From: Ed Wall <ewall who-is-at>
Date: Tue Apr 29 2008 - 20:00:20 PDT


     Thanks for the clarifications. I must admit to agreeing with what
you say in your last sentences below and that was largely why I
entered the conversation. Perhaps, a question is whether 'concept' is
that 'what else' that is needed? This is something the Dreyfus crowd
think hard about. I suspect I need to do a little reading.


>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 "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? The latter is something banal
>>>>>>>> and
>>>>>>>> doesn't need the first. No one of semiotics will disagree with
>>>>>>>> the
>>>>>>> statement
>>>>>>>> that each artifact has some "cultural meaning? while all of them
>>>>>>>> have
>>>>>>>> hardly ever heard the very concept of "thinking body?and
>>>>>>>> evidently don't
>>>>>>>> need in this notion.
>>>>>>>> As well we never declare something like the statement "that 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 "of 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
>>>>>>>> "scientific 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
>>>>>>>> "scientific
>>>>>>>> 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 "the
>>>>>>>> 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 can't 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
>>>>>>> can't 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 = pon'atie, and Vorstellung = predstavlenije.
>>>>>>>> The highest form in development of thinking is obviously pon'atie
>>>>>>> (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 Pon'atia) are so called "artificial notions?
>>>>>>>> from
>>>>>>>> Vygotsky-Sakharov's 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 "artifcial notion?we
>>>>>>>> have an
>>>>>>>> evident example of general definition (obshchego
>>>>>>>> predstavlenija), not
>>>>>>>> understanding (ne pon'atie). 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. (I'm
>>>>>>> going
>>>>>>>> to ask Peter Moxhay ?the translator of Davidov's latest book -
>>>>>>>> how he
>>>>>>> cope
>>>>>>>> the problem with insufficiency of English terminology in this
>>>>>>>> case.)
>>>>>>>> As for the idea of "thinking 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 "thinking?body) according to the
>>>>>>>> shape of the
>>>>>>>> other body, taken in the moment of its live realization.
>>>>>>>> All this was fundamentally explored in Ilyenkov's 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
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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