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Re: [xmca] further thoughs on concept of activity

A small intervention here. 

The term "language game" is a key notion in the philosophy of the later Wittgenstein. It means a game played in the medium of language, or in more CHAT-like terms, it means activity mediated by language in which most of the social work getting done is getting done through the talk. More specifically, W. posits that there are many particular kinds of language games, rather as Bakhtin might use the term speech genres: culturally normative ways of talking about things. 

We play a language game of trying to define things, and one of trying to categorize them, etc.. These games have rules. Words enter into multiple language games, where the rules of how they are used may differ. W. thought that many philosophical problems of his day, and of his own earlier work, could be better handled by paying less attention to what things are/mean and more to how we use them/talk about them, particularly matters of language, and for him this also included matters of "concepts". He believed that we needed to study the games we play with language in order to better study the things we traditionally imagine exist apart from language -- or we might say, apart from symbolic mediation of any sort.


Jay Lemke
Research Scientist
Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition
University of California - San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California 92093-0506

Professor (Adjunct status 2009-11)
School of Education
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Professor Emeritus
City University of New York

On Jan 8, 2011, at 5:36 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Larry, that's all much clearer. Thank you.
> But I don't understand what you mean by "the concept "concept" is always part of a language game", the more so  that it is something you think I agree with! :)
> "Language game" is not part of my vocabulary. "Game" carries a connotation of not being real or serious, to me, and in that context, "language" seems to imply "a realm of its own" (an allusion to Marx who said "philosophers elevate language to a realm of its own"). The phrase "language game" seems to imply some kind of competitive sport like "theatre sport" or something, something people do to one another. Concepts are, for me, first of all units of a social formation of some kind. I can see that "language game" has the advantage of representing something as a process or action, whereas "concept" generally makes one think of a static representation. Also, I don't see the basis for counterposing emotions to concepts. I can see that concepts have affective and indicative properties, but I can't see a concept which has no emotional content.
> Does that tally with your thinking, Larry?
> Andy
> Larry Purss wrote:
>> I meant this postto go to the list but went directly to Andy so I'm
>> re-posting these thoughts for a general audience.
>> Hi Monica and Andy
>> I appreciate your thoughts and reflections.  I want to re-emphasize that I
>> am thinking out loud and do not have clarity on these very elastic and
>> shape-shifting concepts of activity.  Notions of intentionality seem central
>> to these concepts of activity and have different meanings within different
>> theoretical systems or discourse traditions.  Andy, your distinction between
>> activity and a unit of activity [AN activity] is a helpful distinction.  I
>> also appreciate David's reflections on conceptual language games as a
>> relation between imagination and rules.  [I do wonder if there is a linear
>> progression in development from mostly imagination to mostly rule-based
>> but the relation between these concepts seem central in order to play
>> language games]
>> Andy for clarification I agree the concept "concept" is always part of a
>> language game and only humans participate in these acts which are
>> activities.   "Mind" is a very elastic concept which is constantly shape
>> shifting but I would like to extend it beyond the brain to include the
>> living body of perceptual sensory-motor "intentional" actions. [This
>> replaces mind as computer or mind as brain with the metaphor mind as body].
>> I am not clear if "mind" can extend beyond activity.  I am clear that mind
>> is thrown into activity as world and that this activity as "ideal" is
>> present at the moment of birth.  However, does "mind" as an "embodied"
>> concept include intentional directedness [towards contents] that are not
>> conceptual on the first day of existence?  This is where different
>> traditions of giving reasons for acts [actions and activity] posit different
>> substances as contents.  Varela's notion of embodied mind has ancestral
>> roots in Merleau-Ponty.  My understanding of intentionality in this
>> tradition is that it is an act of "feeling towards".  Now feeling is another
>> elastic shape-shifting concept. Embodied mind perspectives would suggest
>> there is a "feeling toward" response that is not conceptual but becomes
>> conceptual when terms such as anger or sadness are constructed as language
>> games to give reasons for acts. [which are now clearly activity]. Another
>> way of saying this is describing intentionality [feeling towards] is
>> e-motion ["e" for enactive, embodied, empathy]  This is getting into the
>> realm of intersubjectivity as existing prior to concpts.  I will end with
>> some thoughts  by Tim Crane. Intentionality is the notion of directedness
>> TOWARDS an object with object interpreted in a very broad way. Intentional
>> objects are not entities of a certain kind.  Some intentional objects do not
>> exist. Yet all entities exist. In other words to talk about an intentional
>> object [in concepts] is to talk about that towards which one's mind is
>> directed, whether it exists or not. Our minds can be directed on the
>> non-existent.  Crane suggests there are many different object directed
>> e-motions towards contents [that are not concepts] and embodied mind points
>> to perceptual sensory-motor e-motions as one category of these contents that
>> are not conceptual.
>> I again want to say I'm in over my head as I'm thinking out loud and
>> wandering around in a maze [with each path a different tradition] but I
>> appreciate walking along side others as I wonder and wander.
>> Larry
>> - Show quoted text -
>> On Fri, Jan 7, 2011 at 3:44 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <
>> mailto:ablunden@mira.net <ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:
>>   Firstly Larry, let me apologise for my last merssage. It was 2am
>>   and I was heading for bed, and this morning I can hardly parse
>>   what I wrote. Anyway.
>>   I see that you are using "mind" in the very general sense of the
>>   entirety of relations between a living creature and their
>>   environment. That's OK but that's a very broad topic. As you point
>>   out, I have found that historically, "activity" entered philosophy
>>   as an attribute of living nature. A N Leontyev retains that
>>   meaning. On the other hand, since Fichte (i.e. 200 years ago), the
>>   term "activity" has been used as a concept for understanding
>>   specifically human phenomena. That was pre-Darwin, so "human" was
>>   a very distinct category at the time. Doubtless there is value in
>>   this idea of continuity between human beings and animals. But it
>>   also leads to confusion. For example, an "operation" in Leontyev's
>>   terms, is something we do without thinking, but which we can make
>>   conscious in the event of something drawing our attention to it.
>>   It is only this capacity to become conscious which distinguishes
>>   an operation from the autonomous functions of the body, like our
>>   heart beating. So if we use the concept of activity to cover
>>   everything a baby mouse does, this somewhat upsets the idea we
>>   have of "activity" when we're talking about something humans /do/.
>>   All words tend to have this elasticity. I see it as part of the
>>   dynamism of concepts, rather than a pragmatic thing about how
>>   people freely choose to use them. As a concept "activity" refers
>>   on the one hand to deliberate or purpose actions of an organism -
>>   which can only be a person, so let's just say a person - in
>>   relation to a person using an artefact. Now, all actions of a
>>   person use artefacts and are relative to other people, so why
>>   restrict it in this way? Because "joint artefact-mediated" are not
>>   so much qualifiers attached to the thing we are talking about, but
>>   qualifiers attached to a concept, that is, how we grasp activity.
>>   Another thing about activity, it first entered the ideas of Marx
>>   and Vygotsky as a /substance/, that is, a fundamental concept in
>>   their theories, in terms of which everything else had to be
>>   understood, within their theories, insofar as their were worked
>>   out consistently. Once Leontyev started looking for a /unit of
>>   activity/, an entirely different meaning and usage of "activity"
>>   arose, namely "an activity" as a unit of "activity" and a new
>>   ambiguity entered Activity Theory. I find that this elasticity is
>>   too much and causes confusion. This is because I am not happy with
>>   any of the definitions of "an activity" that have come along, and
>>   the lack of awareness that this is a different concept from
>>   "activity" makes it heavy going to clarify this problem.
>>   So that's activity. "Concepts" is a new issue. "Concept" has all
>>   the same problems of meaning. I personally don't see "concept" as
>>   something a non-human mammal can have, because it is not a stage
>>   towards the participation in a form of human life. But I can
>>   elaborate if you like.
>>   I haven't answered any of your questions, Larry, but have I
>>   cleared up anything?
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> -- 
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