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Re: [xmca] Vygotsky and Behaviourism

I agree with Mike from the other day, Andy, David etc. that an historical analysis of behaviorism, reflexology, reactology etc. would be very helpful.

On one of Andy's questions, Vygotsky has a clear and helpful answer. He explains, in simple textbook descriptions, reactions and reflexes in Educational Psychology (1926/1997). This book has a style and form of writing I have not seen anywhere else in Vygotsky's work, and has a very different purpose. He is not trying to reflect his own thinking, per se, but generalize on the ideas of reflexology - and world psychology - in ways useful to teachers. It is an "experimental textbook." The book must be read with this in mind.

He explains "... in the present book, I have often had to present the views of other researchers, and to translate concepts developed by other writers into my own terminology, as in any systematic presentation. I have been able to express my own thoughts only in passing, and mixed in with those of other writers. Nevertheless, I am of the belief that the present volume represents not just a novel experiment in the construction of a course of educational psychology, but also an attempt at the construction of a new type of textbook." pg xix

Anyway, back to Andy's question. Chapter 2, The Concept of Behavior and Reaction, has a description of the three components of a reaction - the sensory component, the component associated with transforming the stimuli into an internal process, and the motor component, which in higher animals may be termed the central component, the central nervous system.

It goes on to describe reactions and reflexes. "In animals that possess a nervous system, reactions tend to assume the form of what is known as a *reflex*. By a reflex we generally understand in physiology any act of the organism that is induced by some external stimulation of the nervous system, which is transmitted along an afferent nerve to the brain, and from there along an efferent nerve, automatically inducing a movement or a secreting of a working organ .... Certain scientists have recently begun to insist on referring to human reactions as reflexes, and have begun to call the science of human animal reactions, *reflexology*.

"However, such a substitution of terms is unwarranted. As can be easily seen from its description, a reflex is only a special case of a reaction, that is, it is a reaction of the nervous system. Thus, a reflex is a concept which is narrowly physiological in nature, while a reaction is one which is broadly biological in nature." pg 15-16.

- Steve

On Feb 10, 2009, at 11:12 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

It would be helpful to clarify this wouldn't it, David.
In Vygotsky's speech, when he says:

"Classical reflexology ... reduces everything to a common denominator. And precisely because this principle is too all- embracing and universal it does not yield a direct scientific means for the study of its particular and individual forms."

I took this to be a damning criticism of reflexology, but maybe "reaction" is different from "reflex"?

On "Behaviourism," I have always taken this word in a very broad sense as including all those approaches which say that "consciousness" is not a legitimate object for science.

Vygotsky says: "Consciousness is only the reflex of reflexes" which he says have a "social origin". And he says this in the context of praising Wm James. But he goes on to *criticise* reflexology for *excluding* mental pheneomena from its investigations, i.e., he criticises reflexology for what I have always called behaviourism (though I may be eccentric in that use of the word).

So my reading he criciises reflexology and behaviourism, but to different readers he is both a reflexologist and a behaviourist. :) As he says: "Kings are not always royalists."

As Alice would say: "mysteriouser and mysteriouser."


David Kellogg wrote:
On p. 31 of "Making of Mind", Luria writes of arriving in Moscow from Kazan in 1923: "The situation in the institute when I arrived was peculiar indeed. All of the laboratories had been renamed to include the term 'reactions': there was a laboratory of visual reactions (perception), of mnemonic reactions (memory), of emotional reactions, and so forth. All this was meant to eliminate any traces of subjective psychology and to replace it with a kind of behaviorism." Luria clearly thinks that "reactology" really was a kind of relabelled behaviorism. So do I!
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
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Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden
Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:

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