Re: Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Mon May 03 2004 - 12:00:55 PDT

Thanks for the information on EVI's publications on the ideal.
One question of some importance is whether the later versions (1974, 1977, are simply a copy of the earlier one (1962) or were modified to include newer ideas.

I'll send you my breakdown of Bakhurst's arguments in a day or two.


----- Original Message -----
  From: Steve Gabosch
  Sent: Monday, May 03, 2004 12:36 PM
  Subject: Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal

  What follows is a response to some questions by Eugene on Ilyenkov's writings and some friendly challenges to Victor regarding some of his comments on Ilyenkov, Bakhurst, Jones, and the concept of the ideal.

  David Bakhurst clears up most of Eugene's questions about when Ilyenkov wrote on the question of the ideal in his book _Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet Philosophy: From the Bolsheviks to Evald Ilyenkov_ (1991). Eugene has the basic idea of what happened. Several versions of his 1962 encyclopedia article have appeared in Russian and English, and keeping track of them gets a little confusing, see below. I am still not clear from the References whether there are two different articles with multiple versions, or whether Ilyenkov worked on a revision of the 1962 original in 1979, or actually, quite what happened. The version of the Ilyenkov article available on Marxist Internet Archives is from the 1977c citing below. This version is at the url Victor provided,

  From Bakhurst, beginning of chapter 6 "The Problem of the Ideal" (this chapter was part of the on-line CHAT course last year, as was the above version of the Ilyenkov's "The Concept of the Ideal," BTW).

  "Ilyenkov first presented his account of the ideal (ideal'noe), or "ideality" (ideal'nost'), in a long entry in the Soviet philosophical encyclopedia in 1962, an article that represents his most impressive contribution to the renaissance of Soviet philosophy after Stalin (Ilyenkov 1962b). Ilyenkov never lost faith in the validity of the theory he outlined there, and when he returned to the problem of the ideal in a late article (1979a), he did so not to question his earlier views but to reaffirm them."

  From Bakhurst's book, References pg 272 etc.

  (1962b), Ideal'noe [The Ideal]. *Filosofskaya entsiklopediya*, vol. 2; 219-27. Republished, amended in Ilyenkov (1974a: 183-210; 1984a: 164-88).
  (1979a), Problema ideal'nogo [The Problem of the Ideal]. VF, no. 6: 145-58, no.7: 128-40. Republished as Dialektika ideal'nogo [The Dialectic of the Ideal], Ilyenkov (1984b: 8-77); partly trans. as Ilyenkov (1977c).
  (1977c), The Concept of the Ideal. *Philosophy in the USSR: Problems of Dialectical Materialism*. Moscow: Progress: 71-99. Trans. (abridged and amended) by Robert Daglish of Ilyenkov (1979a).
  (1984b), *Iskusstvo i kommunistcheskii ideal * [Art and the Communist Ideal]. Moscow: Iskusstvo.
  (1974a), *Dialekticheskaya logika. Ocherki istorii i teorii* [Dialectical Logic. Essays in Its History and Theory]. Moscow: Politizdat. Translated as Ilyenkov (1977e).
  (1977e), Dialectical Logic. Essay in Its History and Theory. Trans. by H. Campbell Creighton of Ilyenkov (1974a). Moscow: Progress.

  The multiple versions and republications of Ilyenkov's original 1962 encyclopedia article seem to strongly support Bakhurst's claim that "Ilyenkov never lost faith in the validity of the theory he outlined" in that 1962 article.

  However, Victor says he has the "general impression ... that the subjective idealist implications of the article of 1977 (I basically agree with Bakhurst here) were a striking anomaly when compared to the rest of EVI's writings." But the multiple publications and apparent revisions of this article in the 1970's would be puzzling if Ilyenkov agreed with Victor that this theory was a striking anomaly to his other writings. I think the way to resolve Victor's sense of there being a striking anomaly is to agree with Bakhurst's analysis that there was none - that EVI considered his concept of the ideal to be integral to his life-long work.

  I also want to question Victor's characterization of EVI's concept of the ideal as "subjective idealist", and especially the notion that Bakhurst suggests that this is the case. My reading of Bakhurst is that he is saying just the opposite.

  In the sub-section "Conclusion" in the aforementioned Chapter 6, Bakhurst quotes Marx's first "Thesis on Feuerbach": "The chief defect of all hitherto materialism - that of Feuerbach included - is that the thing [Gegenstand], reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object [Objekt] or of contemplation [Anschauung], but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. ...."

  Bakhurst continues:
  "Ilyenkov's theory of the ideal is an attempt (which he takes to be implicit in Marx's own writings) to remedy this defect. By giving sense to what it is to "conceive of the thing as human sensuous activity," Ilyenkov offers us a new, dialectical materialism in the form of a radical realism that treats the thinking subject as located in material reality, in direct contact with its objects."

  Bakhurst clearly sees EVI's work on the concept of the ideal as an extension of dialectical materialism, and not a version of subjective idealism.

  But wait, there is more (I am really giving Victor some challenges here. They are of course offered with the highest of regards).

  I also want to make some comments on Peter Jones' take on ideal and cultural artifacts. In that on-line CHAT course we did a year ago, we also read and discussed one of the versions of the critique Peter Jones wrote on Ilyenkov's Concept of the Ideal. It was my wrestling with some problems I had with the Jones article that fully convinced me of Ilyenkov's argument. Jones is opposed to one of Ilyenkov's central theses - he argues against the notion that all cultural artifacts have ideality as well as materiality.

  This article is available on MIA at

  However, Jones adds a strange twist to this discussion by claiming that Ilyenkov agrees with him, and that it is Bakhurst that gets this business about cultural artifacts all having ideality wrong. This Jones article also takes on Engestrom, who agrees with Bakhurst's interpretation and provides a clear quote by Ilyenkov that unambiguously shows Ilyenkov did claim all cultural artifacts have ideality. Nevertheless, Jones continues to argue that Ilyenkov does not hold this position by offering an alternative interpretation of the passage Engestrom had quoted from. Jones also offers a number of what I found to be strange ways of quoting Marx to also try to get Marx to appear to support his positions.

  But leaving aside this problem with quoting and interpreting, Jones offers a concept of reality that in my opinion reflects precisely the defective version of materialism that Marx's first thesis and Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal "attempt ... to remedy," as Bakhurst asserts. I believe understanding the difference in approach to key elements of human reality - such as the subjective and objective, ideality and materiality, the abstract and the concrete, the mental (representational) and the physical - that exists between mechanical and dialectical materialism - is critical in being able to interpret Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal. As I see it, in general, the mechanical materialist outlook sees these just-listed dichotomies as mechanically distinct entities that are more or less equivalent to one another (such as materiality and the concrete), but the dialectical materialist outlook (as interpreted by Ilyenkov) sees them as dialectical unities (systems) that are not interchangeable (such as the abstract and the mental). From a mechanical materialist interpretation of "the thing, reality, sensuousness," Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal would appear to be subjective idealist. However, as Bakhurst and others argue, and with whom I agree, Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal is a needed continuation and expansion of dialectical materialism and is consistent with the methods and philosophy of Marx and Engels. In my opinion, following Vygotsky, this extension of dialectical materialism helps lay the basis for a "Marxist" or a cultural-historical psychology.

  To sum up, a careful reading of the Jones article reveals, in my opinion, a tendency to view reality - and especially the distinctions between the ideal and the material - in the mechanical materialist tradition. This is clearly revealed in the thought question, do cultural artifacts (for example, a hammer) have ideality? Jones argues they do not. Jones also sees Marx and Ilyenkov as co-thinkers in this endeavor, and are in agreement with his notion that hammers are devoid of ideality. Jones works hard at interpreting the words and ideas of Marx and Ilyenkov to what I see as his mechanical materialist end. Bakhurst, Engestrom offer interpretations that I consider much more in line with the dialectical materialist tradition of Marx and his mid-20th century disciple in dialectical reasoning, Evald Ilyenkov. These writers argue that hammers and cultural artifacts in general do have ideality. A careful reading of Ilyenkov's article "The Concept of the Ideal" with dialectical conceptions of the pervasive, unending and contradictory development of the abstract and the concrete - in ideality and materiality, in the mental and the physical, and in the subjective and objective - reveals, in my opinion, a profound extension of dialectical materialism, just the opposite of subjective idealism.

  For a last word in my little challenges to Victor's take on the concept of the ideal, this is the concluding paragraph in that Bakhurst chapter:

  "As we noted above, Ilyenkov's account of the world as an object of thought includes a correlative theory of the nature of the individual subject. If we reject the Cartesian conception of the self as the foundation of the mistaken doctrine of idealization as "mentalization," we make room for a new idea of the individual, conceived not as a self-contained, self-sufficient, and ready-made subject of "inner" states, but as a socially formed being, essentially dependent on his or her ancestors and peers. We shall explore this idea in the next chapter."

  - Steve

  Eugene wrote:

    As far as I know, the article "The Concept of the Ideal" was written by
    El'enkov in the early 60s or even the late 50s for the Philosophical
    Encyclopedia that was published in the early 60s (1964?). I'm not aware of
    1977 (re?)publication of this paper. Does anybody know anything about 1977
    publication? Is it the same article?

  Victor wrote:
  Just a bit of background: about three months ago, P. Jones asked if I had
  written something on Ilyenkov's concepts of Ideality, i.e. those he
  presented in his 1977 article "The Concept of the Ideal." After reading the
  article about 8-9 times and finding it no less clear at the 8th reading than
  it was at the first reading I went through the corpus of Ilyenkov's works
  (those translated into English that is) and reviewed all available
  interpretations of EVI's works by D. Bakhurst's and of P. Jones. My general
  impression was that the subjective idealist implications of the article of
  1977 (I basically agree with Bakhurst here) were a striking anomaly when
  compared to the rest of EVI's writings, both those preceding and following
  the publication of the 1977 article (here I take exception to Bakhurst's
  efforts to regard "The Concepts..." as an integral part of Ilyenkov's life
  work). This raised the interesting question; how did EVI - one of the
  sharpest critics of Logical Positivism of the last century - come to write
  up what is in essence a subjective idealist theory of the ideal?! "The
  Concept of the Ideal" was part of a collection of articles including Leont'
  ev's important "Activity and consciousness" published as,(1977) Philosophy
  in the USSR: Problems of dialectical materialism. I just finished
  reading/rereading the available writings of Leontiev (reread his, (1978)
  Activity Consciousness and Personality, and read and reread his, (1977)
  "Activity and Consciousness," several times) and a respectable number of
  links between "The Concept...," and "Activity and Consciousness," suggests
  that the anomalies of "The Concept of the Ideal" might well be the
  consequence of a theoretical expansion of Leont'ev's Activity theory.


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