I have observed an ambivalence within myself as I read and reflected on
notions of progress and the criteria for "measuring" progress.
Rene van der Veer [in 1991] wrote a paper, "The Reception of Vygotsky's
Ideas in the Nineteen Thirties" One of the themes he explored was how
Vygotsky's notion of progress. Rene, on page 420 asks,
"Was Vygotsky's concept of culture indeed selective, or biased towards
'things, instruments, and symbols?' I [Rene] this claim can be defended
when one considers Vygotsky's cultural-historical writings.... Children's
cultural development was seen by Vygotsky and Luria as the mastering of
sets of cultural instruments that are discarded at times for newer, more
powerful ones. It is quite clear that in this context culture was seen by
them as an arsenal of tools, artifices, and devices that enhance the level
of performance. Likewise, societies were seen to DIFFER in the terms of
the QUALITY of the tools or intellectual instruments they provided to
individuals and could be RANK-ordered accordingly, Thus both in the case
of child development and in the case of societal development we can speak
of clear cultural progress IN TERMS OF the available sets of qualitatively
different instruments. It was THIS conception that led Vygotsky and Luria
to speak of 'primitive', 'natural', or 'pre-cultural', children, and of
Uzbek women as standing on a 'low', or 'very primitive' level of cultural
development.... Vygotsky argued that the Uzbek people had to 'take a
grandiose leap on the ladder of their cultural development, jumping over a
whole series of historical levels'. Such a leap was judged essential in
order to reach 'a UNIFIED SOCIALIST CULTURE.' "
This is Rene's interpretation [in 1991] of Vygotsky's understanding of
culture and progress. Rene recommends we take a broader view o culture
when he writes,
Indeed, it may have been the tendency to narrow down the concept of culture
to the development and mastering of tools and instruments that led Vygotsky
to these very questionable comparative remarks. For if we take a broader
look at culture and INCLUDE religious practices, moral doctrines, various
ways of child care and other phenomena, the INTUITIVELY appealing idea of
cultural progress loses its attractiveness and we are forced to acknowledge
that cultures vary across different dimensions of which technological
advancement is only one" [page 421]
Reading this excerpt from Rene and linking it to the discussion on progress
currently being explored I want to return to Greg's comment:
So I would suggest that we need to follow my statement "your argument is
preferable to mind" with a series of clauses that indicate, minimally:
By what logic?
For what purposes?
To put a slightly different spin on my point: there are no objective
criteria for anything that matters in the world.
Meaning-ful-ness is subjective (i.e. "intersubjective" - I wouldn't turn my
back on Hegel like that!) all the way down.
Progress can ONLY be considered in meaningful (i.e., NON-objective) terms,
with initial conditions (in the mathematical sense) that must be taken on
faith (e.g., "humans are good"). From there, each step along the way
requires a justification for the logical/intuitional/emotional frameworks
to be used to determine the answer to the question: What is to be done?
(with the following clause implied "in order for us to realize "the good"
and avoid that which is bad").
To turn Andy's original question on its head: what kind of
*meaningful*comparison can be made "objectively"?
Greg's question "What kind of *meaningful* comparison can be made
"objectively" IN ORDER FOR US TO REALIZE "THE GOOD"? is a central question.
Rene above is exploring "quality" while Andy was clarifying "quantity"
However, the answer to the question, as Jay Lemke suggests, must go beyond
the answers of the last century. Today "the planet" is in the balance. Do
we need a new "aesthetic vision" of the "sublime" that is transformative
[but NOT transcendent]? That recognizes meaning-ful-ness IS intersubjective
ALL THE WAY DOWN. That starts in the FAITH that humans are good and that
moves forward from this BASIC premise?
A new "aesthetic" vision necessary as a WAY to re-enchant the world with
An excerpt from Mathew Arnold points in this direction.
"The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of
its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and
surer stay. Thereis not a creed which is not shaken, not an accredited
dogma, which is not shown to be questionable, not a received tradition
which does not threaten to dissolve. Our religion has MATERIALIZED itself
IN THE FACT, in the SUPPOSED fact; it has attached its emotion to the fact,
and now the fact is failing it. But for poetry, the IDEA is everything;
die rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Poetry ATTACHES its
emotion to the idea; THE DEA IS THE FACT."
Vygotsky, Rene, Greg, and Mathew are offering multiple alternative ways to
"understand" [in Gadamer's sense]. Which argument is preferable??
Dialogical explorations are the way to see through to a "deeper" vision [I
happen to like metaphors of depth]
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