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Re: [xmca] Interpreting Leontiev: functionalism and Anglo Finnish Insufficiences

I think the problem with reconciling Vygotsky and Wittgenstein is this. For Wittgenstein, it is a mistake to take the word as a sign for anything other than itself. So there cannot be any notion of "concept" for Wittgenstein. It is a great power of Wittgenstein's critique that he rejects the idea of norms (whether semantic, ethical or epistemic) which exist "behind" actions (including speech acts or word meanings) and thus render activity (such as doing something with words) as "obedience" to metaphysical rules. Goethe made the same point 200 years ago. But this does not lead to the conclusion that concepts do not exist or are illegitimate objects for scientific research. Vygotsky showed how, if we take concepts as processes of development which can be imputed from actions in the same way as all scientific objects (processes) are imputed from individual actions, then we can make sense of activity. I think Wittgenstein remained a sceptic on this question and never tackled it. Vygotsky brilliantly (in my view) cut the Gordian knot, and it is Ilyenkov and A. Meshcheryakov who particularly show how.


Larry Purss wrote:
Hi Andy, Christine, Mike
I have been hibernating on Mayne Island, a small Island between Vancouver
and Vancouver and Vancouver Island. [school break for the holidays] No
internet except at the small library]

I was interested in this comment from Morten Nissen on Andy's book

Blunden, as it were, attacks it from the “opposite” side: the functionalism
of Leontiev’s way of relating subject with society. This has to do with how
objects and motives appear to coincide in Leontiev’s idealized image of the
true society, that is, the society of original communism and that of the
Soviet Union.
Andy, it is this notion of "coinciding" that I have difficulty with when
reading about Activity Theory.

Leontiev's statements such as "Education is the decisive force which forms
man intellectually. This intellectual development MUST CORRESPOND TO THE
human needs"

I'm been browsing through an edited  book by Gavin Kitching and Nigel
Pleasant titled "Marx and Wittgenstein: Knowledge, Morality, Politics."

These authors take an interesting perspective on materialism & idealism
that gives idealism its place in our human being [in contrast to how I read
These authors are exploring a Wittgensteinian Marxism that examines Marx's
notion that "The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a
nightmare on the brain of the living" A Wittgensteinian Marxist reading
[from the authors perspective] would make 3 points.

1] Tradition and circumstances cannot be understood in ABSTRACTION FROM the
traditions and understandings that people have of these circumstances.
2] WHATEVER  such varied understandings may consist (class, culture, gender
etc) nonetheless some KINDS of actions by historical subjects [agents,
actors] will prove impossible IF these actions are entered into in
disregard to the traditions and circumstances directly GIVEN, ENCOUNTERED
and transmitted from the past
3] A principle WAY in which the TRADITIONS OF THE DEAD GENERATIONS weighs
like a nightmare on the brain of the living is that ANTECEDENT historical
circumstances often make it IMPOSSIBLE TO THINK AND FEEL (and therefore
act)in certain ways. Historically created material culture restricts and
enables the making of PARTICULAR KINDS of history. People do not try to do
things and then for "material reasons" find they cannot do things. ( cannot
make history as THEY PLEASE ) Such traditions and circumstances DEEPLY FORM
what it is that present generations can DESIRE TO DO. and CONCEIVE OF. (as
well as what actions they can conceive of as being possible/impossible,

It is human action in and on the world that inextricably LINKS THOUGHT (and
language) TO MATERIAL REALITY. Historical traditions and circumstances are
the outcomes of previous generations actions [intended & unintended] which
place constraints on present generations. Constraints on what they can
think, feel, desire (and how they act)
By keeping these 3 points in mind the authors suggest we can avoid falling
into the DEEP CONFUSIONS which have always attended the material/ideal
The most DIRECT and comprehensible way to SEE THROUGH this material/ideal
distinction is to see that all action is simultaneously mental & physical,
material & ideal.  Neither material or ideal is an "epiphenomena" of the

In my reading of Leontiev in the chapter from the book posted I don't see
the nuances recognizing the depths of the "ideal" within Marx's theory.

This edited book, by putting Marx into explicit conversation is elaborating
a Wittgensteinian Marxism or a Marxist Wittgenstein.


On Mon, Dec 19, 2011 at 7:39 PM, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:

Below are two quotations from Morten Nissen's review of Andy Blunden's book
on activity theory. Full review in
current issue of MCA.

After presenting the quotation, a comment.

Morten Nissen on Leontiev, functionalism, and Stalinism

….behind this terminological trouble lies a deep theoretical problem in
Leontiev’s social theory. This problem was identified in the German and
Scandinavian reception (Axel & Nissen, 1993; Holzkamp, 1979; Osterkamp,
1976) but almost completely ignored in the Anglo-Finnish (with Miettinen,
2005, and Kaptelinin, 2005, as the noble exceptions to the rule)—and
Blunden, as it were, attacks it from the “opposite” side: the functionalism
of Leontiev’s way of relating subject with society. This has to do with how
objects and motives appear to coincide in Leontiev’s idealized image of the
true society, that is, the society of original communism and that of the
Soviet Union.

>From the perspective of this functionalist utopia, a psychology could
become relevant only in the face of the undeveloped and the deviant: as in
fact, according to Leontiev (1978), children and disturbed provide the
tasks of psychology in the institutions of the Soviet Union. To paraphrase:
The child who puts down her book still has not grasped the harmony of
society’s needs with the desire to learn that she *must*

develop—she has not yet developed those “higher cultural needs.” Bourgeois
society is another matter, where sense and meaning are divided in
principle, but this matter—that of ideology and social critique—Leontiev
sets aside and forgets. An elaborate critique of Leontiev’s functionalism
was given already in 1980 (Haug, Nemitz,& Waldhubel, 1980), and the
background was explained by Osterkamp (1976) in her groundbreaking work on
the theory of motivation.



When I first read these passages as part of the attempted "swap of ideas"
that Morten and  I tried to organize around

our reviews of Andy's book in Outlines and MCA, I commented how sad it was
that the elaborate critique that goes back to

1980 is not in English and fully engaged by both European and  "Ango-Finns"
(although how poor  Viktor got into that category

I do not know!).

Seems like real interchange around these issues is long overdue. But given
the progress of the last couple of years, I'll not be

holding my breath!


But thinking about the issues as well as my limited language (and other)
capacities allow.

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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857

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