Re: Discussion of EVI's Concept of the Ideal

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Fri May 14 2004 - 07:22:49 PDT


If a number of different people say "We are all pursuing the same ideal
..." what is it that they are pursuing? A phantom? A state of brain matter?
Obviously what they are pursuing is something which exists independently of
"the mind" (in Lenin's sense, ontologically), but not of course
independently of objective, willful, needy, human practice.

The whole issue is the posing of the issue as a mind-matter problem, when
it can be understood ony as a subject-object problem.


At 04:15 AM 14/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>1. Yes, a serious inquiry into Ilyenkov's concept of ideality does indeed
>imply an extensive research program. If understanding this concept is
>indeed a key part of the doorway to a Marxist psychology, as you suggest,
>it would stand to reason.
>For me, such an inquiry will have to be one step at a time. For now, I am
>making my way through the first chapter of the Dialectics of the Abstract
>and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960). Here is a passage that just
>caught my eye (Progress, pg 40) where EVI outlines a key feature (existing
>independently of the individual) of his concept of ideality (without using
>that term - in this case he refers to it as the "sphere of material and
>spiritual culture":
>"... it is not only material nature that exists outside of and
>independently from the consciousness and will of the *individual* - so
>does the extremely complex and historically shaped sphere of the material
>and spiritual culture of *mankind*, of society."
>2. I am with Mike in liking this description:
>"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."
>The key word "consistent" of course needs clarification. Ilyenkov's
>innovation is both consistent and also expansive. Ilyenkov is making a
>leap, not just a gradual transition. There is both continuity and
>discontinuity with Marx in EVI's innovative concept of the ideal.
>3. An immediate problem with the term "ideal" is that it is a
>philosophical term that is alien to everyday English. Moreover, Ilyenkov
>is using the term in a new way. If Ilyenkov's use of this term is a
>concrete concept - which I think it is - it should lend itself to a brief
>glossary-style definition that is reasonably understandable in everyday
>English. EVI's phrase from above, "sphere of material and spiritual
>culture" has possibilities. Using CHAT terms, I like the phrase "cultural
>meaning embodied in cultural artifacts," or perhaps even shorter,
>depending on the context, just "cultural meaning." This does not at all
>mean we should shed the term "ideal," which is completely necessary to
>maintain connections with philosophical discourse. But it does provide
>another way to say it. Two examples:
>The ideal, as interpreted by EVI, is an objective reality that is
>comprised of **cultural meaning embodied in cultural artifacts** - in the
>same way commodity value is an objective reality comprised of socially
>necessary labor embodied in commodities.
>EVI's concept of the ideal is an expansion of Marx's labor theory of value
>into a social activity theory of **cultural meaning**.
>4. Hegel did use the term "ideality," although EVI doesn't say
>where. EVI offers a quote from Hegel using the term ideality in the
>middle of par 52 (my emphasis):
>"This secret of idealism shows up transparently in Hegel's discussion of
>the "ideality" of natural phenomena, in his presentation of nature as an
>"ideal" being in itself. Underlying what he has to say about certain
>natural phenomena is their description in the concepts and terms of the
>physics of his day: "...because masses push and crush each other and there
>is no vacuum between them, it is only in this *contact* that the
>**ideality** of matter in general begins, and it is interesting to see how
>this intrinsic character of matter emerges, for in general it is always
>interesting to see the realisation of a concept." Here Hegel is really
>speaking not at all about nature as it is, but about nature as it is
>presented (described) in the system of a definite physical theory, in the
>system of its definitions established by its historically formed "language". "
>5. Here is a very clear way Marx uses the term ideal several times in
>relation to money in Capital Volume 1. 5th paragraph into Chapter 3:
>Money, or the Circulation of Commodities, emphases are mine:
>"The price or money-form of commodities is, like their form of value
>generally, quite distinct from their palpable and real bodily form; it is
>therefore a purely ideal or notional form."
>Further along in the same paragraph, the following sentence has a footnote
>that defines ideal acts: "Since the expression of the value of
>commodities in gold is a purely ideal act,* we may use purely imaginary or
>ideal gold to perform this operation."
>"* In other words, it is an act which takes place entirely in the mind,
>and involves no physical transaction."
>Continuing with the next sentences, "Every owner of commodities knows that
>he is nowhere near turning them into gold when he has given their value
>the form of a price or of imaginary gold, and that it does not require the
>tiniest particle of real gold to give a valuation in gold of millions of
>pounds' worth of commodities. In its function as a measure of value,
>money therefore serves only in an imaginary or ideal capacity."
>6. I respectfully disagree with the statement "one can only make sense
>today of "Capital" as a work of *critique* not *science*."
>I believe one can make sense of it as both. Many Marxists, including Marx
>and Engels, have considered "Capital" to be one of the most important
>scientific works of the modern era. With EVI's help, "Capital" provides a
>basis for understanding the dual nature of commodities, which helps lead
>us to understand the dual nature of cultural artifacts; it provides a
>basis for understanding the objective character of value, which helps lead
>us to understand the objective character of cultural meaning; and it
>provides a basis for understanding the way relations between people become
>expressed in the relations between things in economic transactions, which
>helps us to understand the way relations between people can become
>expressed in relations between cultural artifacts and processes in human
>activities. These contributions of "Capital" to cultural-historical
>activity theory seem to me to be good examples of how "Capital" makes
>great sense as a work of science.
>- Steve
>Andy wrote:
>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 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
>>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
>>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
>>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
>>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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue Nov 09 2004 - 12:05:48 PST