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

At the beginning of  the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein quotes Augustine, who describes the indescribable experience of learning a first language in Latin, and remarks that his model of language (a big bag of names) is OK, but only for a very restricted application; there are many things we call language for which it is not appropriate. And thence to his famous discussion of complexes, in the form of games and language games.
I think what I said was that Wittgenstein's account of language is pragmatic in a linguistic sense. Pragmatics is about the use of language, as opposed to its usage (which is more or less what Augustine is describing, language as a dictionary written in some form of mentalese, where every language is necessarily a foreign language).
And I think what Wittgenstein says about language applies to every account of language, even his own; it is appropriate, but ony for a very restricted application. In that way it is like a metaphor (as we see in the language games section, and the tool box section, it really IS a metaphor). So I think we need to ask the question where it stops being appropriate.
As Andy points out, it doesn't describe conceptual thinking very well. But that is not because the pragmatic account of language is a subset of some larger conceptual account; I think that the relationship is quite the other way around: scientific concepts are a rarefied, specialized subset of semantic meaning, and of course semantic meaning took many centuries of billions of daily interactions to be precipitated from everyday pragmatics.
Now it seems to me that on this scale of things, the cultural individual really is quite unchanging and hidebound, rather like a bottle. We rejoice that Western women do not bind their feet--and instead mutilate their chests with silicon implants. We rejoice in not stoning women for adultery and congratulate ourselves on no longer insisting on the male ownership of sexuality that this entails, but we so stigmatize child sexual abuse that children's lives, and not simply their putative purity, are now at risk from pedophiles, and nobody reflects that what is really threatened here is the parental ownership of sexual access to their children.
This morning's New York Times, just for example, has a thoroughly silly article on North Korea by one Nicolas Kristof. We are told that apartments in Pyeongyang are all equipped with telescreens that make propaganda announcements of, e.g., the leaders' golf scores. We have a similar telescreen in our apartment in Seoul, which announces municipal elections and tells where to find the local leader of the anti-communist militia. The difference is that when we do it is feels normal.
Kristof certainly does not feel hidebound; he is quite comfortable in his own skin. Nevertheless, he tells a wildly brainwashed account of the way in which North Korea developed nuclear weapons. He correctly remembers that in 1994 an agreement was negotiated to build nuclear power plants in North Korea (he carefully omits to say that these would be non-weaponizable and built by South Korean companies). Now, according to Kristof, the Clinton administration only did this because they fooishly assumed that the regime would collapse before the reactors were actually built! Wisely, the Bush administration caught the North Koreans "cheating", and tore up the agreement.
What really happened, as anybody with a memory longer than the Bush adminstration will tell you, was that the North Koreans asked for, and got, a codicil that would supply them with fuel oil for energy as a stopgap measure (if you look at the widely circulated satellite picture of North Korea at night you will see why they insisted on this). The Clinton Administration always boasted that the fuel oil they supplied was unusably poor, but that was not enough for the Bush adminstration. They simply reneged on the agreement. But the North did not renege: they had promised they would develop nuclear weapons if the deal fell through, and that is what they did.
Why does Kristof tell this transparent lie? Doesn't it go against the usual NYT ethos of telling the truth about checkable and trivial matters so as to be able to deceive with the necessary authority when it comes to the essentials? I think, alas, Mr. Kristof simply cannot control himself any more (see his WILDLY improbable tale about a husband executing his own wife for writing a highly implausible letter to Kim Jeong-il himself). The leather mask has become a face.
And I think that is probably what happened to poor Leontiev as well. The mind is a highly parsimonious thing; it is very tiring to believe one thing and say another. Vygotsky's genetic law predicts that eventually it is the former that shall cede to the latter. 
It is that sense in which what Mike says is true: Vygotsky's psychology, as a scientific system, describes the development of institutionalized lying just as accurately as it describes the development of higher concepts. What I wanted to say was that his earlier sense that ideas are always embodied, and some bodies are gifted with an extraordinary foresight, is also true. I think Vygotsky knew that he would die, but he also knew that his ideas, so long as they were true ones, would live. 
David Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies 

--- On Wed, 12/21/11, Ivan Rosero <irosero@ucsd.edu> wrote:

From: Ivan Rosero <irosero@ucsd.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Interpreting Leontiev: functionalism and Anglo Finnish Insufficiences
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 6:50 PM

David, if you agree with the summary Larry has presented, I remain confused
by your analogy.  I read Larry's presentation of Kitching/Pleasant as
saying that action cobbles together further sense within already-given
sense that is simultaneously ideal-material, and therefore subject to
culturally and historically specific constraints and possibilities.  But
surely, this includes the bottle and the person too, both as moving
entities (the bottle, unless highly heated, a much more slowly moving
entity).  I am not invested in any particular reading of Leontiev, but your
analogy as presented suggests a kind of essential fixity to the person
which I want to believe you don't really mean.

To be fair, your emphasis is on the wine in the bottle.  But, in this case,
a slowly moving bottle is rather less interesting than a human being, with
a rather less historically complex relationship to the liquid it gives
shape to.

Does what Andy refer to help here?  What kind of concept-complex (is it
enough to call it Stalinism?) helps to explain the Leontiev at issue here?
Or, if the critique was there from early on, what kind of concept-complex
would help to explain his writings' wide acceptance?

Or, do we forgo all this and just grab Leontiev, as you say, "on a good


On Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 3:55 PM, David Kellogg <vaughndogblack@yahoo.com>wrote:

> Mike wrote that as he grows older, he becomes less attached to his
> position (expressed in his editorial commentary to Luria's autobiography,
> "The Making of Mind") that ideas really are highly embodied things. Mike
> says that as he grows older, he becomes more and more attached to Luria's
> position that only ideas matter.
> But as I grow older, I become more and more attached to Mike's original
> position that individuals really matter. Wine has no shape of its own; it
> really depends on what bottle we put it in, and the form of ideas depends
> very much on the character of the individuals wo carry them.
> On paper, the theoretical positions of Vygotsky and Leontiev are not that
> far apart. So when Mike asks what presents Vygotsky's ideas from being
> pressed into service by the Stalinist state, I think the answer has to be
> referred to the individual who carried this idea after all.
> I think it is not accidental that one was amenable and the other was not,
> that one's ideas were deformed and degenerated, and the others still amaze
> by their freshness and color. Nor is it accidental that one lived and one
> died.
> But of course death is simply the moment when our thinking and spoken
> speech must come to an end, and our written speech, like a hermit crab,
> must find a new home in the minds and mouths of others. And by that
> measure, it was Vygotsky who lived on, yea, even in the mind and the mouth
> of Leontiev. Well, Leontiev on a good day!
> David Kellogg
> Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
> PS; I think I am (once again) with Larry. I think that if we read (late)
> Wittgenstein as a linguistic (not a philosophical) pragmatist, that is, as
> someone who believes that meaning in language comes from sense in activity,
> Wittgenstein is perfectly consistent with what Marx writes in the German
> Ideology (that language is practical consciousness, real for myself because
> real for others). Wittgenstein is Vygotsky-compatible in other ways, too,
> e.g. his argument about preconceptual "families" and his argument about the
> tool like nature of signs.
> dk
> --- On Wed, 12/21/11, mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com> wrote:
> From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Interpreting Leontiev: functionalism and Anglo Finnish
> Insufficiences
> To: "Larry Purss" <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
> Cc: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>, "Morten
> Nissen" <Morten.Nissen@psy.ku.dk>
> Date: Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 2:12 PM
> Very helpful, Larry. Thanks.
> As I read the Leontiev materials what was at issue in 1949 is whether there
> is any "third space" of the self in the "unity of consciousness and
> activity." I take Stalinism
> in these materials to refer to the way that idealism is joined with belief
> in some sort of "autonomous" realm of thought. Zinchenko's work on
> micromovements of the eye and perceptual action seem to me now significant
> in exactly this respect: they point to a rapid simulation process which is
> not mechanically connected to externalized action (as one example). If you
> know the future of history and what is good for everyone, all such
> processes risk deviation from "the true path." The motives of the "healthy"
> individual are supposed to coincide with those of the "collective" (as
> represented by the general secretary of the central committee of the
> communist party). Functionalism as command and control statism.
> If we accept THIS version of CHAT, seems to me that Phillip is corrrect -
> Use the ideas for something called communism, fascism, ANY form of
> collective social project.
> David says this is Leontiev's (AT) problem, not Vygotsky's (CH) problem.
> Larry points
> to Wittgensteinian marxism that appears to provide a way to select wheat
> from chaff (or discover a different level of chaff!).
> My guess is that German, Russian, and other thinkers have already carried
> this conversation pretty far.... Morten's citation of German work points to
> this conclusion.
> But how are we poor non_Russian, non_German reading unfortunates wandering
> in the woods to find our way?
> mike
> On Wed, Dec 21, 2011 at 12:08 PM, Larry Purss <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
> 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
> > AIMS AND THE NEEDS OF THE ENTIRE SOCIETY.  It must fully agree with REAL
> > 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
> > Leontiev}
> > 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
> > 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,
> > feasible/unfeasible)
> >
> > 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
> > distinction.
> > 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
> > other.
> >
> > 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.
> >
> > Larry
> >
> > 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.
> >> mike
> >> -------------------
> >>
> >> 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.
> >>
> >> --------------------------------
> >>
> >> Comment.
> >>
> >>
> >> 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.
> >>
> >> mike
> >> __________________________________________
> >> _____
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> >> xmca@weber.ucsd.edu
> >> http://dss.ucsd.edu/mailman/listinfo/xmca
> >>
> >
> >
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