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RE: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
You have not gone overboard. I think you are right. Just because logic is possible, does not mean we use it exclusively as a mode of operation as adults. Logic is a value, not a condition of adulthood. I sometimes wonder when reading Piaget if he had a chronic case of logic. That is why he thought egocentric speech disappeared in maturity, because he himself never had an immature or childish thought as an adult. Of course I did not conclude this as a scholar of his writings using formal logic...it just occurred to me using, spontaneous everyday thinking. I have always thought one of the ironies in the American mainstream is that parents want for their children to be academically successful so they will make more money so they can buy more toys and entertainment. There are other cultural values besides logic and education.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Jennifer Vadeboncoeur
Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 12:57 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
Yes, exactly Martin, this work is consistent. I do think Vygotsky privileges dialectical logic over formal logic; by definition, it subsumes formal logic and moves beyond it. From my cultural position, growing up comfortably with formal logic and having to practice thinking dialectically, the above statement doesn't bother me. But I would take a different position relative to an Indigenous perspective, and be much more circumspect about saying that dialectical logic can or should be privileged there. The difference in the two positions is one of power. In the first, it seems that a marginalized position (Marx's in North America) works to challenge a privileged position (formal logic in North America). In the second, privileging a dialectical perspective seems like another act of colonization.
If we look equally across these three positions, which is problematic because the is no single homogenous Indigenous perspective, but let's say for this one exercise, then it seems like we are comparing three different cultural, historical perspectives on reasoning, right and logical, or rational,behavior.
The question remains to the effects of these different ways of thinking, but for the people thinking within these systems, what is the evidence to show that they cannot think at the adult level of their cultural form of rationality? Yikes, now that I've written this, I'm not even sure it's the question. Is the issue when we try to compare the standards of one cultural group to another?
I'll jump to Peter's post, because I totally appreciate what he has written there as well. I appreciate the idea of separating dialogical thinking from scientific ... but I also think of Vera John-Steiner's cognitive pluralism, and want to reaffirm all the other ways of thinking and experiencing the world through image, sound, diagram.
These are sometimes more obvious to draw on in some Indigenous cultures, but the move also shifts the discussion from speech to writing, whether we are writing lines, or diagrams, or words.
I was looking back over my sad copy of Luria & Vygotsky (1992), the bottom of page 41 through pages 61 are interesting to this topic because they show how much Vygotsky struggled with the necessity of using the work of others and at the same time trying not to be bound by it. He relies on the work of Levy-Bruhl and takes up his language "so-called 'primitive peoples'" and then tries to problematize this a bit. "Primitive man, in the true sense of the term, does not exist anywhere at the present time," but then of course he continues to use this language. He argues against any biological type, discusses "objectively logical thinking" in relation to nature, and goes on to say .... hm, hm, okay, page 59, the focus is on the development of writing, and the transition from natural to cultural memory, and later the historical development of human memory. The ability of sign systems to enable an external form of memory, an external storage of memory.
What is different about people with access to the accumulation of cultural knowledge of any particular culture and people of that same culture who do not have access to this accumulated knowledge? In some cultures this may be scientific concepts, as defined by Vygotsky, in other cultures it may be ....?
But I keep returning to my post a bit ago, the quote there makes it clear that Vygotsky realizes that even after formal schooling, many people do not think with scientific concepts, and adults do not think with scientific concepts across all domains ... this has been supported by contemporary work, from Panofsky, John-Steiner, & Blackwell (1990) to Howard Gardner's work with Project Zero.
Vygotsky's goal of thinking in scientific concepts is actually not accessible to many people within our own cultures ....
Okay, have I completely gone overboard? :)
>Yes, there has been interesting work recently proposing that indigenous
>cultures are using a distinct kind of reasoning. These
>Berkes, F., & Berkes, M. K. (2009). Ecological complexity, fuzzy logic,
>and holism in indigenous knowledge. Futures, 41(1), 6-12.
>...suggest that indigenous peoples have learned to deal with
>complexity, and to manage natural environments rather than master them;
>that what has been dismissed as animism is actually a sophisticated
>non-dualistic ontology; and that a holistic systems thinking is being
>used. I like several aspects of their analysis, not least that it
>explains the "simple number system" - one, two, many - that has been
>found in many indigenous cultures, as due to an approach in which
>people read and interpret signals from the environment rather than
>counting and measuring it.
>And I agree with you that judgments of rationality are often violent
>impositions; all the judgments of people as 'primitive' are presumably
>of this kind. Presumably what we need are non-violent ways to look at
>As for dialectical logic, it take it that LSV believed that this was
>the form of rationality he was employing, and the ontogenesis of which
>he was describing. And that he considered it superior to formal logic,
>not an alternative.
>On Jun 27, 2012, at 2:04 PM, Jennifer Vadeboncoeur wrote:
>> Hi Martin,
>> I am thinking about what you wrote,
>> "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."
>> I was first thinking about different standards of rationality as
>>noted in the quote below, between formal and dialectical logic.
>>Both are tied to "Western" countries, through dialectical thinking can
>>also be tied to "Eastern" countries, so maybe the issue is one of
>> "A child who has mastered the higher forms of thinking, a child who
>>has mastered concepts, does not part with the more elementary forms of
>>thinking. In quantitative terms, these more elementary forms continue
>>to predominate in many domains of experience for a long time. As we
>>noted earlier, even adults often fail to think in concepts. S When
>>applied to the domain of life experience, even the concepts of the
>>adult and adolescent frequently fail to rise higher than the level of
>>the pseudoconcept. They may possess all the features of the concepts
>>from the perspective of formal logic, but from the perspective of
>>dialectical logic they are nothing more than general representations,
>>nothing more than complexes."
>>(emphasis added, Vygotsky, 1987, p. 160)
>> But the issue in your quote has surfaced several times as well in my
>>work with Indigenous students and scholars, and we have ended in the
>>place noted in your quote above. Particular examples include the
>>complexity and unity of some Indigenous cosmological systems, their
>>symbolic representation through the medicine wheel, for example, and
>>the narratives, signs, gestures, practices, writings that accompany
>>these cosmological systems.
>> Can this be considered another cultural form of rationality (seems
>>dialectical in a sense as well ...)?
>> I know this is different from the question you posed in the follow
>>up email, but isn't "demonstrably weaker" a matter of cultural,
>>historical, political, economic positioning ... assessed by a
>>particular dominant group at a particular time on the basis of their
>>own potentially culturally irrelevant assessments?
>> Is part of your question also asking for a standard that exists
>>outside of culture?
>> Just thoughts here ... jen
>>> 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
>>> 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 as well.
>>>> 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 human culture.
>>>> 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" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>>>> Date: 06/26/2012 05:06 PM
>>>> Subject: [xmca] Culture & Rationality
>>>> Sent by: email@example.com
>>>> 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 minds.)
>>>> that's all, folks
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> > _____
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> xmca mailing list
>> Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur, Ph.D.
>> Associate Professor
>> The University of British Columbia
>> Faculty of Education
>> 2125 Main Mall
>> Library Block 272B
>> Vancouver BC V6T-1Z4
>> phone: 1.604.822.9099
>> fax: 1.604.822.3302
>> xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list
Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur, Ph.D.
The University of British Columbia
Faculty of Education
2125 Main Mall
Library Block 272B
Vancouver BC V6T-1Z4
xmca mailing list
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