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

Thanks millions for this Greg. I really appreciate being brought to the point on my reading of R R Williams. When I recommended you to that article of mine from a few years back, I looked and noticed that I didn't have any definitive quotes from Williams, and of course I was dealing with him together with several others, all of whom I took to be sharing the same error.

Firstly, you are right that the *intersubjectivists* of today do not follow Kojeve in focussing exclusively on the master-servant narrative in the Phenomenology of 1807. Their favourite source is Hegel's system of 1805/6. In this version of his system *everything* was Recognition. Hegel took the concept of Recognition to the extreme. He almost made it absolute. This version has its attractions for the reader of our times of course. The idea of workers gaining recognition by seeing their products circulate on the market at a high price seems attractive to some. Personally my favourite version of the young Hegel is that of 1802/3 where he sounds like Herder; though I have a soft spot also for his Anti-Christian work of 1793-5, when he sounded more like Bakunin. :)

But in any case, as you say, we agree on substance. It is down to me now to look at pp. 11, 59, 75 and 378 of Williams and report back.

Thanks Greg,

Greg Thompson wrote:
Thanks for the lovely Hegel quote. It's not with Hegel that I
disagree. It's with your reading of Williams that I disagree (and
maybe "misunderstand" is the word I should be using here).

I disagree that Williams misses mediation. See pp. 11, 59, 75, 378
(among others) of Williams' Ethics of Recognition for a few examples
of how integral mediation is for Williams' reading of Hegel. This is
the heart of Williams' critique of Kojeve and the existentialists'
interpretation of recognition - he argues that they miss mediation. So
it seems odd to suggest that Williams is missing mediation. (unless
your mediation and his mediation are altogether different things).

You also seem to hang a lot of your criticism on the fact that
Williams takes the M/S dialectic as the prototypical example of
recognition. Again, I see Williams as arguing against this approach.
It was the approach taken by the Kojeve writers and is, again, the one
that he is criticizing. In his analysis of Hegel's section on
self-consciousness in PoG, Williams focuses on the part that precedes
the M/S dialectic proper, and he argues that you need to look at
recognition as it appears in Hegel's other works in order to
understand what recognition means.

Also to your essay on Williams’ proper, you write:
“Hegel himself abandoned the notion for all but the restricted place
it finally occupied in the Encyclopaedia, because it was ill-fitted
for those wider tasks.
In a sense, ‘recognition’ is an eminently un-Hegelian notion because
it presupposes the absence of effective mediating institutions and
artefacts. It only became Hegelian by the way Hegel demonstrated that
even here, where no mediation existed, mediating elements could be
found. But it is precisely this aspect of ‘recognition’ which is most
often ignored by modern interpreters, such as Robert Williams.”

I deeply appreciate your critique of methodological individualism and
of the notion that subjectivity is constituted by, not merely in
relation to, culture. This is what I have always seen as the key
insight of cultural psychology (esp. the strand that I grew up with, a
la Richard Shweder who frequently used "in and through" to describe
the constitutive relation of the individual and culture/society -
implied in his book title "Thinking Through Cultures"). So we agree on
that much. I think.

I guess where I differ is that I don't read Williams as making this
move (I think a lot of it turns on what he means by
"intersubjectivity"). And similarly, I don't see Williams as making a
move toward an ontological distinction between world-historical and
individual. I see this as an analytically useful distinction in order
to argue to the person of late modern sensibility that these two are
imbricated with one another (a Hegelian move, no? to take two elements
assumed to be different and show how they are, in fact, the same).
Thus, I read Williams as arguing that recognition happens via culture.
Truth be told, in the end I don't think this amounts to much b.c. you
and I both end up on the same side of the argument - it's just a
matter of whether or not Williams is there with us. Sorry I don't have
more to argue about here. But maybe there is more to your criticism
that I have missed in my description.

I fear that I haven't sufficiently described how I am understanding
Williams, but it is getting late and hopefully this will be a start.
Although it is in many ways a trivial matter (arguing about someone's
interpretation of someone else's work), it also gets to the heart of
what Hegel's work is all about and, more importantly, about how these
concepts might be useful to us today. Because I can't "see" your
criticism of Williams, I am somewhat concerned that my own thinking on
this matter may be subject to the same criticism. So please forgive
any pushiness or rudeness that may come through in the above (I've
written before that I'm terrible with "tone" in emails - it's still
true!). And please bear with me if I'm slow on the uptake. I don't
always get things the first time through (and the second, and the
third), but once I get it, it usually sticks.


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