Re: Discussion of EVI's Concept of the Ideal

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Thu May 13 2004 - 16:35:39 PDT

Steve, you pose an extensive research program which I do not have time to do,
so some of what I will say has to be speculative. In summary this is my

Ilyenkov used the word "ideal" very deliberatively, with political intent. As I
said, I take it as a re-assertion of THesis on Feuerbach #1. The way he uses
the word "ideal" though is an innovation, but one which is consistent with Marx.

Marx did not have a theory of psychology. Vygotsky's words about "Marxist
psychology" make it clear that real empirical work is required to construct
a "theory of psychology" so it is quite appropriate that Marx did not have
pretensions to go further in that direction than some broad generalisations.

Marx's own position on this, as on other subjects, is not 100% consistent. For
example, it is clear for me from reading Marx's correspondence that he had
aspirations to be accepted by bourgeois society as having made a contribution
to bourgeois economic science, and yet at the same time, one can only make
sense today of "Capital" as a work of *critique* not *science*. The same is
true of his refusal of Ethics - but Capital is much more a work of Ethics than
a work of science.

Where does that leave "dialectical materialism" - well at least Marx cannot be
blamed for leaving that problem to posterity.

Now, the main question, how can one justify the assertion that Ilyenkov's
concept of Ideals - which exist in the material world as material things which
play an ideal role in human activity which justifies them being
called "ideals" - is consistent with Marx's idea.

Well I think if you read the first few chapters of Capital we see that Marx
describes money in just that way but does not use the word "ideal." ("ideal" is
reserved for the "average value" as opposed to actual price). One can see what
Marx is driving at because it is a straightforward lift from Hegel. Though
again Hegel does not use the word "ideal".

As I see it, Vygotsky/Leontyev opened the way for Ilyenkov to interpret Marx in
a way that was not possible for Marx. But it is all part of a single thread of
intellectual development.


Quoting Steve Gabosch <>:
> Andy,
> 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?
> Thoughts?
> Best,
> - 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.
> >Andy
> >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.)
> >>
> >>Best,
> >>- Steve
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>At 02:46 PM 5/12/2004 +0200, you wrote:
> >>>Steve,
> >>>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
> >>>EVI.
> >>>Regards,
> >>>Victor

Andy Blunden

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