RE: Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal

From: Eugene Matusov (ematusov@UDel.Edu)
Date: Mon May 03 2004 - 12:36:41 PDT

Dear Steve-


Thanks A LOT for taking your time and helping all of us with the issue! It
is SO helpful! I think Victor and you should develop a paper (or two papers
in dialogic relation with each other) for MCA about Il'enkov and his notion
of "the ideal" and how it can used in psychology/education.


I have unpacked boxes with my notes from my "previous life" (in the USSR).
One of these boxes has notes on Il'enkov's 1962 article (Steve, thanks, for
the correction of the year). I wish I could access it..


Steve wrote,

"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

Can you elaborate about what problems do you see in Il'enkov's concept of
the ideal and what suggestions you see to address these problems, please?








From: Steve Gabosch []
Sent: Monday, May 03, 2004 6:36 AM
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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