Re: Discussion of EVI's Concept of the Ideal

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 13:08:51 PDT


You raise a very interesting point. It seems to me we have quite a few
complex questions on the table. First, what is the "ideal." Second, how
does the "ideal" differ from and relate to the "material." Third, what did
Marx think the ideal is. Fourth, what did Ilyenkov think the ideal
is. Fifth, how does what Ilyenkov was saying about the ideal differ from
and relate to what Marx was saying about it. You have added a sixth
question - was Ilyenkov saying the same thing Marx was saying, only
incorrectly using the term ideal?

However, how one answers all these questions about Marx and Ilyenkov above
depends on how they choose to answer the first two questions - just what is
the "ideal," and how does the "ideal" differ from and relate to the "material."

For my part, I am in agreement with Ilyenkov's concept of the ideal, and
how he differentiates and relates the ideal to the material. From what I
have seen of Marx's statements so far, it appears he was saying that the
ideal is no more than the subjective reality of human
individuals. Ilyenkov, on the other hand, theorized that the ideal is an
objective reality that is comprised of - this is my terminology adapted
from CHAT - cultural meaning embodied in cultural artifacts - in the same
way commodity value is an objective reality comprised of abstract labor
power embodied in concrete commodities. Ilyenkov also explained that at
the same time individuals maintain their own consciousness and will, their
own subjective reality, and this is the entry into the psychological
sciences. I believe that Ilyenkov also counted individual subjective
reality as part of the ideal (although he was not very clear on this, which
could explain some of the problems people have with his article and some of
his formulations, which appear to exclude subjective reality as part of the
ideal). This position by Ilyenkov, according to the evidence I am aware
of, differs sharply from Marx, Lenin, etc., who explicitly identified the
ideal with subjective reality only, and to my knowledge made no attempt to
account for objective cultural meaning as also belonging to this category.

As for the question you raise regarding Ilyenkov's innovative use of the
term "ideal," the evidence seems compelling that Ilyenkov meant exactly the
use of the term "ideal." Whether the term "abstract" can be used in some
contexts as a substitute for "ideal" is another question - it probably
can. But Ilyenkov's extensive historical analysis of idealism, fetishism,
and philosophy in general in terms of how the "ideal" has been accounted
and confused indicates to me that he really meant to use the concept and
term "ideal" and no other.

The big question that is on my mind is that if Ilyenkov's theory is correct
- (as I am interpreting it, that cultural meaning is objective, and that
the ideal includes objective cultural meaning as well as subjective
reality) - what does this do to dialectical materialism, whose main
spokespeople have hitherto argued that the ideal is only subjective reality?


- Steve

At 07:10 PM 5/13/2004 +1000, you wrote:
>Steve I think this is missing the point.
>Ilyenkov made a provocative terminological innovation by using the word
>"ideal," but in my opinion he is only presenting exactly what Marx was
>saying. If Ilyenkov has confined himself to "abstract" be would have been
>on "safer ground" but he wouldn't have provoked a reaction.
>At 02:03 AM 13/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>>Victor, thanks for the url.
>>Dubrovsky explicitly equates the ideal with subjective reality, and the
>>material with objective reality. I am inclined to concede that this is a
>>valid interpretation of Marx on this question - and also Lenin, who
>>Dubrovsky cites in this regard as well. Do you agree?
>>Ilyenkov's concept of ideality - as something quite distinct from and
>>independent of individual subjective consciousness - appears to be
>>something new in relation to these classical Marxists. To your
>>knowledge, has this concept of ideality of Ilyenkov's been anticipated by
>>others within or near the Marxist orbit? (Ilyenkov mentions Bogdanov,
>>for example.)
>>- Steve
>>At 02:46 PM 5/12/2004 +0200, you wrote:
>>>I haven't read the whole message - I'm a bit rushed at the moment - but I
>>>suggest you see how Dubrovsky, Ilyenkov's materialist counterpart,
>>>interprets "the ideal is nothing else than the
>>> material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of
>>>thought." See Ralph Dumain's Autodidact site
>>>I hope my writing was clear enough to show that I disagree with both DD and

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