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Re: [xmca] further thoughts on concept of activity

Thanks, Jay.
There's a nice article by Daniel Robinson in the current issue of /Theory & Psychology/, in which he says: "Human life as it has been wherever there is an historical record is a life that is irreducibly /civic/; not simply "social" in the sense of patterns of mutual influence, but /civic/ in the sense of regulative precepts, rules of law, of etiquette, of ethics." I guess it is in his sense the "civic" which interests me, along with the concepts we grasp it with. I understand what you're saying, but I think that approach to human interaction, which I would have associated with Bakhtin, doesn't really get to the "civic" or "societal" aspect of it. Though there is no hard and fast line between the social and the societal, of course.


Jay Lemke wrote:
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?

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.


- 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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*Andy Blunden*
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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Journal/
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Videos: http://vimeo.com/user3478333/videos
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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