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[Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky ["Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism]

Hello Lubomir!

Thank you so much for your explanation. I would guess none of this would be possible to know just reading the texts themselves. It is why I value the xmca list discourse and perhaps is the value and purpose of the list to all of us. I am grateful for the variety of voices and I hope others will come forward knowing they are welcome. At least by me, anyway!  :)

It is true that a lot of arguing over matters can be avoided by understanding the technical terms at the outset, and so clearing this up is important. Understanding how the word "consciousness" is used and where the usage derives also appears to be a common misunderstanding by outsiders coming into the topic. As you say, there are many ways the word is used. I agree.

It seems a little silly to expect people outside of a tradition or culture to understand a cultural reality not their own including its contexts. As is the case, there is a lot of progress to be made when there are allowances made for common misunderstandings. What I am trying to understand in the theoretical split between ANL and LSV is: Where are these mistakes commonly made by those of us looking back at the history and the theoretical content? By understanding these "common" mistakes, allowances can be made to pass over those areas more carefully. This is my objective and intention. How do we create an environment of better understanding?

And then, we hope, from creating a positive perezhivanie we are all transformed! :)

I am at a disadvantage that I am not well-read in Marx. But I hope that that deficiency doesn't bar me from the conversation. Russian psychology and its proponents will be floating in the broth of Marxist thought, and I recognize one cannot grasp the essential theoretical points to LSV's work without wading into the soup.

With this in mind, an important first barrier to overcome and yet not get too bogged down when learning the work of Vygotsky is the meaning of Marxist thought as a cultural reality. It is important and should not be dismissed. However, I have witnessed several times it is common occurrence that by going over the matter of "What is Marxism" the conversation just stalls and no progress is made. 

If the objective is better understanding, this seems a pothole that needs mending.

What should be the focus then is not "What is Marxism," but "What were the aspects of the contemporary cultural reality (in which Vygotsky lived) which influenced his theories and influenced their distribution after his death?" It seems that even among the historical players the question "What is Marxism" was prohibitive to idea exchange, so it seems worthwhile in this case not to let history repeat itself. :)

It seems unrealistic to expect people, who will have much to offer, to come to the discussion steeped in Marxist theory, and so my search right now is how we might overcome this very real barrier so newcomers have the ability access the content of LSV's work. It seems more realistic to say that we must know "enough" Marxist thought to place cultural contexts where they stand to open the door to the work. The question is what is "enough" ?

After having said all that (and thank you for reading all that), I'll reply more to the content of your post and the specific matter of "consciousness" as a technical term. 

I'm curious why "consciousness" is used instead of "mind." Is there an answer to this other than philosophical? Or is it the case that the matter is accepted as settled because of historical materialism's prerogatives? In other words, is the use of the word just accepted as such because it has become a convention? Do people today question the use of the word as it has been used?

The political fallout between ANL and Rubenstein is also helpful to know. I did not know about it and that is not anything that could be found from reading the texts themselves. If this is common knowledge, I appreciate your patience with me and my ignorance about it. 

Thank you for your contribution to my better understanding!

Kind regards,


From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Lubomir Savov Popov <lspopov@bgsu.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 9:26 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; Andy Blunden
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky ["Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism]

Hi Annalisa,

I was waiting a bit to see if someone else will chime in.

If we refer to Soviet (now Russian) psychology:
-- They prefer to talk about consciousness rather than mind.
-- All psychological functions and states emerge in the process of human activity.
--Consciousness is a major category in historical materialism and therefore has to be accepted as a major category by the social science disciplines. There are different interpretation of the concept of consciousness in different social science disciplines. However, they all had to refer to historical materialism. No one was bigger than historical materialism. Consciousness is also used in several ways in everyday life. But that is another story. The kinds of usage should not be mixed.

--LSV was sidelined pretty early by Rubinstein. The interest in LSV resurfaced in the 1980s, but was not too strong. ANL and his students were reigning and that time.
--ANL had quite of a power struggle with Rubinstein. ANL and his students/protégés ruled the psychology domain in the USSR at their life time.
-- Almost all textbooks in psychology after 1970 were written by the ANL circle. After 1970 Rubinstein was not published much and maybe not at all. The last psychology textbook by Rubinstein that I have seen was from the 1960s (first edition 1940).
-- Rubinstein was the first (if memory serves) to formulate the principle of the unity of consciousness and activity. However, many sources claim he heavily used works of LSV. Of course, all historical materialists hold to the principle that consciousness emerges in the process of activity; it is a product of activity and everyday life environment of the subject.

Researchers from Russia can provide more precise account.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces+lspopov=bgsu.edu@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Annalisa Aguilar
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 6:54 PM
To: Andy Blunden; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky ["Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism]

OK! I'm getting somewhere! Thank you for clarifying this term in the context of the controversy.

So are you saying that ANL is saying that LSV is saying (sorry to be so convoluted) that there is an "already established intellect" in the infant and ANL is saying this assertion can only be preposterous?

I'm sorry if I still haven't nailed it, and I hope you will forgive my persistence to understand this, but it seems pretty important.

If I am understanding properly, this is why I believe (intuitively at this juncture), that "consciousness" has an imprecise definition between the parties and its word-meaning is constitutionally different between ANL and LSV, and I would want to better understand what LSV was referencing when he used the word.

I think I can understand why ANL would have issue if he sees consciousness possible only if it is derived from activity.  If this is the case, then is it possible that this is a philosophical difference as to whether one believes mind to be present before consciousness, or one believes consciousness to be present before mind.

Is that fair to say?

In a largely materialistic rendering, mind would be first, I am guessing.



From: Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 4:19 PM
To: Annalisa Aguilar
Cc: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky ["Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism]

In this context, "intellectualism" does not mean "void of affect" or have anything to do with lack of affect.
"Intellectualism" refers to a theorist who ascribes a capacity for intellectual activity to (for example) an infant, who would in fact not have developed the capacity for an intellectual relation to the world.

*Andy Blunden*

Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
> Hi Andy!
> OK. I'm needing to fill in some blanks here.
> What is meant exactly by "intellectualism"? Or rather, what did ANL mean?
> When you say:
> [And no-one is saying that sign- and word-use, because it is intellectual, is therefore somehow lacking in affect.
> No-one is saying that. The person is first a whole, and from that
> whole, by reflection and analysis, we can abstract functions like
> "intellect" and "affect".]
> Perhaps I am responding to the word "intellectual" in the way it reflects back to me in my culture: that something or someone "intellectual" is void of affect (relatively speaking) and that is why those who spurn intellectuals do so. As such, "intellectuals" will sometimes speak/function at a level "above" most others, and this usually upsets people who do not speak/function on the same level.
> "Intelligence" is handled differently, though. It seems to me as a concept "intelligence" is more of whole cloth.
> "Intellect" (to me) is thinking without affect. It is rational and seeks to remove affect, with the "myth" that the products of thought are somehow "better, more pure" with this affect removed.
> I agree of course that the person is whole first, and that we abstract concepts to describe properties. But there has been a backlash from abstracting out. Isn't this why Descartes has been so problematic? Isn't this why Spinoza sought to understand where the emotions "come from" and what their value is?
> So given this, I ask the question again and circling back to the original charge in your paper, what does it mean for ANL to levy a charge of "intellectualism" upon LSV?
> TIA,
> Annalisa
> ________________________________________
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu
> <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Andy Blunden
> <ablunden@mira.net>
> Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 3:10 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: In defense of Vygotsky ["Sense and meaning"
> really means consciousness, which really means intellectualism]
> Annalisa, it is Leontyev who is pinning the charge of "intellectualism"
> on Vygotsky because he ascribes "meaning" and "significance" to
> children, and therefore sign-use. I am not saying that sign-use is not
> intellectual though. And no-one is saying that sign- and word-use,
> because it is intellectual, is therefore somehow lacking in affect.
> No-one is saying that. The person is first a whole, and from that
> whole, by reflection and analysis, we can abstract functions like "intellect"
> and "affect".
> Andy
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --
> *Andy Blunden*
> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
> Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
>> Hi Andy,
>> Again thanks for more!
>> Here's the thing: I may be getting lost in understanding argument positions.
>> Are you saying it is Leontiev, et al's position that thinking with signs and words are intellectual?
>> Because, for me personally, thinking with signs and words involve both affect and intellect and I don't think they can be separated out. For me, a person's intelligence is the mediated unification of affect and intellect, what I believe you are calling consciousness.
>> I feel supported by my position with Vygotsky's discussion of word-meaning (znachenie slova), if I am understanding word-meaning properly.
>> Again, the words "meaning" and "significance" can have affective
>> meaning and significance! :)  (is this the adjective? I want to say
>> "affectual," to match "intellectual" but that isn't a word)
>> Now if for *you* these particular words have "intellectual connotations," perhaps this difference between you and I supports LSV's (and my earlier) point that affect and intellect are mediated and will therefore allow each person have a different and nuanced mix of meaning and significance for the same set of words and signs, even if we generally agree on a social meaning and significance, such as the meaning of a flag.
>> This reminds me of the cultural differences regarding the meanings of color. One can't intellectualize red just by its perception. One can't have an affect of red either by perception alone (if one were to see red for the first time), its meaning and significance are socially, historically and culturally generated.
>> Furthermore, I agree with you that our "Western language" to describe the interior mind, if I am allowed to say that, is sparse. We know Freud reached into Greek mythology to give these concepts a handle. This is one reason I look to Eastern thought so I might learn how these dynamics are discussed. They do possess words for which we have none. I might also suggest there are relevant themes in these traditions that apply to Vygotsky's work.
>> In fact, it might amaze us in the West to truly understand the immense literature and legacies on these topics of mind and self. It certainly amazes me. Of course that would be a huge project to be mediated between cultural elders and not a cultural tourist like myself. I only point out that there is something there and we are not the pioneers to wrangle with these problems of mind.
>> I admit that to access these words, one must understand how metaphors are utilized. In rational-logical traditions, metaphors seem to be disagreeable. Also there is discussion of the spiritual, since the problems these traditions hoped to solve were spiritual problems, which may just be their historically-anchored approach to psychological realities. So, these barriers may explain the impasse.
>> But if words are tools, I'm sure we might borrow some and they wouldn't mind.
>> Ha! a pun! "wouldn't mind" get it? :)
>> Best,
>> Annalisa
>> ________________________________________
>> Sent: Thursday, October 23, 2014 12:02 AM
>> I would have said that this criticism is a deliberate
>> misrepresentation, except that Lydia Bozhovich makes the same charge of "intellectualism."
>> The charge hinges on phrases like "the significance  for the child"
>> and "the meaning for the child," etc., which etymologically suggest
>> the use of signs and words. Thinking with signs and words is
>> intellect. But the thing is that it is almost impossible for us to
>> describe the relationship of a person to their environment
>> psychologically without using words which evoke sign-relations. The
>> relation is a psychological one, not a conditioned-reflex, and the
>> words we have for relations which are mediated through consciousness
>> tend to be words like "meaning" and "significance" which have
>> intellectual connotations. The preintellectual stages of
>> psychological development which Vygotsky himself theorised are not built into the common language.
>> Andy
>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ---
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> Annalisa Aguilar wrote:
>>> This continues and extends from my original post concerning Andy's breakdown of ANL vs. LSV.
>>> There are about 8 points total... [copypasta is a starch of art]
>>> ---------------------------------------------------
>>> 4. ["Sense and meaning" really means consciousness, which really
>>> means intellectualism] (see original post below)
>>> ---------------------------------------------------
>>> Again a pothole. You say:
>>> "The child's relation to the environment is whatever is appropriate
>>> at their level of development, not necessarily if at all, an
>>> intellectual relationship, that's all that Vygotsky claims."
>>> I think know this, but what is ANL's critique against this? Is it
>>> that it is too "intellectual," which is possibly code for elitism or class?
>>> Sorry if I wasn't clear.
>>> --end