from Michael Glassman: RE: Illynekov's concept of the ideal

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Tue May 04 2004 - 13:26:48 PDT

Michael Glassman asked me to forward this post to the list.
- Steve

-----Original Message-----
>From: Michael Glassman
>Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 11:31 AM
>To: ''
>Subject: RE: Illynekov's concept of the ideal
>Steve and others,
>I have been interested in the discussion on Illyenkov because it reminded
>me of the debate between Dewey and Pepper concerning Hegelian idealism and
>organicism (which eventually – I believe – became one of the major
>motivations for Pepper writing WORLD HYPOTHESES). It seems like
>Illyenkov, and those who are trying to interpret him are attempting to
>deal with very much the same philosophical problem. And the philosophical
>problem is a doozie (about as big as it gets in philosophy I think) and
>leads to a Hobbesian choice. I read the article by Illyenkov posted by
>Steve and I’m thinking that there is some symmetry between the
>debates. Because I know the Dewey and Pepper debate better I will focus
>on that and then try to work it back to what Illyenkov is saying.
>Here is the problem as I see it. You have the concept of Hegelian
>idealism (which Dewey, Pepper, and Illyenkov all pretty much define the
>same way). There is an organization to collective consciousness
>(experience – you need to use both terms simultaneously in this debate I
>think). That organization is different from individual
>consciousness. Where then does the organization come from? Taking from
>and then redefining Kant Hegel claims the organization comes from the
>natural HUMAN SPIRIT. Here I quote Illyenkov from the article posted by Steve,
>But the world existing before, outside and independently of the
>consciousness and will in general (i.e., not only of the consciousness and
>will of the *individual but* also of the social consciousness and the
>socially organised “will”), the world as such, is taken into account by
>this conception only insofar as it finds expression in universal forms of
>consciousness and will, insofar as it is already “idealised”, already
>assimilated in “experience”, already presented in the patterns and forms
>of this “experience”, already included therein.
>All right, the big problem as Illyenkov points out is that this has ties
>back to Platonic Idealism (and the allegory of the cave). The Ideal
>already exists and we are working towards it through the dialectic.
>This was the part of Hegel Dewey couldn’t deal with. If we are working
>towards and ideal then we have to posit dualism (the difference between
>where we are at the moment inside of our head and where we are going under
>the guidance of Human Spirit). I mentioned in an earlier post why Dewey
>wanted to stay away from dualism. But there was a second part of the
>equation that Dewey did want to include in his work, what he would define
>as organicism and which he claimed to separate out from idealism (even
>though James and other pragmatists told him that this was
>impossible). What is organicism? It is the organization
>itself. Illyenkov makes the point from a Marxist perspective with his
>discussion of “talers”, part of a larger, socially orchestrated conception
>of the material world that is different from individual consciousness (and
>reflects something individual consciousness could not reach on his
>own). Again I offer a quote from the Illyenkov article
>When the question was posited in this way the category of the “ideal”
>acquired quite a different meaning from that given to it by Kant, and this
>was by no means due to some terminological whim of Hegel and the
>Hegelians. It expressed the obvious fact that social consciousness is not
>simply the many times repeated individual consciousness (just as the
>social organism in general is not the many times repeated individual human
>organism), but is, in fact, a historically formed and historically
>developing system of “objective notions”, forms and patterns of the
>“objective spirit”, of the “collective reason” of *mankind* (or more
>directly, “the people” with its inimitable spiritual culture), all this
>being quite independent of individual caprices of consciousness or will.
>This system comprises all the general moral norms regulating people’s
>daily lives, the legal precepts, the forms of state ­ political
>organisation of life, the ritually legitimised patterns of activity in all
>spheres, the “rules” of life that must be obeyed by all, the strict
>regulations of the guilds, and so on and so forth, up to and including the
>grammatical and syntactical structures of speech and language and the
>logical norms of reasoning.
>Dewey wanted to make the argument that we come upon this organization
>naturally, in what Victor might call a “mystical” way through the course
>of human experience. This is why his metaphysics is so important, it
>creates the reason that we are always working not only towards this human
>system, but working to make the human system better. Dewey wanted to keep
>this away from idealism because he did not want to go inside the head,
>because once you go inside the head you simply cannot escape dualism, you
>can just close your eyes and wish very hard that it is not going to
>interfere with what you want to say.
>Pepper claimed that once you are positing the working towards this
>organization, whether materially based, or experience based, or Spirit
>based you are also admitting to idealism. There has to be some mechanism
>that is leading to this organization and you have only two choices, either
>it is going on inside the head or it already exists in experience. A true
>contexualist stays outside of the head and does not posit any
>organization. If it occurs well and good, but it was never intended and
>it is transient, dissolving when the problem changes. This is the
>distinction that Pepper makes between contextualism (where he cites James
>and Pierce) and organicism (which is obviously in reference to Dewey). If
>you go back and read these two chapter in this light they read very
>different. As much as Pepper thought Dewey represented Pragmatism in
>particular, and American philosophy in general, he believed Dewey’s
>organicism represented a slippery slope.
>Illyenkov seems to be facing the same problem as Dewey. He wants to posit
>an organization (you pretty much have to if you are working from a Marxist
>perspective I think). He did not want to make the mystical choice that
>Dewey made. He also seemed to feel that the materialist vision of
>ideation (which is very close to the new realist position here in the
>United States) brought you absolutely nothing in terms of
>organization/organicism. As a matter of fact Dewey made the argument that
>it just led you right back to dualism. Illyenkov obviously did not want
>to rely on the mystical qualities of experience (and he didn’t have
>Dewey’s metaphysics to catch him when he fell anyway). So he did what
>Dewey would not do, he went back inside the head. But it doesn’t matter
>how many disclaimers you make, and how much you say that what is inside
>the head is simply what is in the social milieu, you are making the
>distinction between in here and out there, and you are setting yourself up
>for charges of an idealism that goes beyond organicism and leads to
>dualism – the idea that there is in the social atmosphere a knowledge
>about how to do things and what you have to learn is that knowledge.
>The choice of both Dewey and Illyenkov is unsatisfying, but I’m not sure
>there is anything that is satisfying. I don’t know nearly enough of
>Illyenkov to know if his move in ideation was an anomaly, but it seems to
>me that if he were working from a Marxist perspective it was not. He was
>just trying to work out an important problem.
>Thanks for all of those who have read this diatribe.

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