriff = ponıatie, and Vorstellung = predstavlenije.
>>>>>>> The highest form in development of thinking is obviously ponıatie
>>>>>> (Begriff).
>>>>>>> And in the same time it is the universal form of thinking. While
>>>>>>> predstavlenije (Vorstellung) is subordinated notion. The obscheje
>>>>>> (general)
>>>>>>> predstavlenije is understood in dialectical culture as a meaning
>>>>>>> of word,
>>>>>>> like something that enables us to distinguish among the known
>>>>>>> and fixed in
>>>>>>> the matter of language culture objects. But one can have
>>>>>>> predsatavlenije
>>>>>>> without having understanding of the essence of the object.
>>>>>>> Thus the brilliant illustration of such divergence of two
>>>>>>> forms of
>>>>>> thinking
>>>>>>> (Predstavlenija and Ponıatia) are so called ³artificial notions?
>>>>>>> from
>>>>>>> Vygotsky-Sakharovıs experiments, as well as many similar
>>>>>>> constructions
>>>>>> from
>>>>>>> psychological theory. The artificial notion is an empty notion,
>>>>>>> which is
>>>>>>> something that cannot be understood not because their utmost
>>>>>>> complexity
>>>>>> but
>>>>>>> because their utmost vacancy. Logically as ³artifcial notion?we
>>>>>>> have an
>>>>>>> evident example of general definition (obshchego
>>>>>>> predstavlenija), not
>>>>>>> understanding (ne ponıatie). So it corresponds not with
>>>>>>> dialectic logic
>>>>>> both
>>>>>>> in its Hegel and Marxist form, but with formal logic, with logic
>>>>>>> of John
>>>>>>> Locke.
>>>>>>> And this distinction is not something academically formal but
>>>>>>> the core
>>>>>>> distinction for dialectically thinking researcher. Thus Davydov
>>>>>>> based all
>>>>>>> his theory of developmental instruction just on this
>>>>>>> distinction. (Iım
>>>>>> going
>>>>>>> to ask Peter Moxhay ?the translator of Davidovıs latest book -
>>>>>>> how he
>>>>>> cope
>>>>>>> the problem with insufficiency of English terminology in this
>>>>>>> case.)
>>>>>>> As for the idea of ³thinking body?it is equal to basically new
>>>>>>> and in
>>>>>> the
>>>>>>> same time genuine Marxist and Spinozian idea of thinking as not
>>>>>>> banal
>>>>>>> manipulation with words and other conventional signs, but as a
>>>>>>> special way
>>>>>>> of acting of one (active or ³thinking?body) according to the
>>>>>>> shape of the
>>>>>>> other body, taken in the moment of its live realization.
>>>>>>> All this was fundamentally explored in Ilyenkovıs works and I
>>>>>>> agree with
>>>>>> you
>>>>>>> that the joint rereading of this works would be extremely useful
>>>>>>> for all
>>>>>> of
>>>>>>> us as a step to rethinking the traditional understanding of CHAT.
>>>>>>> Sincerely,
>>>>>>> Sasha
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>> --
>>>>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>>> --
>>>>>> ----
>>>>>> Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
>>>>>> andy.blunden
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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