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[Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza

I think that Sasha, on p. 37 of "Ilyenkov and the Revolution in
Psychology", slips one by us. He quotes Davydov, who says that Ilyenkov
provided the logical-philosophical basis for cultural-historical theory and
for Vygotsky's theory of instruction based on development. He then says
that Davydov is wrong on both counts: neither Ilyenkov nor Vygotsky would
have considered cultural-historical theory truly scientific, and Ilyenkov
hardly ever mentions Vygotsky. Before we can ask what Sasha means by the
first, he is off trying to explain why Ilyenkov doesn't mention Vygotsky
much. There are lots of reasons not to mention Vygotsky when you are doing
philosophy. I am more interested in Sasha's notion that Vygotsky would not
have considered Davydov's version of the theory scientific.

Sasha calls Ilyenkov, Vygotsky, and Marx anti-naturalists. He says it is
because of their recognition of the social, cultural-historical nature of
the human psyche. But in all three cases, that social, cultural-historical
"nature" really is natural at its base: it depends on a "thinking body" in
the case of Ilyenkov (something Descartes would not have rejected!), it
depends on the domestication of the human body and mind in the case of
Vygotsky, and of course it depends on the transformation of use values into
exchange values in Marx. So I am not at all sure in what sense they are
"anti-naturalist". If we take the Spinozan view, to be anti-naturalist is
to be anti-substance, anti-thought, anti-extension. I don't think that
applies to Marx, Vygotsky, or even Ilyenkov.

I'm reading the Pedology of the Adolescent, and I find Vygotsky to be much
more methodologically eclectic than Sasha suggests with phrases like "sole
correct scientific method" and "whose theoretical analysis alone" (38). In
my reading, Vygotsky doesn't think of methods like that: methods are only
appropriate or inappropriate to problems of study. When you are studying
behaviour, psychology may be the appropriate method, but when you are
studying anatomy, try physiology. It is clear that Vygotsky has a
preference for his own "functional method of dual stimulation", but that is
precisely because it is appropriate to the goal of diagnosing the "next",
or proximal, zone of development. I think that even the psychotherapist's
couch, which as Sasha points out was artificially constructed out of
Freud's overwheening self-interest, had a place in Vygotsky's "science of a
natural whole": the only method he really does reject with disgust is the
practice of imagining what it is like to be a child and then pretending
that you have real scientific data. In the HDHMF, Vygotsky has a good deal
to say about Wundt and Titchener, not all of it critical (Chapters 3,4,5,
where "Titchener's Piano" is the empirical basis of his experiments with
choice). In contrast, Vygotsky has nothing to say about Socrates and Plato.

I think that, rather like the "aphorisms" Sasha cites on 39, Sasha's paper
just touches on the problem that has always puzzled me: how Vygotsky
reconciles the explanans of Spinoza with his chosen explanandum of choice
and free will. It seems to me that they are reconcilable, but only through
the path that Sasha refuses to take, that is, the path of the semiotic,
semantic, systemic structure of the "thinking body". Vygotsky says that he
wants to know what a real human does in the Buridan situation, tethered
like the donkey between two equidistant and apparently equal piles of hay.

Buridan himself would say that such a situation does not exist: piles of
hay are never equidistant and never exactly equal, and the universe is
really constructed like a chess game, where in any conceivable situation,
there is one and only one perfectly rational move, even if it is quite
beyond the power of man, beast, or even supercomputer to ever know what it
is. That was, I gather, Spinoza's solution as well, except that Spinoza
drew the logical conclusion that when you do not know which choice is
better, you must necessarily defer until you do. In the meantime, the
proliferation of choice, like the proliferation of method, is a positive
good, the closest we miserable slaves can get to freedom.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

Free Chapters Downloadable at:


Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan, Vygotsky, and Some Ruminations
on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children

Free E-print Downloadable at:


On Mon, Jul 31, 2017 at 5:23 PM, Annalisa Aguilar <annalisa@unm.edu> wrote:

> Hello,
> I did my best to follow the thread on Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza and I
> probably did not read it as closely as I could have, nor did I read the
> originating article, that is, the one Mike attached as the knot to this
> thread, but I shall.
> Of course being a big fan of Spinoza I had to eye-wig in and see what was
> to be seen on this here persistent thread.
> I would like to make a contribution as a point in contrast, to what is
> becoming more prominent in my understanding of the non-dual view of the
> apparent world as seen through Vedanta.
> First, and I'm sure I shall be corrected, please note, I see the Western
> viewpoint (as springing from Descartes) as depicted as a linear rational
> (and historical) view whereby thought and material are different entities.
> As I understand, according to Descartes, material comes into being through
> thought. I think first before I am first. Is this correct?
> Spinoza, as I understand, saw that there was a historical aspect that
> Descartes missed that we actually transform material and it transforms our
> thought and so on, as they weaves through one another. And so on through
> time. But how could this happen that if material and thought were of
> different substances?  (Am I getting this right?)
> But he also saw that we are not separate from nature, and are indeed
> helplessly subject to it, we are nature but nature isn't us. Yet this
> nature could not be separate from God, and thus with some lens-grinding
> Spinoza came to see that not only is nature not separate from God, and that
> nature is not separate from us, but God is also not separate from us
> because we are of the same "substance" in nature, that we are indeed, as if
> the same "material."
> But then what of free will? Are we merely reacting like mechanical robots,
> or chemical reactions? or is there choice?
> >From my Vedanta studies there are similarities to the monist Sponiza
> worldview of nature and God being one substance extending through time,
> transforming through laws of physics and so forth. I'm not clear how
> Spinoza saw the mind, and it seems that psychology, not having been
> named/formed/created historically at that point in time, he had to have a
> different word for that, which seems to have been "spirit," methinks.
> So we are at odds at the way translations go not only from one language to
> another but from one historical moment to another (the way words mind
> versus spirit are used). But the actual ontology was perhaps the very
> turtle both psychology's notion of mind and Spinoza's notion of spirit were
> identically referencing.
> Just thinking out loud here.
> Now in Vedanta, the cosmology is such that the mind and the body are
> indeed one substance, if there is a substance at all. And that the
> perceivable world, is just a beginningless dance of names and forms,
> whereby one thing becomes another thing, and its name changes, and so on
> through time and space. That there is an order of consequences through
> actions and reactions. Understanding the nature of those actions and
> reactions helps offer choice to the person, as to what actions one hopes to
> perform to gain a particular (desired) consequence. And such is the
> importance of karma, to consider one's actions and the consequences that
> will come of them. It's just science, but a science incorporating the
> subtle forms not just the gross.
> If all that is here is non-dual, as the ancients claimed, then it would
> have to mean that mind and body are one substance, it seems that quantum
> physics does show that things are not as solid as we might think, and that
> the mind is not as unaffected by gross material as we once thought.
> So if I am understanding the Vedic view of the mind and body being
> material, that is, of one substance, this substance must exist in name and
> form across a spectrum, whereby on the one side we have all that is subtle,
> and on the other we have all that is gross, again in terms of name and form
> of said substance.
> A metaphor for this concept could be a consideration of the different
> forms of water. Solid at one temperature, liquid in another, and steam in
> yet another. If time and space are relative (i.e., Einstein), then let's
> pretend that they are infinitely stable if seen at an instant in time (like
> now, the present moment). Then it does seem that ice is a different
> "material" than water, and also steam. But in reality their substance is
> identical: H2O.
> This is a gross simplification (pun intended), because we have one
> substance in three forms, but never at the same time, though in the same
> place. The change is caused by temperature, and we can only see the change
> of form witnessed through time. But also the name changes too. So there is
> as if an appearance of a linear change.
> W1(ice) must pass through W2(water) to become W3(steam) and back again,
> through time (with the help of temperature), but W occupies the same space,
> though the volume might change a little.
> OK, thanks for staying with me this far.
> As I'm understanding it, there is in the Vedic worldview three gunas
> (branches, or better "properties") of which the perceivable world consists,
> these being sattwa (energy, purity, light), rajas (action, movement, heat),
> and tamas (form, heaviness, inertia, darkness). And every *thing* that can
> be a *thing* is a unique combination of sattwa, rajas, and tamas. But this
> is relative. For example a rock as more tamas than a river, which has more
> rajas than a rock, but the sunlight shining on the rock and the river have
> more sattwa than either of them. In otherwords, it's all relative. There is
> tamas and sattva in the river, and rajas and tamas in the sunlight, and
> sattwa and rajas even in the rock, but those are in smaller ratios than the
> other dominant properties therein.
> If we consider Einstein's theory of relativity, E = mc2, then this might
> also be seen sattwa = tamas multiplied by the speed of rajas. Put another
> way, that tamas in its gross form is transformed into sattwa its subtle
> form through rajas, its movement(activity) through time and space.
> This is from the aspect of the material world, as we (humans) can
> perceive, through physical laws. That there is only one substance here, by
> metaphor like water, is what Spinoza (I think) was attempting to "see,"
> through a lens of inquiry and curiosity. How might this inquiry transcend
> the dualism as presented by Descartes?
> But I would like to prpose right about now that the dualism as presented
> by Descartes was "historically invented" as a means to bypass intellectual
> persecution by the Church fathers (i.e. Galileo). It is not apparent to me
> that Descartes even believed everything that he wrote, but that it was a
> story crafted to gift the material world for experimentation (with
> impunity) to the scientists (so we could really figure out what was going
> on here in the material world) and to leave the empty carton of the
> "spiritual" (i.e. the mind) to the Church, which was just like selling the
> Church a bridge that leads to swampland, really. And it worked!
> I digress. Because the mind question really is a material question, but of
> a subtle nature, and it would have to be that if we assert non-duality,
> which I am, but you do not have to, as that is your choice! :)
> It ends up that much of cognitive science is showing mind as a material
> question to be the case, for example by its examination of distributed
> cognition, embodied thinking, and so on, and also in cultural psychology
> (like wet water) the way culture's soup creates so much of our human
> experience. It is all relative, which means, to be relative it must be one
> unified substance. Mind is created through activity and culture, which also
> creates activity and culture, as woven threads extending out through time
> and space in all directions.
> Substance is a difficult and slippery word, because anything that would be
> made of this substance couldn't be perceived by us, as we are products of
> that substance.
> It gets a bit Escher here if we could. You know staircases collapsing upon
> one another, or hands drawing themselves, etc. Kind of Mobius strippy.
> But this creates a reality of turtles all the way down, of infinite
> regression. That does not work.
> Spinoza's insight is that there IS a oneness, and that this can be
> experienced ("seen"), but only through spiritual pursuit of
> self-examination and inquiry, which was a kind of purification to him. In
> this sense there is free will, because one is choosing to do this self
> reflection, but on the other hand there is a necessary result that comes of
> seeing what is already there, nothing is "produced". Hence the beauty of
> him being a lensgrinder, is a marvelous metaphor in so many aspects.
> My intuition is that LSV was attempting to balance Spinoza's substance
> with Marx's materialism as a way to bring the two together, with the goal
> of illustrating that there was a predictable "physics" to the way mind
> develops as a necessary consequence of culture moving through history (i.e.
> meaning), and vice versa (culture and history being created in turn by
> mind).
> This is not a linear summation or consequence, but an intermingling of
> three properties (in relation to one another), light, mass, and energy or
> as the ancients called them sattwa, rajas, and tamas, and these properties
> are always in movement and in consequence to one another, but from the
> aspect of the perceivable world.
> >From the aspect of itself, it is static, nothing is changing, and it
> exists outside of time and space. This is what Spinoza would have called
> God (or nature), or in Vedanta, "Brahman," which cannot be objectified, but
> it can be known because it is the only "thing" here, upon which all things
> depend for existence. Like the pot is dependent upon the clay for its
> existence.
> This metaphor useful here for how the clay still "sees itself" as clay
> even if it is in the shape of the pot, or a plate, but the pot can only
> "see itself" as a pot if the form is of a particularly named shape, but is
> no longer one if the pot-shape is shattered, though the clay remains
> regardless of the presence of the pot-shape or shard-shape. It is still
> clay. Relative to the pot, the clay is not changing, outside time and
> space, relative to the pot, which is changing inside time and space.
> When a pot can only see its own potness, then it appears there can be no
> unifying principle inside time and space. It is a duality. But if pot can
> see that its true unifying substance is clay, then its clayness stands
> outside of time and space, and it continues to exist as long as clay is
> there, just in transformation from the aspect inside time and space, but
> eternal from the aspect outside of time and space.
> Thanks for reading, and thanks also for your commentary. All being food in
> my pot. :)
> Kind regards,
> Annalisa