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[xmca] The Frail Chain

First of all, many congratulations to Mike on becoming a robust and even somewhat rusty link in the delicate chain of development. May there be many more.


I think Virginia Woolf once said that the First World War was, on a microgenetic level, kept going by millions of minuscule failures of imagination, for otherwise it were impossible, knowing what another person's life must mean to him, to take it away. I have been thinking of this in the context of a wonderful essay by William Hazlitt which I have always loved (yes, that is the exactly the right word).




Hazlitt wants to construct a theory of human action to disprove the Smith/Hume odel based on rational self-interest. He does this rather deftly, by demonstrating that neither the past nor the present can be the object of human will (since human will can alter neither) and therefore all volition can only be future directed.


But the future of the "self", whatever that may turn out to be, is no more real to rational self-interest than the future of some other person, and in fact is considerably less so, because other persons are a very tangible presence in the present. All volition, whether directed to the self or to the fellow man, is based on imagination, and a strictly rational imagination is hardly anything more than perception, which he has already demonstrated can be no basis for human action (since the objects available to perception are in the present).


I have always resisted identifying Vygotsky with "romantic science" (although I know that was Luria's phrase), and not just for the obvious reason that Vygotsky had a holy horror for the cult of the individual, and for sentimentality, and for the gothic, and in many ways was a true child of Spinoza and he enlightenment. It seems to me that an even more important reason to reject the epithet of romantic science is that it assumes a very ahistorical and non-dialectical opposition between romanticism and enlightenment.


But if there is a frail, romantic link in our clanking chain, here it is. Andy points out that activity theory has suffered a lot from an objectivist (that is an instrumental, object oriented) bent, ever since the days when Leontiev declared that motivation is little more than backwash from an object. Here's the antidote!


David Kellogg

Hankuk University of Foreign Studies


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