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[Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities --NEEDS

Hi Huw,

Regarding the production of needs: I might be a bit scholastic in this mail, but I will refer directly to historical materialism and traditional activity theorists. Over there, it is an axiom that needs are emergent and they are a product of the interaction of the individual and his/her context/environment (in the process of activity). This definition is quite simplified in order to serve as a principle. There are definitions with a number of ramifications to take all influences into consideration. 

>From a particular aspect/point of view, it is OK to say that a need is a product of environment. However, historical materialists are very considerate about the human individual and the activity. One of the problems with different definitions is that they are designed to work at different levels of abstraction and for different purposes, which means different disciplines. 

Psychologists tend to see needs as foundations for developing the motives. However, in some fields of economics and design, needs can be viewed as objects that satisfy needs (what objects you need) or the features of the objects (I need a mid-size car). In design, needs are seen as functions (what functions you need). Depending on the discipline, one and the same phenomenon might be seen as a need, a function, or a motive, etc. 

It is difficult to find consistent treatise on needs, in particular, outside of psychology. My problem is that in psychology needs are treated like motives. At that point, substantial differences emerge in the types of definitions, classifications, and archeologies of the phenomena.

Just a few thoughts,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Huw Lloyd
Sent: Saturday, August 10, 2013 11:44 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities

On 10 August 2013 16:13, Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com> wrote:

> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
> Date: 10 August 2013 15:51
> Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: Leontyev's activities
> To: Huw Lloyd <huw.softdesigns@gmail.com>
> Huw, Leontyev is quite specific that needs are the product of activity.
> One of the distinctions he makes between human life and non-human life 
> is that human beings produce their own needs, historically, as a 
> community, whereas for an animal its needs are given. So we have a 
> kind of duplicated
> world: needs and the means of their satisfaction (labour). Like 
> stimulus and response: which comes first? or do we need a new concept 
> which avoids this duplication of the world.

I would say it quite obvious which comes first for the new-born.

I guess if one wants to put activity within a framework of a single fundamental concept, then one is going to have preference for defining needs in terms of activity.

But the contingency of putting something on a single basis is that one does not broach into natural phenomena (unless one is taking an Engels like route).

>From a natural science perspective (i.e. genetic domains etc) it does 
really matter whether needs are entirely contingent on activity.  But from a dialectic theoretical perspective, perhaps it is.  Thoughts?

> There are different interpretations of Leontyev; as I read him, the 
> motive (let's use this word rather than "need") is objective for a 
> person, that is the motive of the activity, as opposed to the actions 
> of an individual person who participates in the activity, who may have 
> other motives. Even though the motive of the activity is produced 
> culturally and historically, it is in the world, objective. It has 
> always been a problem for me what on Earth can be an objective need (other than those elusive "vital" needs).
> Like, you work in a gun factory; your motive is to earn a wage so as 
> to look after your family. But you know the motive of the work is to 
> produce guns. But why does the community need guns? Where did that 
> come from? And does the factory owner really care whether he is 
> selling guns or toys, so long as he makes a profit. Others may do 
> better justice to Leontyev's argument here, but I have trouble with this.

My reading of activity was that it all of these subtleties were manifest within the activity, i.e. the motive having qualitative influence.

The object is the subject's construction, and from my incomplete reading could be distributed across various things.  The object is only objective in that is has objective qualities to it.  The distinctness of things to us is their social object quality.


> Peg: yes, Leontyev starts off with single-cell creatures and works his 
> way up. There *is* a big leap though, with tasks that are completed by 
> multiple actions, potentially by different individuals, and most 
> imporantly, the production of tools, means which become themselves 
> needs. Tracing mind from its origins in non-human life is OK, but I 
> have trouble with ANL's concept of "subject", which could be a microbe equally as a human.
> Andy
> Huw Lloyd wrote:
>> On 10 August 2013 15:12, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:
>> ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>     Well Huw, I didn't mean to introduce a diversion by taking
>>     computers as an example. I could have taken a stone tool just as well.
>> Yes.
>>     It seems, Huw, that in responding to my challenge you have made a
>>     start at developing a theory of human needs.
>> 'fraid not.  Simply asking the question.
>>     Viz., that there are certain "vital" needs, and all other "needs"
>>     are merely means to meet these vital needs. I don't imagine that I
>>     am going to be able to refute the claims for a theory of human
>>     needs in a single message, it is after simply the claim for the
>>     existence of human nature - a concept with a very long history!
>>     (Aristotle built his theory of biology on the basis of a theory of
>>     needs.) But "vital" human needs are very elastic and other than in
>>     very general terms are quite indefinable. But as we change our
>>     world, what you need to live in that world are very real and very
>>     specific, and those needs arise directly out of participation in
>>     that life-world. Which of the thousand different ways that there
>>     are to meet the "vital" need of, say, nutrition, becomes a real
>>     need for a person, is determined by the cultural context of a
>>     person's life and their activity.
>> But these "real needs" are known needs.  Which Leontyev calls 
>> motives, does he not?
>>     So I prefer Activity Theory, in which needs are the product of
>>     activity, while, as conceived in any given activity, they provide
>>     the motive for that activity.
>> So it seems that we do not know whether needs are produced, or whether
>> they are exposed.   Did Leontyev make such a distinction?
>> Best,
>> Huw
>>     Andy
>>     Huw Lloyd wrote:
>>         On 9 August 2013 14:57, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net
>>         <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:
>>             I don't have any doubt that needs are produced. 25 years
>>             ago no-one needed
>>             a computer. Now it seems that everyone needs them. I don't
>>             see you r
>>             objection to this, Huw?
>>         Well, if you consider needs as primal (vital) such things as
>>         computers and
>>         the languages people speak are simply ways to meet such needs.
>>         >From a Marxian social perspective computing is interesting in
>>         this respect
>>         in that the needs met by the first generation workers is
>>         qualitatively
>>         different to the management saturated situation we have now.
>>          i.e. on the
>>         cusp of technological practice workers are more free from the
>>         tyranny of
>>         alienation.
> --
> ------------------------------**------------------------------**
> ------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts
> http://marxists.academia.edu/**AndyBlunden<http://marxists.academia.ed
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