RE: Discussion of EVI's Concept of the Ideal

From: Cunningham, Donald J. (
Date: Fri May 14 2004 - 10:29:12 PDT

Andy, forgive what is probably a naive question, bit if the ideal is
material, does it also determine (participate in causal relationships)?


Don Cunningham

Indiana University


From: Andy Blunden []
Sent: Friday, May 14, 2004 9:23 AM
Subject: Re: Discussion of EVI's Concept of the Ideal



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

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
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
psychology" make it clear that real empirical work is required to
a "theory of psychology" so it is quite appropriate that Marx did not
pretensions to go further in that direction than some broad

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
aspirations to be accepted by bourgeois society as having made a
to bourgeois economic science, and yet at the same time, one can only
sense today of "Capital" as a work of *critique* not *science*. The same
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
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
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.
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
> complex questions on the table. First, what is the "ideal." Second,
> 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
> 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
> 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,
> how he differentiates and relates the ideal to the material. From
> I
> have seen of Marx's statements so far, it appears he was saying that
> 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
> from CHAT - cultural meaning embodied in cultural artifacts - in the
> same
> way commodity value is an objective reality comprised of abstract
> power embodied in concrete commodities. Ilyenkov also explained that
> 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
> of
> his formulations, which appear to exclude subjective reality as part
> the
> ideal). This position by Ilyenkov, according to the evidence I am
> of, differs sharply from Marx, Lenin, etc., who explicitly identified
> the
> ideal with subjective reality only, and to my knowledge made no
> to
> account for objective cultural meaning as also belonging to this
> category.
> As for the question you raise regarding Ilyenkov's innovative use of
> term "ideal," the evidence seems compelling that Ilyenkov meant
> 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
> and confused indicates to me that he really meant to use the concept
> 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
> 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
> >"ideal," but in my opinion he is only presenting exactly what Marx
> >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
> >>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
> by
> >>others within or near the Marxist orbit? (Ilyenkov mentions
> >>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
> DD and
> >>>EVI.
> >>>Regards,
> >>>Victor

Andy Blunden

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