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

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Fri May 07 2004 - 00:09:23 PDT

Found your diatribe somewhat confusing and S. Pepper is - or rather was - a total blank for me. So I did a bit of web crawling and found a site (SUNY Buffalo) devoted just to Pepper.
He's interesting - I more or less agree with your assessment that Pepper is to Dewey and Mead as Ilyenkov is to Marx and Lenin. I'm now trying to figure out where to locate Rorty. The parallels in ideas and in dialogic relation to their precursors of both Pepper and Ilyenkov gives some truth to Newman and Holzman's ("Chapter 3: Practice - Vygotsky's tool-and-result methodology and psychology," from their book Lev Vygotsky Revolutionary Scientist ) brash assertion that there are only two philosophies that effectively address modern conditions: Pragmatism and Historical Materialism. I suspect that their choice of philosophies, and my predisposition to agree with them has more to do with the cultural-historical intellectual concerns that characterize American and Russian civilizations as contrasted say to those of our British, French and German counterparts than it does to any universal measure of relevance. Well, so be it.

 I still don't understand much of your diatribe, particularly your description of Hegel's works. I recognize the terms and here and there I find some familiar formulations but the whole picture you've presented doesn't gell. Anyway, many thanks for the references to Pepper.

Highest regards,

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Steve Gabosch
  Sent: Tuesday, May 04, 2004 10:26 PM
  Subject: from Michael Glassman: RE: Illynekov's concept of the ideal

  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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