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Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 45, Issue 47: Ilyenkov on ideality and social relations


I have been looking carefully through the text of "The Concept of the
Ideal." I think there is evidence to support both our interpretations, but
(of course!) I see more that supports mine.

At times Ilyenkov does write as though all artifacts are not only social but
also ideal. But more often I think he drawing a distinction. Life is too
short for me to learn Russian to check the original.

My reluctance to accept your reading, that *any* artifact "contains"
ideality stems from this. First, if all artifacts are ideal then there would
be no distinction between the material and the ideal. Ilyenkov describes how
even the stars are observed in terms of human interests and concerns, and
seen as time-keepers and calendars. Our only contact with the material is
mediated by social forms of life. But if every artifact is also ideal, there
seems no way to distinguish the two.

Second, ideality is a relation between two specific objects. As you rightly
point out, Ilyenkov takes the analysis by Marx of the commodity-form as a
paradigm case of ideality. An object is ideal when its existence embodies or
represents the form of another object. If all artifacts were ideal, what
would they represent? Each would represent another, which would represent
another, which....?

It's as though all objects were commodities, all the time. How could we ever

If I'm correct in this reading there is an interesting difference between
Ilyenkov and Leontiev. The latter writes that:

"For man a tool is not only an object with a certain external shape and
certain mechanical properties; he sees it as an object embodying socially
developed ways of acting with it, i.e. labour operations. An adequate
relation between man and tool is therefore primarily expressed
in his appropriating (practically or theoretically-only in
their significance) the operations fixed in it, by developing
his own human abilities" (p. 296)

...and one of his favorite examples is the young child using a spoon.

But the operations that *made* a spoon are completely different from the
practices in which one *uses* a spoon to eat. Throughout "Problems in the
Development of Mind" Leontiev shifts too and fro between claiming that the
child becomes conscious by simply *using* a spoon, and recognizing that
*adult guidance* is needed. An example of the latter kind of explanation:
"[The adult] helps the baby and intervenes in its action; in the *joint*
action thus arising the baby gets the knack of using a spoon. It has now
mastered the spoon as a human object" (p. 424). (I still haven't had time to
reconstruct the jumbled chronology in this book.)

My point is that Leontiev's claim that "the advances of humanity" are
"embodied" in *all* social objects gets him into trouble, because with an
object like a spoon, a tool (which for Ilyenkov would *not* be an ideal
object), he always has to add social interaction to get the ontogenesis
done. It may be that by identifying a *specific* kind of 'ideal' object
Ilyenkov is able to avoid this problem.


On 2/19/09 7:55 AM, "Steve Gabosch" <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

> Martin, Andy, at the risk of getting sidetracked from the main and
> very valuable discussion about units of analysis and microcosms of
> consciousness (which is not my intent), here is my take on what
> Ilyenkov what saying about the ideal:  any artifact or even any action
> (or even any word-meaning form or word-sense form) with social and
> cultural meaning "has" or "contains" ideality because it manifests
> human social relations.  Hence, even the wine bottles on our table at
> the end of the evening, according to this interpretation, would have
> ideality.  In this view, there would still be social relations
> embodied in those bottles, even after the wine was long gone.  The
> metaphor I am using regarding ideality being "possessed" or "embodied"
> might be problematic, but I don't think it will interfere with this
> particular explanation.  See what you think.
> Ilyenkov's core argument, as I see it, was this:  just as a material
> artifact (a use-value, made with concrete labor) in a commodity
> exchange has exchange value (socially necessary abstract labor), so
> too would any cultural artifact in an action, (including the action
> itself), have ideality.  In other words, if an object, physical or
> imagined, has some kind of sociocultural meaning and status, it has
> ideality.  In this view, the Marxist labor theory of value is a
> special case of the general theory of ideality, which in turn is an
> application of the cultural-historical theory of activity.
> Note the caveat about an object having "sociocultural" meaning and
> status.  An individual that invents meanings unknown to others is not,
> strictly speaking, creating ideality, any more than anything a worker
> produces will automatically have exchange value in the market.
> Ideality, according to this definition, is sociocultural, not
> idiocultural.  Not all signs and other artifacts, therefore, are
> ideal.  Just socially understood ones are.  This distinction between
> the socio- and idio-, of course, can get tricky.  Especially, perhaps,
> after a few bottles of wine  :-))
> Also, note that this definition of ideality is not about an "ideal
> object" necessarily being a symbol, or a representation, or about
> being any kind of a sign at all.  Any socioculturally meaningful
> object will qualify as having "ideality" if it is indeed being engaged
> with by people in an activity of some kind.  One example of ideality
> might be the unicorn that we together imagine joining us at our
> table.  Another example might be the cork from one of our wine bottles
> that was kicked under the table.  It would have ideality for the
> person who picks it up and is able to infer something about what we
> were drinking, even after we have gone.  As for ideality in literature
> and drama, there is perhaps no place it is more recognized and
> carefully investigated than in the detective story!  LOL
> And also note that from this point of view the distinction between
> "artifact" and "action" can be set aside at this level of discussion,
> where we are viewing reality as a whole as being comprised of material
> objects, but are suggesting that certain objects have both materiality
> and something else - ideality.  What gives certain objects this extra
> quality?  According to this interpretation of Ilyenkov's concept of
> ideality, material objects have ideality, that is, are imbued with the
> ideal, when they are socioculturally engaged with by humans.  Just as
> manual tools become extensions of our limbs, cultural artifacts and
> actions become extensions of our relationships.  Ideality is the
> cultural and linguistic result of extending human social relations to
> known, and imagined, objects and universes.
> To sum up, no matter what package a socioculturally-regarded object
> comes in, if it exists, it therefore has materiality, because it is in
> the nature of the known universe of matter and energy for all objects
> to be material; and if this object has sociocultural meaning to
> humans, it therefore has ideality, because it is reflecting human
> social relations.
> A closing remark.  In this perspective, both Nature and God lose their
> places at the center of the universe, where philosophically-minded
> humans sometimes try to gauge reality from.  Both Nature and God, in
> this perspective, have been replaced by a new kind of ultimate, and
> very earthly object - human social relations.  Which is not to say
> that humans are now free to ignore the laws of physics, biological
> evolution, socio-historical development, or individual psychological
> development.  Heavens no!  It is precisely in the discovery and
> harnessing of these necessary regularities and variations of reality
> wherein human freedom lies.  One of my favorite versions of this idea
> is codified in the saying "freedom is the realization of necessity."
> This is one of the great insights that Hegel, Marx, Vygotsky and
> others help us understand and put into practice.  As for advocating
> the replacement of God - and especially, his or her tenacious
> advocate, Dualism - well, that is another story to discuss, one which
> may take uncorking a few more bottles of wine ... :-))
> - Steve

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