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[Xmca-l] The Ideal and Nicaraguan Sign Language

Mike has drawn our attention to the Nicaraguan Sign Language
as a counter-example to Vygostsky's claim:

   "that if no appropriate ideal form can be found in the environment,
   and the development of the child, for whatever reasons, has to take
   place outside these specific conditions (described earlier), i.e.
   without any interaction with the final form, then this proper form
   will fail to develop properly in the child."

In my opinion, this once-in-human-history event does not invalidate the principle Vygotsky was elaborating. Just like every attempt to say what distinguishes the human being from the animal seems to be faulted by the latest clip from YouTube, all such absolute claims are almost bound to fail at some point. But the principle, illustrated by the fact that children growing up in Russia speak Russian and understand the meaning of perezhivanie whereas we don't, etc., is hardly faulted by NSL.

The other thing that Mike suggests is that the principle of the ideal being present in the environment carries with it the negation of the idea of the social formation itself being subject to continuous change. Again, I think Vygotsky just takes this as outside the concerns of Psychology. His essay on Socialist Man http://www.marxists.org/archive/vygotsky/works/1930/socialism.htm shows that in fact he saw the psychology of people as primarily determined by the social formation of which they were a part and he saw that social formation as evolving. He was of course a modern, albeit I suspect a modern with a considerable capacity for irony.

Now, this raises the difficult question of what Vygotsky may have meant by "ideal." Or, what he thought is a mystery, but what should *we* understand by ideality? It is well known that Vygotsky was surrounded by a number of fellows who were aficionados of Hegelianism, even if Vygotsky himself had never studied Hegel, so it is fair to suggest that the Hegelian concept of the Ideal is relevant in this context, of reconciling "ideal" as the norm in a given social formation and "ideal" as the notion of infinite, historical perfectability. For Hegel, "ideality" expresses both these principles; that is, that any relation contains within it a "gap" which makes it open to perfectability, and that "gap" is ever present, and its existence expresses what Hegel calls The Idea, that is to say, the ever-unfolding spirit of human freedom. Etc. It only requires that the Idea is present for any relation to be mutable. This is deep and challenging philosophical stuff which we don't really need, if we can just accept that "the ideal" does not mean something fixed and final, just an evolving norm: ever-shifting goal posts.


*Andy Blunden*