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


Ilyenkov's essay is difficult, as he weaves in and out of the writings of
previous philosophers. I appreciate your holding my toes to the coals and
making me articulate whatever sense I can find in it!


On 2/24/09 12:33 PM, "Steve Gabosch" <stevegabosch@me.com> wrote:

> 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 ...
> Cheers,
> - 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 *(and
>> have to learn how to do).]
>> And I presume everyone agrees with LSV and me that solo action is
>> derivative
>> of and reducible to shared (concerted) activity, rather than the
>> other way
>> round.
>> 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 at
>> all, but rather a pure action (like sighing ostentatiously,
>> signalling 'no'
>> 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
>> speaking
>> 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, of
>> whatever nationality or political persuasion, thought the answers to
>> them
>> are.
>> 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?
>> Derek
>> http://www.derekmelser.org
>> 2009/2/23 Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
>>> 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!
>>> Andy
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Andy,
>>>> 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
>>> clearer
>>>> that when Ilyenkov writes that it is the task of philosophy to
>>>> clarify
>>>> "the distinction between the 'ideal' and the 'real' ('material'),"
>>>> what
>>> he
>>>> must mean is the distinction between what is ideal (and also
>>>> material)
>>> and
>>>> what is material (but not also ideal). I presume that this
>>>> distinction
>>> must
>>>> be drawn by humans (even philosophers are human!), using social
>>> practices.
>>>> If everything within social practice becomes ideal (if, as you put
>>>> it,
>>>> "every artifact is... ideal"), how could this task ever be
>>>> completed? I
>>> can
>>>> only infer that for Ilyenkov there are things within social
>>>> practice that
>>>> 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
>>> arms....
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 2/22/09 12:36 AM, "Andy Blunden" <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> Clearly he [Ilyenkov]
>>>>>> understands that it is a complete mistake to draw the line
>>>>>> between the
>>> ideal
>>>>>> and the material so that the mind is on one side and the world
>>>>>> on the
>>> other.
>>>>>> 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
>>> those
>>>>>> 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 ...
>>>>> Andy
>>>>>> 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
>>> as
>>>>>> 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
>>> world
>>>>>> 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
>>> of
>>>>>> ideal objects?
>>>>>> Ilyenkov argues that Marx used the term 'ideal' in the same way as
>>> Hegel,
>>>>>> but applied it to a completely different "range of phenomena":
>>>>>> "In Capital Marx quite consciously uses the term ³ideal² in this
>>>>>> formal
>>>>>> meaning that it was given by Hegel... although the
>>> philosophical-theoretical
>>>>>> interpretation of the range of phenomena which in both cases is
>>> similarly
>>>>>> designated ³ideal² is diametrically opposed to its Hegelian
>>> interpretation."
>>>>>> Martin
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>>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
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>>>> +61 3 9380 9435
>>> Skype andy.blunden
>>> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
>>> http://www.marxists.org/admin/books/index.htm
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