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RE: [xmca] Re: Kant and the Strange Situation
I was itching to enter the ?reflection? discussion for a long time, but the
lack of time hold me back of it. But now your question has left me no choice
:-). And that is good?
May I start from several particular remarks?
First of all I want to mention that ?Russians? concerning to the problem as
well as the very term ?reflection? have quite different attitude. The
majority of Russian researchers in psychology associates the term with
something specifically ?soviet? and prefers to look in tune with the times
to distance themselves from this category. The most ?creative? of them try
to enrich ?this narrow materialistic principle? with an additional principle
of distortion («princip iskajeniya »). The logic of this funny innovation
is evident. They have heard something about ?principle of reflection? and
?guess? that this principle explains how an individual can acquire adequate
ideas, ideas which are looking like ?mirror reflections? of an object. Than
how one can explain the way an individual elaborates something which hasn?t
its mirror copy in everyday reality say the idea of centaurs or non corrupt
politician in power (at least in Russia)? The answer for mentioned
researchers is evident: if you face difficulties in explanation the world
with one principle, you can easily put the axe in the helve by adding one or
more deficient principles (e.g. enrich the principle of activity with
principle of subjectivity or/and the principle of socialness). Just this
methodology I?ve described in my previous posts as an example of pure
So I have to specify that I?ll try to present not some non-existent
?Russian? position but position of Russian Marxists, position of Ilyenkov?s
school of thought. Alas it must be confessed that this position is not too
popular in Russia too. So if after this preface you don?t lose the
motivation to hear my explanation, I?ll start :-).
The fact is that the most of misunderstandings with ?principle of
reflection? take place when we mix up the clear philosophical ?principle of
reflection? with something vague which sometimes is called ?mirror metaphor?
or something of the kind. Even Vygotsky sowed his wild oats in the field of
?mirror metaphor? in his ?Historical meaning??. (Those who can read Russian
texts can find a discussion concerning this ?mirror metaphor? here:
Thus I?ll start with ?principle of reflection? as philosophical principle.
First of all I can?t agree with Boris?s definition of reflection ?as a
philosophical category including not only psychological but also physical
phenomena (otrazhenie in a mirror, traces in the sand, photography, etc.)?.
All this physical phenomena has little or better to say no relation to
reflection ?as a philosophical category?. Materialist philosophy needs in
the very idea of reflection (princip otrajeniya) to underline the fact that
human consciousness as well as animal?s psyche has material or objective
reality as a sole source of knowledge and that the objective reality is
cognizable. All our knowledge is nothing but more or less adequate
reflection (=cognition) of objective reality. We (both humans and animals)
as living creatures need adequate reflection of the environment to save and
to develop our life. The individuals with distorting ability ?to reflect?
the reality adequately has a few chances to survive. For animals that is
absolutely evident. For humans if we take them not as an isolated individual
but as a whole society it is evident as well. And that is the whole content
of ?principle of reflection? which can be shared by any materialist
beginning with Demokritus and finishing with Marx. All the rest discourses
about all kind of mirrors, or traces in the sand, or photographs are no
more than misunderstanding. The materialistic ?principle of reflection?
emphasizes the idea that the world is knowable and that thinking is a
reflection of the reality but it can say nothing about the crucial for
researchers question: ?How it is possible?? All hypothesis about ?mirroring?
nature of our sensations if we take them as the way to explain the mechanism
of the very possibility of sensation can only disorient the investigation.
Even more I can assure that in the history of Soviet psychology attempts to
base the psychological research directly on idea of reflection were utterly
counterproductive. And this counterproductivity starts in the silent
premise that allegedly ?according the materialistic approach? the process of
cognition is initiated from outside while the subject is only passive
polished stone (mirror) which can only passively perceive the external
stimuli. Surely the approach which starts from external stimuli and finishes
with bodily reaction is materialistic but evidently this type of materialism
has nothing to do with dialectical materialism of Karl Marx.
If we examine Vygotsky?s theoretic legacy from the standpoint of ?principle
of reflection? we will come to utterly entangled result. In the first place
he sincerely tried to follow philosophical ?principle of reflection? and in
his ?Historical meaning?? gives detailed description of the relation between
an object ?A?, it?s mirror reflection ?a? and physical processes realizing
the phenomenon of reflection ?X?. Alas, theoretic result of this reasoning
was poor. Vygotsky demonstrated lack of understanding of active nature of
psyche (consciousness) regarding physical processes ?X? as something which
exists objectively and even managing not to mention a human or an animal as
the subject of the process of contemplation (of mirror images). (It?s easy
to demonstrate that mirror reflection is entirely subjective, psychic
phenomenon in the sense that it is something that exists only in activity of
living subject and doesn?t exist outside of this activity. Even school
manuals illustrate virtual mirror image with the schemas which necessarily
include an object of reflection, a mirror and an eye of observer (i.e.
active subject). The position conceding the mirror virtual image without a
subject can be defined as a kind of ?mirror fetishism?.)
In the second place if we examine Vygotsky?s sign approach we can find that
his arbitrary signs involuntarily remind sings and hieroglyphs of
positivists which were criticized by Lenin in his ?Materialism and
Empiriocriticism?. In Soviet days this association was dangerous because it
sounds as ideological incrimination. Now we can simply state it as evident
fact and this fact speaks volumes about immaturity and inconsistency of
We have to repeat that we are far from accusation Vygotsky anyhow. A
researcher who starts the investigation of such a complicated object as
human consciousness is doomed on great number of mistakes which can be
overcome only in the long course of historical development of the science.
Leont?ev concerning the ?principle of reflection? evidently made a huge step
forward introducing into psychology the very idea of activity that is idea
of subject and subjectness. That is why he was more cautious than Vygotsky
and don?t repeat his doubtful ?mirror metaphor?.
But Leont?ev also stumbled over this specific principle. I mean that
Leont?ev in his attempt to conceptualize human cognition in logic of
activity didn?t make the last step to the logic of identity (of oppositions)
and still tried to find the mechanism of so called internalization or
reflection of ?external activity? into ?internal one? or even in
gestaltpsychological manner tried to establish the isomorphism (a kind of
mirroring) between ?external activity? and ?internal activity?.
>From the perspective of dialectical psychology (= from Spinozian
perspective) the ?external activity? can be a mirror copy of ?internal
activity? no more than profile of a head can be mirror copy of the face of
the same head. There are not two activities with the problematic task of
their interaction or mutual mirroring, but one and the same object oriented
activity though with two strictly opposite aspects.
And finally I want to mention the concept of so called ?naïve theory of
reflection? which has and still continues to have a disastrous effect on the
psychological theorizing. The infection of this ?naïve theory of reflection?
was shared by Vygotsky and Leont?ev and gestaltpschologists not to mention
the majority of others. It means the silent presupposition of magic ability
of some kind of objects (objects provided with psyche ) to have a subjective
image or picture of environment before any tangible object oriented
activity. In fact this magic ability is ability to be a subject before
Thus Vygotsky uses borrowed from gestaltpsychologie category of ?visual
field? which is clear example of ?naïve reflection? approach. This psyche
before psyche is an impressive example of atavisms of rough naturalism in
his attempt to build a ?cultural? psychology. Surely it was forgivable for
Vygotsky who didn?t know the concept of activity (I hope that we realize
that arbitrary frequent usage of a word ?activity? doesn?t mean to have an
idea or concept of object oriented activity), but it results Leont?ev and
Gal?perin who pretended to think as activists to rough contradiction. Thus
Gal?perin defines the psyche as a mean of orientation of an animal or human
in the situation when the real testing movements are impossible. He didn?t
guess that in fact this reasoning substantiates the necessity of psyche with
its developed distant forms of sensation like vision but it totally fails
solving the main theoretic problem: How it turns possible? In fact Gal?perin
presupposed an existence of subjective or mental world which can give a
subject a mirror virtual copy of the environment before any practical
contact of subject with the external world. Thus an activity in his theory
construed first of all as mental activity, moreover this mental activity
according Gal?perin is a condition of possibility of real tangible object
oriented activity. That is nothing but illustration to Marx? thesis:
?The main defect of all hitherto-existing materialism ? that of Feuerbach
included ? is that the Object [der Gegenstand], actuality, sensuousness, are
conceived only in the form of the object [Objekts], or of contemplation
[Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice [Praxis], not
subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in opposition to
materialism, was developed by idealism ? but only abstractly, since, of
course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such?.
Just this fantastic ability to have quite passive image of contemplation
which precedes the tangible object activity was conceptualized as
?reflection?, thus materialistic principle was used to substantiate the
idealist (dualist) psychology.
As a summary of the theme I can underline that reflection, ?principle of
reflection? is not just a term but a serious philosophical principle which
needs to be adequately understood in one of classical philosophical
traditions. Otherwise it can lead us to diametrically opposite result to the
one we desire.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Wednesday, January 28, 2009 12:28 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: Kant and the Strange Situation
I'd like to learn Sasha's views too. For one thing, I've been critical of
Ilyenkov (on the basis of little knowledge), a thinker who I know Sasha has
a strongly positive opinion of.
On 1/27/09 2:21 PM, "ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org" <ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org> wrote:
> Sasha, I believe you have leaked your
> mastery of Spinoza on this forum before, if it is not you I am thinking
> please forgive me.
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