Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sat May 15 2004 - 15:20:02 PDT

Well said, Andy.

Bakhurst analyzes Lenin as being ambiguous between two kinds of
realism. He suggests that this ambiguity spawned two schools of Marxist
epistemology, one associated with Stalin, the other with Vygotsky and
Ilyenkov. I am now seeing how central and foundational this more "radical"
school of epistemological Marxism, of realism, is to cultural-historical
activity theory, and how important its differences are with the one
associated with pro-Stalin trends. The so-called theory of reflection is
largely associated with these pro-Stalin trends, and but seems to play a
minor role in the later. I question how much it is really a "theory," and
not just a common metaphor. Vygotsky gave this metaphor a spin around the
block, but moved on to more effective devices for describing human

As a metaphor for how people "know," the term "reflection" is just a way to
remind everyone that "being determines consciousness" by reversing the
statement and saying that "consciousness reflects being." Lenin developed
his simple materialist idea about reflection in his Philosophical Notebooks
(I believe) as a way of explaining the basic materialist concept of how
matter has priority over mind. In the great question of which came first,
the chicken or the egg, materialists say being came first, and
consciousness followed. First came the Deed, then the Word.

However, Marxism has been historically ambiguous over how to develop this
materialist ontology (theory of being) into an epistemology (theory of
knowing) regarding human cultural activity and beyond that, human
psychology. This is where Vygotsky, Leontiev, Ilyenkov etc. come in. They
are the Marxist theoreticians who first cracked this egg. CHAT and other
offshoots of this pioneering theoretical work are continuing it.

Meanwhile, a great deal of Marxist-sounding verbiage continues to be
associated with the so-called Theory of Reflection and other ways of
mechanically describing human cultural activity and individual
psychological processes as linear "products" of human socio-economic activity.

Your point, Andy, about a three-sided process of human activity, rather
than just a two-sided one, seems crucial. Marx, Engels, Lenin et. al. were
certainly correct in distinguishing between the objective and subjective,
and in explaining how in general the subjective reflects the
objective. But what Ilyenkov and others did was explain that within the
objective there lies a world of meaning - the ideal - that could be
considered, as you put it, a "third" side. It is objective. But it is
also a very special form of subjectivity - a collective subjectivity that
is independent of individuals, although mediated by each and every one of
them. The reflection metaphor does not capture this dynamic "third" side
of human reality - in fact, it seems to outright deny it. To the extent
Lenin, or for that matter, Marx and Engels and others, held on to the idea
that this "third" side, the realm of cultural meaning (the ideal), is
"purely" subjective and not objective, and it is "merely" a linear
reflection of social reality in the consciousness of individuals, to that
extent we need to put aside these objectivist misunderstandings adopted
from an earlier era of social science - as we develop something much more
dialectical and true.

- Steve

At 11:36 PM 5/15/2004 +1000, you wrote:
>I think that both Vygotsky and Ilyenkov really loved Lenin, and this
>mirror metaphor caused them some problem because Lenin had committed
>himself to it so decisively in 1908. Nevertheless, I think Vygotsky is not
>being true to himself in repeating it. Perhaps it was not politically
>possible to criticise it, but surely he didn't have to repeat, don't you think?
>For me, it is the fact that the mirror is passive, whereas a human being
>is active. (see good old Theses on Feuerbach again). Lenin points out
>(correctly I think) that reflection is a capacity of *all matter* (e.g. a
>footprint) and one can even impute an element of "interpretation" in
>nature. But what is lacking is the 3-sided process of human activity which
>includes an *ideal*.
>What do you think?

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