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Re: [xmca] Wolves and Ilyenkov
Ilyenkov can indeed seem very hard to comprehend. I have appended
something below that might help.
With a little work parsing some of his passages, I think Ilyenkov can
actually be quite understandable. I believe the hardest part of
understanding Ilyenkov, besides having to sometimes machete one's way
through his occasionally unwieldy sentence structures, is getting a
handle on how he conceptualizes reality (as it pertains to humans) as
simultaneously material and ideal, and dialectical motion (again as it
pertains to humans) as simultaneously objective and subjective.
I think some of his passages get tricky because he is making sure both
the material and ideal as well as the objective and subjective aspects
of whatever he is describing are all being accounted for in their
"fullness," to use one of his favorite words. It can take some work
to fully grasp the ways Ilyenkov sometimes does this.
I happen to find the effort worthwhile. Davydov, I am discovering,
was highly influenced by Ilyenkov, as are many others in CHAT.
I have taken several Ilyenkov essays and worked them pretty much in
the manner I have done below, annotating each paragraph or sentence
with a paraphrasing of his words and other forms of commentary. I am
attempting to reflect, as precisely as I can, the meaning I think he
intended. I find this method very helpful. It does, however, take
Below is the essay by Ilyenkov that David posted about, the
Introduction to his book of essays Dialectical Logic (1977). In this
version, I have written little annotations, mostly paraphrases of the
original sentences, followed by the original Ilyenkov sentence. See
what you think. Try reading just what I wrote - it should read pretty
fast - and then compare it to the Ilyenkov. It is a short, simple,
and very interesting little essay, once one gets past the difficult
If someone thinks I am reading something wrong, which I certainly
might be, please say something. Just as Ilyenkov says that
formulating a systematic exposition of dialectical logic is a
collective effort, so is trying to comprehend Ilyenkov.
original from http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/essays/essayint.htm
Dialectical Logic, Essays on its History and Theory
by Evald Ilyenkov, written 1974, published in English by Progress
[Annotations, consisting of paraphrases preceding the original
sentences, are by Steve Gabosch. September 2009. –sg]
[1. A systematically developed exposition of materialist dialectics,
a ‘Logic’, as envisioned by Lenin, is acutely needed today. –sg]
The task, bequeathed to us by Lenin, of creating a Logic (with a
capital ‘L’), i.e. of a systematically developed exposition of
dialectics understood as the logic and theory of knowledge of modern
materialism, has become particularly acute today.
[2. Only Marxist-Leninist dialectics has the ability to be the method
of scientific understanding and practical activity in today’s world. –
The clearly marked dialectical character of the problems arising in
every sphere of social life and scientific knowledge is making it more
and more clear that only Marxist-Leninist dialectics has the capacity
to be the method of scientific understanding and practical activity,
and of actively helping scientists in their theoretical comprehension
of experimental and factual data and in solving the problems they meet
in the course of research.
[3. Writings relevant to this project are accumulating. They can
serve as building blocks toward a future ‘Logic’. –sg]
In the past ten or fifteen years, quite a few works have been written
devoted to separate branches that are part of the whole of which we
still only dream; they can justly be regarded as paragraphs, even
chapters, of the future Logic, as more or less finished blocks of the
building being erected.
[4. Cementing these blocks together will take a collective effort. –sg]
One cannot, of course, cement these ‘blocks’ mechanically into a
whole; but since the task of a systematic exposition of dialectical
logic can only be solved by collective efforts, we must at least
determine the most general principles of joint work.
[5. The collection of essays in this book address some of the general
principles of this joint effort. –sg]
In the essays presented here we attempt to concretise some of the
points of departure of such collective work.
[6. Hegel made an interesting remark about philosophy. He said that,
on one hand, the end results of philosophy express the complete facts
themselves in their very nature, whereas, on the other hand, the mere
process of bringing these facts to light has no essential
In philosophy, more than in any other science, as Hegel remarked with
some regret in his Phenomenology of 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
light would seem, properly speaking, to have no essential significance’.
[7. This is aptly put. So long as dialectical logic is viewed merely
as a process for bringing facts and theses to light, it will remain,
as Hegel said, something of ‘no essential significance.’ –sg]
That is very aptly put.
So long as dialectics (dialectical logic) is looked upon as a simple
tool for proving a previously accepted thesis (irrespective of whether
it was initially advanced as the rules of mediaeval disputes required,
or only disclosed at the end of the argument, in order to create the
illusion of not being preconceived, that is, of saying: “Look, here is
what we have obtained although we did not assume it”), it will remain
something of ‘no essential significance’.
[8. In other words, if dialectics is reduced to a mechanical device
for demonstrating an already established thesis, is becomes only a
pseudo-dialectics, a form of sophistry that is empty of content. –sg]
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.
[9. Real dialectical logic does not take on life in the form of
‘naked results’ nor in the ‘tendency’ of the movement of thought. It
takes on life only in the form of ‘the result along with the process
of arriving at it.’ Therefore, we must take this into account in our
investigation of dialectics. –sg]
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.
[10. The opposite approach, of applying a so-called dialectical
method with no aim whatsoever in mind, is untenable. –sg]
For it is impossible to go to the other extreme, taking the view that
we had allegedly not set ourselves any aim determining the means and
character of our activity from the very outset in the course of our
analysis of the problem, but had set out swimming at random.
[11. We are obliged, therefore, to clearly state at the outset what
the ‘object’ is that we wish to dialectically analyze. –sg]
And we are therefore obliged, in any case, to say clearly, at the very
beginning, what the ‘object’ is in which we want to discover the
intrinsically necessary division into parts.
[12. Our ‘object,’ that is, our ‘subject matter’, is thought.
Dialectical logic aims to scientifically represent thought in its
necessary concrete, developmental, objective existences, including
those aspects of these existences that are objectively independent of
will and consciousness. –sg]
Our ‘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.
[13. In other words, dialectics must show how scientific thought
develops and reflects. It must show how scientific thought
reproduces, in concepts, objects that exist outside of and
independently of human consciousness and will. Dialectics must show
how human scientific thought apprehends objects when it is 1) creating
mental reproductions of them; 2) reconstructing their self-
development; 3) recreating objects in the logic of the movements of
concepts; and then 4) recreating the objects once again in experiment
or practice. –sg]
In other words Logic must show how thought develops if it is
scientific, if it reflects, i.e. reproduces in concepts, an object
existing outside our consciousness and will and independently of them,
in other words, creates a mental reproduction of it, reconstructs its
self-development, recreates it in the logic of the movement of
concepts so as to recreate it later in fact (in experiment or in
[14. Logic is the theoretical representation of scientific thinking.
Logic then is the theoretical representation of such thinking.
[15. We understand thought to be the ideal component of real human
From what we have said it will be clear that we understand thought
(thinking) as the ideal component of the real activity of social
people transforming both external nature and themselves by their labour.
[16. Dialectical logic is more than a universal description of the
subjective activities of humans in their transformations of nature.
It is also a universal description of the material changes taking
place during activity … and … of the relevant objective reality as a
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.
[17. This is our take on what Lenin meant by the **identity** (not
just the unity) of dialectics, logic, and materialist epistemology. –sg]
That, in our opinion, is what the real gist of Lenin’s thesis on the
identity (not ‘unity’ only, but precisely identity, full coincidence)
of dialectics, logic and the theory of knowledge of the modern,
scientific. i.e. materialist, world outlook consists in.
[18. This approach is also consistent with Engels’ definition of
dialectics as being the science of the general laws of motion and
development of nature, human society, and thought. –sg]
This approach preserves as one of the definitions of dialectics that
given by Frederick Engels (‘dialectics, however, is nothing more than
the science of the general laws of the motion and development of
nature, human society, and thought’, i.e. of natural and socio-
historical development, and not ‘specifically subjective’ laws and
forms of thought).
[19. Dialectical logic is not only the science of thinking but is
also the science of the development of all things, both material and
We think that one can unite dialectics and materialism in precisely
that way, and show that Logic, being dialectical, is not only the
science of ‘thinking’ but also the science of development of all
things, both material and ‘spiritual’.
[20. By viewing material reality and human thought as intricately
connected in a fundamental way, this view of dialectics sees Logic as
the science of the reflection of the movements of the world within the
movement of concepts. –sg]
Understood in that way Logic can also be the genuine science of the
reflection of the movement of the world in the movement of concepts.
[21. When this fundamental connection is not recognized, as, for
example, Neopositivists do not, dialectics is inevitably transformed
into a purely technical discipline. –sg]
Otherwise it is inevitably transformed, as has happened to it in the
hands of Neopositivists, into a purely technical discipline, a
description of systems of manipulations with the terms of language.
[22. Defining Logic in the concrete manner proposed here requires
that the concepts comprising Logic, especially the concept of
thinking, must be disclosed. –sg]
The concretisation of the general definition of Logic presented above
must obviously consist in disclosing the concepts composing it, above
all the concept of thought (thinking).
[23. However, attempting to define Logic fully and concretely creates
a dialectical difficulty. A full and concrete description of Logic
requires far more than just a ‘definition’. This can only be
accomplished by ‘developing the essence of the matter’. –sg]
Here again a purely dialectical difficulty arises, namely, that to
define this concept fully, i.e. concretely, also means to ‘write’
Logic, because a full description cannot by any means be given by a
‘definition’ but only by ‘developing the essence of the matter’.
[24. Another concept that comprises Logic, closely allied with the
concept of thinking, is the concept ‘concept’ itself. A simple
definition is possible, but such a definition would not be useful. –sg]
The concept ‘concept’ itself is also very closely allied with the
concept of thought. To give a ‘definition’ of it here would be easy,
but would it be of any use?
[25. We understand the concept ‘concept’ to mean ‘the gist of the
matter’. We do not understand ‘concept’, as do other approaches, as a
‘sign’, nor as a ‘term defined through other terms’, nor as simply a
‘reflection of the essential or intrinsic attributes of things’. With
our understanding of concept as being the gist of the matter, in order
to arrive at a ‘concrete’, Marxist-Leninist understanding of the
essence of Logic in general and the concept in particular, it would be
more correct for us to begin with the abstract, simple definitions
that are generally accepted by everyone. –sg]
If we, adhering to a certain tradition in Logic, tend to understand by
‘concept’ neither ‘sign’ nor ‘term defined through other terms’, and
not simply a ‘reflection of the essential or intrinsic attributes of
things’ (because here the meaning of the insidious words ‘essential’
and ‘intrinsic’ come to the fore), but the gist of the matter, then it
would be more correct, it seems to us, to limit ourselves in relation
to definition rather to what has been said, and to start to consider
‘the gist of the matter’, to begin with abstract, simple definitions
accepted as far as possible by everyone.
In order to arrive at the ‘concrete’, or in this case at a Marxist-
Leninist understanding of the essence of Logic and its concretely
[26. The plan and design of this book of essays is based on the above
ideas. While this book at first appears to be a just a study of the
history of philosophy, the historical material in this book on the
‘matter of Logic’ is only the means by which the ‘logic of Matter’ is
outlined according to the approach developed by Marx, Engels and
Everything we have said determines the design and plan of our book. At
first glance it may seem that it is, if not wholly, then to a
considerable degree, a study in the history of philosophy.
But the ‘historical’ collisions of realising the ‘matter of Logic’ is
not an end-in-itself for us, but only the factual material through
which the clear outlines of the ‘logic of Matter’ gradually show
through those very general outlines of dialectics as Logic which,
critically corrected and materialistically rethought by Marx, Engels
and Lenin, also characterise our understanding of this science.
On Sep 7, 2009, at 4:26 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
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
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
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
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
"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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