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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
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- Subject: Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
- From: Peter Feigenbaum <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Thu, 28 Jun 2012 12:45:09 -0400
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Martin, Andy, (and Jennifer, from a crossing
I think Andy is pointing us directly
to the heart of the matter, which I see as the divide between thinking
(such as animals do) and thinking verbally.
Verbal thinking is dialogical and dialectical. Nonverbal thinking
lacks these qualities.
Vygotsky's theory about the development
of thinking and speaking forces us to wrestle with the question
of what causes a young child to transform
from a nonverbal creature into a verbal one. We are not born
thinking dialogically; this is a form
of activity each of us must learn in order to become competent speakers
of our native language. In practice,
competent adults help young children participate in conversations by
performing much of the dialogical work
themselves, thereby creating the illusion that young children are able
to *speak* dialogically on their own.
But eventually young children must learn how to *think* dialogically in
order to truly master the activity of
speaking. That's where private speech comes in.
In ontogeny, the development of learning
to think dialogically is observable in children's use of private speech
in relation to their practical activity.
Early in the process, private speech trails behind activity, giving voice
children's thoughts but not appreciably
altering the course of activity. Vygotsky referred to this relationship
using an analogy to music: activity
is the melody and private speech is the harmony. But gradually, the
relationship reverses: private speech
becomes the melody and practical activity becomes the harmony.
This moment of transition is recognizable
to us as the moment that private speech begins to show signs of
being *self-regulatory*, and thinking
shows signs of being *self-reflective*. In Kohlberg's system for classifying
private speech (I know this came up
in another related thread--see table below), this transition is marked
the appearance of *Questions answered
by the self*. Is there any better illustration that a person has mastered
the logic of dialogue than their being
able to take both sides in a conversational exchange?
The relevance of this seeming digression
has to do with Vygotsky's use of *scientific* concepts as evidence
that children have developed dialectical,
rational thinking. In so doing, he also links rational thinking to
*schooling*, leading us to jump to the
conclusion that *true* concepts are the product of education. While I
cannot cite any evidence (yet), I see
no reason to believe that typically developing children have ever required
overt instruction in learning to think
*dialogically*. Dialogical thinking develops in private speech as a result
of a child's own activity, not through
explicit training or instruction--unlike scientific concepts.
If the developmental process of learning
to master the activity of speaking and thinking occurs without instruction,
then primitive peoples should be able
to think dialogically, although they may be unable to think *scientifically*.
This distinction might well be crucial
to understanding the reasoning abilities of uneducated people.
Peter Feigenbaum, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Institutional Research
Bronx, NY 10458
Phone: (718) 817-2243
Fax: (718) 817-3203
Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
06/27/2012 09:09 PM
Re: [xmca] Culture
OK, I see what you are getting at, Martin.
I think one issue may be a certain conception of "rationality"
thecapacity to reason. LSV makes it clear I believe that formal logic is
a barren conception of reasoning. Not just that it is an inferior
practice of reasoning than dialectical rationality, but a professional
misconception of what reasoning actually is.
In chapter 6 of T&S he reports research into what he claims is "true
concepts" which hinge around complelting causative and adversative
sentences: "Volya fell off his bicycle because ..." - will
add "... he went to hospital" or "he was careless."
This may seem
strange. Doesn't this simply tell us about the child's concept of
causality? WHat has it to do with concepts?
The analytical philosopher at the University of Pittsburg , Robert
Brandom, who has never heard of Vygotsky (so far as I can tell) and
knows little about psychology, has made it his project to elucidate in
philosophical terms what a concept is. He says that a concept is two
things: (1) recognition of a situation, and (2) understanding of what is
meant by or what follows from that situation. He illustrates the idea
well by pointing to some "bad concepts" such as racist concepts
their nature identify a certain appearance with a contemptible character.
So the acquisition of concepts means precisely the formation
situation-significance pairs, and it is these pairs which function as
the substance of life and rationality in any culture and the substance
of mind for any individual member of a culture.
So I think it is a mistake to identify rationality with the habitual use
of formal logical reasoning. That formal logic constitutes a standard of
rationality (rather than the rules of a very narrow specialist domain of
reasoning) is an illusion of one particular current of philosophical
thought, one which the LSV who wrote Thinking and Speech did not share,
Martin Packer wrote:
> Hi Peter,
> I am glad to see you join in the discussion, since I know you've done
interesting research on inner speech.
> I am certainly willing to grant that patterns of social interaction
will become patterns of self-regulation and thereby parts of patterns of
individual thinking. It also makes sense to me, and in my opinion LSV clearly
states the view, that the higher psychological processes are cultural processes.
I think he goes so far as to say that reasoning is cultural.
> But, importantly, that is not the same as saying that reasoning *varies*
across cultures. We *all* live in culture, and one can say that reasoning
is cultural and still maintain that reasoning is universal. Are we willing
to take another step, and suggest that in specific cultures the ways that
people reason will be different, because the specific conventions of each
culture are involved? That is a big step to take, because the rules of
logic, to pick what is usually taken to be one component of reasoning,
are usually considered to hold regardless of local conventions.
> One way to take this step, of course, is to say that people in cultures
reason in different ways but then to add an evaluative dimension. Those
people in that culture reason differently from the way we do, but that
is because their reasoning is less adequate than ours. They are more childlike,
more primitive. *This* move has often been made, and I can find many passages
in LSV's texts where he seems to be saying basically this. That's not a
move I find interesting or appealing, and it's not what I am proposing.
> On the contrary, it seems to me that much of LSV's writing can be
read as pointing to the conclusion that *standards* of rationality will
vary from one culture another. But I don't think he followed his own pointers,
and, as I've said above, it is a pretty radical conclusion to come to.
> On Jun 27, 2012, at 9:33 AM, Peter Feigenbaum wrote:
>> If you grant that interpersonal speech communication is essentially
a cultural invention, and that private and inner speech--as derivatives
of interpersonal speech communication--are also cultural inventions, then
Vygotsky's assertions about inner speech as a tool that adults use voluntarily
to conduct and direct such crucial psychological activities as analyzing,
reflecting, conceptualizing, regulating, monitoring, simulating, rehearsing
(actually, some of these activities were not specifically asserted by Vygotsky,
but instead have been discovered in experiments with private speech) would
imply that these "higher mental processes" are themselves cultural
products. Even if the *contents* of inner speech thinking happen to bear
no discernible cultural imprint, the process of production nonetheless
>> Of course, you may not agree that interpersonal speech communication
is a cultural invention. But if you do go along with the idea that every
speech community follows (albeit implicitly) their own particular conventions
or customs for: assigning specific speech sounds to specific meanings (i.e.,
inventing words); organizing words into sequences (i.e., inventing grammar--Chomsky's
claims not withstanding); and sequencing utterances in conversation according
to rules of appropriateness (i.e., inventing rules that regulate "what
kinds of things to say, in what message forms, to what kinds of people,
in what kinds of situations", according to the cross-cultural work
of E. O. Frake), then reasoning based on the use of speech must be cultural
>> My guess is that you are looking for evidence that cultures reason
differently. While there may be evidence for such a claim, I only want
to point out that the tools for reasoning are themselves manufactured by
>> Peter Feigenbaum, Ph.D.
>> Associate Director of Institutional Research
>> Fordham University
>> Thebaud Hall-202
>> Bronx, NY 10458
>> Phone: (718) 817-2243
>> Fax: (718) 817-3203
>> e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
>> From: Martin Packer <email@example.com>
>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
>> Date: 06/26/2012 05:06 PM
>> Subject: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
>> Sent by: firstname.lastname@example.org
>> Thank you for the suggestions that people have made about evidence
that supports the claim that culture is constitutive of psychological functions.
Keep sending them in, please! Now I want to introduce a new, but related,
thread. A few days ago I gave Peter a hard time because he wrote that "higher
mental processes are those specific to a culture, and thus those that embody
cultural concepts so that they guide activity."
>> I responded that I don't think that LSV ever wrote this - his
view seems to me to have been that it is scientific concepts that make
possible the higher psychological functions (through at time he seems to
suggest the opposite).
>> My questions now are these:
>> 1. Am I wrong? Did LSV suggest that higher mental processes are
specific to a culture and based on cultural concepts?
>> 2. If LSV didn't suggest this, who has? Not counting Peter! :)
>> 3. Do we have empirical evidence to support such a suggestion?
It seems to me to boil down, or add up, to the claim that human rationality,
human reasoning, varies culturally. (Except who knows what rationality
is? - it turns out that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy does not
have an entry for Rationality; apparently they are still making up their
>> that's all, folks
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Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
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