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Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 45, Issue 47: Ilyenkov on ideality and social relations
- To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Re: [xmca] Re: xmca Digest, Vol 45, Issue 47: Ilyenkov on ideality and social relations
- From: Derek Melser <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2009 11:55:26 +1300
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1. Are purpose-made artifacts (a USB key, say, or a road sign) objectively
observable physical phenomena?
2. Are people's actions objectively observable physical phenomena?
Yes, Steve, the word *objectively* is crucial. Any study claiming to be
scientific must employ objective observation methods. That is, all the
variables affecting the phenomenon under observation must be recorded and
controlled, phenomena under observation must be strictly quantifiable
(observing implies measuring), observations must be precisely repeatable (by
anyone anywhere employing the same observation techniques), and so on. And
it's no good saying '*Oh, that's just the physical sciences*' because there
ain't no other kind. Unless you employ *objective* observation methods, you
are not doing science. [Incidentally, I love science, particularly
neurophysiology, and zoology generally.]
What other kinds of observation, of observation method, are there? I am
interested in two in particular. First is the kind of informal everyday
objectivity that science is a rigorous version of. This is our shared
perception of things in the physical world. The objectivity of things in the
world, indeed the world itself, is simply a reflecton of the shareability
and repeatability of our perceptions. (Roughly, if they are not shareable
and repeatable, they're illusions not perceptions.)
However, the most interesting unscientific observation method, and by far
our most important everyday perceptual mode, is what I call 'empathic'
observation, or just 'empathy'. Other terms used to label it are: *verstehen
*, *re-enactment* (Collingwood), *interpretation*, *hermeneutics*, *
It seems to be as plain as day that our observations of other people's
actions are all, and must be, empathic rather than objective. In order to
see what action is being performed we have to see what the other is doing as
if we were doing it ourselves. We perceive the things (including any
artifacts) relevant to the action in much the same way as the actual agent
is perceiving them. We organise these perceptions, order and prioritise
them, etc., according to the action being performed. The action we are
imagining performing is the 'vehicle' for our perceptions. Indeed, to the
extent we are sharing the agent's perceptions we are actually
*imitating*him, doing them in concert with him, rather than merely
empathising. And my
claim is (and actually Vico's and Collingwood's and quite a few other
people's) that if you do not empathise, you simply do not perceive actions.
You might, if you had a biologist's hat handy to put on, see a human
organism exhibiting some macro-physiological activity – but you wouldn't see
George making a wry smile. You've got to empathise with George to see that.
Similarly, if George is making a cup of tea. If you have no experience of
making cups of tea, and you consequently cannot imagine doing what it is you
are observing, neither will you be able to identify what George is doing.
It also seems to me as plain as day that empathy is out of bounds for
*If you are doing science then, by definition, you are committing to
abandoning our everyday informal observation methods and adopting science's
strictly objective ones.
I have to say that I find the notion of 'sciences' of history, politics,
society, behaviour, economics, etc., as simply embarrassing. They are not
even would-be sciences. We can only be talking pretend-science.
As for the two questions: Are either artifacts or activities objectively
observable? My answer is no, of course they aren't. You have to empathise
the relevant activity before you can correctly identify either.
What does this have to do with Ilyenkov? Well, Ilyenkov is attempting to
solve exactly the same problem – about the incommensurability of objectivity
and activity (people's activity, *our own *activity) – that I am raising
here. He concentrates on artifacts, things made for a purpose, and
distinguishes them from natural physical. phenomena by saying that they have
the property of 'ideality'. He then defines ideality in terms of activity
and thus ends up saying that artifacts have a certain activity 'implicit in
them' or they 'bespeak' or 'represent' that activity. A bicycle pump
'implies' or 'signifies' the action of pumping up a tyre. Well, this is
perfectly sensible but it doesn't take us very far. It's just saying that
the activity is somehow 'in' the object, 'inherent' in it. This is a fairly
unimaginative metaphor is it not?
To my mind it is much more fruitful to think of the problem as *not* being
about the *ontology* of the artifact or activity respectively, but instead
being about the observation technique being employed by the observer. That
is where the distinctions should be made. In order to identify an artifact –
in order to see it for what it is – we have to ourselves incipiently
rehearse the relevant use-activity. And this imaginative rehearsal or
re-enactment on our part straight away rules out the kind of objectivity
that a scientist must maintain.
2009/2/25 Steve Gabosch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Derek, I am curious, instead of just observable you say 'objectively
> observable' - are you distinguishing the concept from just 'plain'
> observable, or from 'subjectively' observable (whatever that is), or,
> perhaps, from objectively 'invisible'? Just curious. If I take your
> questions in their everyday sense, I would answer as Andy did, yes and yes,
> for what that's worth. I wonder who would say no, and why.
> As for Martin's question which has been driving this thread, what did
> Ilyenkov say and mean, I think we should try to keep on track with that.
> Martin and this thread has gotten me to take a new and more thorough than
> ever look at the essay The Concept of the Ideal again, and I am grateful for
> that. That essay had a big influence on me when I first came around CHAT
> about 6 years ago, and it is continuing to teach me now.
> Once I began to grasp those ideas, the power of cultural-historical
> methodology and activity theory began to sink in for me. Ilyenkov stresses
> that the boundary between the material and the ideal is fundamental to
> philosophy, and one of the interesting things he does in this essay is trace
> the different approaches to ideality taken by Plato and Hegel, which he
> contrasts in detail with Kant, and then shows how Marx revolutionized the
> whole concept with his rigorously materialist approach to consciousness and
> activity. It is an interesting way of looking at the entire history of
> Western philosophy.
> Interestingly, a central aspect of the essay is that it is really a
> correction of Marx. Marx never uses the term ideality the way Ilyenkov uses
> the term. Ilyenkov analyzes a number of places where Marx uses the term,
> correcting him each time. I went back to some of those quotes. There is
> one paragraph in Capital Ilyenkov points to where Marx uses the term about
> five times. But each time, Marx uses the term as a synonym for mental, for
> consciousness, just as Hegel did. So Ilyenkov spends some time explaining
> that, gently correcting Marx. But Ilyenkov's main argument and thrust, of
> course, is that Marx, especially in his study of exchange value and use
> value, very much uses the **concept** of ideality as Ilyenkov explains it.
> Ilyenkov uses the term ideality as a synonym for actually two kinds of
> things: artifacts, and human activities when engaged with artifacts,
> including goals and needs. But only when the two things are together, in
> motion. Sociocultural motion, if you will. His very last point in this
> essay is that if you want to see ideality, you can't separate the artifacts
> and activities, you have to see them together, as a process, as an unceasing
> process of mutual transformation. This may be part of the some of the
> difficulty of a text-based email discussion, which focuses by nature on
> words like "object" and "artifact" and abstract things like "definitions."
> Always a hazard of philosophical inquiry, those frozen words. It just
> takes a little work sometimes to get them to thaw them out and get them to
> reflect the right motions.
> What Ilyenkov is aiming at doing in this essay, I believe, is completing
> the revolutionary way of looking at human activity that underlies Marx's
> Capital. Human life isn't just a matter of labor being reflected in the
> exchange value of commodities, he explains - human life is a matter of human
> activity being represented in **all** artifacts. (Unless there are two
> kinds of artifacts in this regard, of course). And just as Marx discovered
> the secret of value, so elusive to bourgeois economists, he also discovered
> the secret of ideality, so elusive to idealist philosophers. The answer to
> the puzzle is the same for both - it's all about labor, or more generally,
> activity. The secret of value, the secret of all artifacts, the secret of
> meaning itself, the secret of ideality: is activity.
> Well, that is my take on Ilyenkov's concept.
> On your presumptions, by the way, I am uncomfortable with your suggestion
> that individual action is reducible to shared activity. It is certainly
> based on it and derived from it, but individuals can and do add their own
> idiosyncratic twists and complexities to the cultural and social activities
> they interiorize and actualize, additions that don't "reduce." I have in
> mind the fact that some can turn such complexities into rather fine works of
> art that others cherish - and all kinds of forms of creativity, (some of
> which are cherished more than others!).
> My reasoning here is based on ideas from dialectics and complex systems
> theory, where I would place the psychology of the individual at one of the
> highest levels of complexity in the human system. This notion is
> counterintuitive to the usual idea that groups of people are more complex
> than single individuals, and societies the most complex of all.
> Certainly, the complexities of say the economic system are very real, and
> that lays the foundation of a society, according to my thinking. On top of
> that are many complex levels of superstructure, where, as we ascend, things
> keep getting more complex, with more degrees of freedom emerging, and
> entities gaining increased sensitivity to small changes, until we get to the
> psychology of a single individual, perhaps the crowning achievement of the
> whole shebang. At the same time as possessing their ultracomplex mind, this
> thing that can "contemplate," this individual, is also participating at all
> the "lower" levels. At the biological level this mind is a brain with
> neurons, and that is itself a highly complex thing. At the economic level,
> that mind is perhaps a worker, a home dweller, a commuter. At the social,
> historical, cultural levels, perhaps a parent, an artist. And so on. The
> Big Challenge in my mind is how to grasp and make sense of all these things
> happening at the same time.
> A key to this, in my view, is to try to understand how each of these
> "levels" that humans engage in obeys its own unique laws of development,
> while also interacting with other levels in often very intricate ways, and
> again, in its unique manner. Thus, an artist-painter interacts with the
> laws of aesthetics AND the law of value - and the laws of optics - and much
> more. And somehow puts them altogether and paints something no one else
> ever has, or will, again.
> This may be part of the problem with this pesky units of analysis issue -
> when we are talking about the psychology of an individual human, we are
> talking about something sitting at the top of the most complex heap of
> physical, biological, social, historical, cultural, and individual
> developmental processes in the known universe. It may make sense, in my
> view, to look for a **constellation** of units of analysis, microcosms, and
> germ cells. The scientific problem may lie more in figuring out how to
> coordinate them, than discover new ones.
> The units of analyses we often discuss on xmca - word-meaning, mediated
> action, concerted action, class struggle, conditional reflexes, the
> cathartic experience, are ALL relevant to the psychology of an individual.
> My question is: what happens when we claim we have found the one that the
> others can be reduced to?
> Ilyenkov, interestingly, made a big contribution to this discussion, too.
> His best known work is The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in
> Marx's Capital (1960), where he elaborates on concept of the concrete
> universal. Perhaps that concept could shed some light on the
> u-of-a/cell/microcosm puzzle. But that is another discussion.
> Back to Martin's question and the topic of this thread ... Ilyenkov begins
> his essay with a discussion of how the term 'ideality' is used in different
> contexts. Derek, I am curious, from the concerted action theory point of
> view you have developed, what is your concept of the ideal, where you would
> find the boundary between ideality and the material, how would you analyze
> this problem of the artifact? I suspect your questions about USB keys and
> people's actions are leading toward something ...
> - Steve
> On Feb 23, 2009, at 5:53 PM, Derek Melser wrote:
> Dear Andy, Martin, Steve, David and other contributors to this thread,
>> Let me butt in here, possibly a bit cheekily...
>> I presume everyone agrees with LSV and me that consciousness (including
>> perceiving and thinking) and speech are actions of the person. [Even if
>> consciousness covers, or qualifies, a whole range of actions ('conscious
>> action'), it is still fundamentally actional – still something we *do
>> have to learn how to do).]
>> And I presume everyone agrees with LSV and me that solo action is
>> of and reducible to shared (concerted) activity, rather than the other way
>> And I presume everyone agrees that LSV sometimes describes speech as if it
>> were the using of purpose-made artifacts (words qua 'tools') and at other
>> times describes speech as if it were not an artifact-using kind of action
>> all, but rather a pure action (like sighing ostentatiously, signalling
>> or plucking a grape). [I agree with the 'pure action' view. A written word
>> is a graphic representation of an act of speaking. But that act of
>> is not literally a matter of 'using a word'. Even Skinner saw that.]
>> Whichever side we come down on on the 'words as artifacts' issue, we still
>> have to face the fact that there are such things as purpose-made artifacts
>> and they are somehow to be distinguished from natural phenomena. And there
>> are such things as people's actions too. These also have to be
>> distinguished, somehow, from natural phenomena.
>> We are left with two very important questions. I personally would much
>> rather know what the answers to them are than know what any past scholar,
>> whatever nationality or political persuasion, thought the answers to them
>> 1. Are purpose-made artifacts (a USB key, say, or a road sign) objectively
>> observable physical phenomena?
>> 2. Are people's actions objectively observable physical phenomena?
>> 2009/2/23 Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
>> I think I need to start saying things like 'ideal aspect' or
>>> referring to 'ideality'. (Almost) everything made by human
>>> labour has 'significance' or 'meaning' and this does not
>>> exclude the fact that many properties of a thing may be
>>> natural rather than ideal. The provenance of a coin
>>> incorporates it within a country's money system, but none of
>>> the physical properties of it establish that provenance,
>>> because coutnerfeiters are clever. But the tarnishing of
>>> silver coins is not an artefact, that is a natural of all
>>> silver coins. I think 'ideality' is a property of certain
>>> things which is quite distinct from any physical property.
>>> How do you describe what sort of property is ideality?
>>> Thinking about why Marx's analysis of money is so central
>>> (for Ilyenkov for example) to a solution of the problem of
>>> the ideal, and not just the nature of capitalism. I think
>>> money is a kind of 'microcosm' (to link this to the
>>> discussion with Nicolai).
>>> People can say words are just made up, conventional symbols,
>>> but words are just like money, and people think that money
>>> is just a conventional symbol, too. The way money emerged
>>> from thousands of years of human practice demonstrated how
>>> the ideal emerges out of the practice of bringing things
>>> into elation with one another in labour processes. I want to
>>> think about this some more, MArtin, and thank you for your
>>> continual challenges!
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Once again you're pointing out what is material for Ilyenkov. I didn't
>>>> bother to emphasize what things are material, because Ilyenkov is a
>>>> materialist. Everything in his ontology is material. He is a monist!
>>>> But he still wants to draw distinctions. I should probably have been
>>>> that when Ilyenkov writes that it is the task of philosophy to clarify
>>>> "the distinction between the 'ideal' and the 'real' ('material')," what
>>>> must mean is the distinction between what is ideal (and also material)
>>>> what is material (but not also ideal). I presume that this distinction
>>>> be drawn by humans (even philosophers are human!), using social
>>>> If everything within social practice becomes ideal (if, as you put it,
>>>> "every artifact is... ideal"), how could this task ever be completed? I
>>>> only infer that for Ilyenkov there are things within social practice
>>>> are material (of course) but not ideal. And then it follows that only
>>>> certain material things within social practice are (also) ideal.
>>>> What are these ideal (yet material) things? Images, monuments, money,
>>>> drawings, models, and "such symbolic objects" as banners, coats of
>>>> On 2/22/09 12:36 AM, "Andy Blunden" <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> Clearly he [Ilyenkov]
>>>>>> understands that it is a complete mistake to draw the line between the
>>>> and the material so that the mind is on one side and the world on the
>>>> But he evidently still wants to draw the line. My interpretation is
>>>>> that he
>>>> wants to draw it between those social artifacts that become ideal and
>>>> that do not.
>>>>> I don't think this is right Martin, though Ilyenkov focusses
>>>>> so much on Marx's treatment of money, one wonders ... If
>>>>> there is to be a line, then it would be between artificial
>>>>> and natural, (i.e., part of a labour process or not part of
>>>>> a labour process) or between the mental and the material
>>>>> (see the commentary on Kant's idea about the real talers in
>>>>> his pocket). But even then there could be no actual thing
>>>>> which was wholly ideal or natural. Both the ideal and the
>>>>> natural can be material and can be reflected in
>>>>> consciousness. Ideal things are ideal from the beginning to
>>>>> the end of their perception by an individual, that's the
>>>>> point I think.
>>>>> Looking at any given artefact, there are things about it
>>>>> which are incidental with respect to any labour process and
>>>>> other things which can be understood only in relation to
>>>>> their meaning in some labour process. Every artefact is (as
>>>>> I read it) both natural and ideal.
>>>>> I take the materiality of a thing to be its existence
>>>>> outside of consciousness and its connection with every other
>>>>> material thing in hte universe. Materiality is therefore a
>>>>> property of an ideal such as a coin as much as it is a
>>>>> property of the other side of the moon. Hegel of course
>>>>> "mistakenly" thought that ideality existed in Nature.
>>>>> In his book about Lenin, Ilyenkov says:
>>>>> 'Consciousness' let us take this term as Lenin did is
>>>>> the most general concept which can only be defined by
>>>>> clearly contrasting it with the most general concept of
>>>>> 'matter', moreover as something secondary, produced and derived.
>>>>> You've raised some interesting issues in this email Martin.
>>>>> I need to think some more about it ...
>>>>> I think, in fact, that the interpretation you are offering is
>>>>> attributed by
>>>> Ilyenkov to Hegel. For Hegel, he says (along with other idealists such
>>>> Popper and Plato):
>>>>>> "what begins to figure under the designation of the ³real world² is an
>>>>>> already ³idealised² world, a world already assimilated by people, a
>>>> already shaped by their activity, the world as people know it, as it is
>>>>>> presented in the existing forms of their culture."
>>>>>> This is your position too, isn't it - that the social world is made up
>>>> ideal objects?
>>>>>> Ilyenkov argues that Marx used the term 'ideal' in the same way as
>>>> but applied it to a completely different "range of phenomena":
>>>>>> "In Capital Marx quite consciously uses the term ³ideal² in this
>>>>>> meaning that it was given by Hegel... although the
>>>> interpretation of the range of phenomena which in both cases is
>>>> designated ³ideal² is diametrically opposed to its Hegelian
>>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>> http://home.mira.net/%7Eandy/>+61 3 9380 9435
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