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[xmca] Wolves and Ilyenkov
I have a confession to make. I have tried several times to read the work of Evald Ilyenkov, and given up in total confusion each time. In trying to make sense of Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech, and then of Carol and Paula's paper, I though I made something of a breakthrough. But now I am not so sure.
It seemed to me that the three basic layers of concept formation (which I think of as a kind of palimpsest, because of course even the most basic layer is still there when we reach the higher levels) correspond to SUBJECT, OBJECT and IDEA, more or less as expressed in Hegel's "Logic".
The syncretic heap is simply formed by the subject's purely subjective activity: "this with that". The complex is formed by concrete, perceptual links, which are abstracted and generalized first as actual features and then as increasingly abstract qualities (which is why color and shape have to come before diameter, height and weight). Only the idea is formed by the resynthesis of abstract qualities into a new quality.
I see this often in data. When we play games, we often start like this:
a) T: Do you like games?
Ss: Yaaaa! Shinanda! (yes, they are fun!)
b) T: Well, this is a game. The name of the game is "Find the banana!" See...here is a banana. And here is a card. (T introduces cards and hides banana behind one of them.)
c) (Children try to find the banana by asking questions suggested by the cards) T: There it is! Who wins? Why?
We can see that the initial orientation in a) is purely subjective, almost syncretic. The concrete objects introduced in b) are really associative complexes (and that explains the purely factual, objective link between the card and the banana) and the abstract rule expressed in c) really corresponds to a generalization of abstract qualities that inhered in the activities that precededed it: a concept.
I found Paula and Carol's paper very useful in bringing this out. But I ALSO found that the experiment itself OBSCURES the palimpsestic quality of the final concept, because the child really has to start over from scratch a lot. As one of their subjects remarked, it's really quite easy, but it's really quite difficult. It's easy because ALL of the blocks are quite clearly implicated in the final solution, but it's difficult because they are apparently implicated in very different ways (but only apparently) and you have to start over again each time.
Of course, we do not REALLY arrive at concepts by this kind of trial and error. Yet this morning, tackling Ilyenkov unsuccessfully for the millionth time (I think I must read him by trial and error) I came upon the following passage on p. 1 of Andy's new complilation, "The Ideal in Human Activity".
"In philosophy, more than in any other science, as Hegel remarke with some regret in his Phenomenologyof Mind, 'the end or final result seems...to have absolutely expressed the complete fact (?) itself in its very nature (??); contrasted with that (???) the mere process of bringing it to life would seem, properly speaking, to have no essential significance."
Right. OK. The complete fact (whatever that and its nature is) is more important than the method we use to bring it to life. So presumably this is a good excuse for saying that the means by which the child discovers the concept in the blocks exercise doesn't matter; it is the complete fact of the solution that matters. So we can ignore (at least for the moment) the essential differences between the circumstances of concept formation in Chapter Five (the blocks experiment) and Chapter Six (a real classroom). Ilyenkov remarks that "this is very aptly put". Not the word that springs to my mind, I'm afraid; is EVI being ironic?
Ilyenkov himself contradicts this on the very next page:
"When dialectics is converted into a simple tool for proving a previously accepted (or given) thesis, it becomes a sophistry only outwardly resembling dialectics but empty of content. And if it is true that real dialectical logic takes on life not in 'naked results' and not in the 'tendency' of the movement of thought but only in the form of 'the result along with the process of arriving at it', then during the exposition of dialectics as logic, we must reckon with this truth (?)."
So real logic is not naked results or processes of thinking but the result with the process of arriving at it. That's more like it. Now it looks like Chapter Five (where we look at naked results) is very different from Chapter Six. Except that in the NEXT paragraph, he changes his mind again.
"Our one 'object' or 'subject matter' in general and on the whole is thought, thinking; and dialectical Logic has as its aim the development of a scientific representation of thought in those necessary moments, and moreover in the necessary sequence, that do not in the least depend either on our will or on our consciousness."
Damn! So much for a) subject and c) idea, not to mention the palimpsest of results set off against processes that I was trying to set up in my mind. No will, so no syncretism. No consciousness, so no concept. Dialectical logic has to do without both. So what IS there?
Well, this is what Ilyenkov says, but I don't understand a word of it, and I don't even think it is grammatical:
"Dialectical logic is therefore not only a universal scheme of subjective activity creatively transforming nature but is also at the same time a universal scheme of the changing of any natural or socio-historical material in which this (?) activity is fulfilled and with the objective requirements of which (??) it is always connected."
"This activity" is subjective activity, yes? "Of which" presumably means "with which", and "it" refers to subjective activity. Without will? Without consciousness?
Seoul National University of Education
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