Re: Response to Steve G on EVI and Bakhurst - The annotations

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sun May 16 2004 - 19:38:40 PDT


1) Yes, the EVI article The Concept of the Ideal is indeed poorly
organized, and I suspect, poorly translated, among other problems. I
really appreciate you efforts to work through it. Most important, I
appreciate that you see its general continuity with Ilyenkov's other work
and Marxism in general. This clears up potential confusion. At the same
time, EVI is stepping out into new Marxist territory in his interpretation
of the ideal. I find Bakhurst's analysis of Lenin (and implicitly Marx) as
being ambiguous between two kinds of realism (on issues relating to the
question of the ideal) to be helpful, in that it points us to understanding
the pro-Stalin wing as emphasizing one kind, and EVI and others emphasizing
the other.

2) I have not yet given Bakhurst the close critical look you have. I am
looking forward to reading his Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet
Philosophy: From the Bolsheviks to Evald Ilyenkov (Cambridge University
Press, 1991), which is where the chapter The Problem of the Ideal comes
from. I will keep your comments in mind as I study Bakhurst.

3) I also appreciate that you see that a closer look at EVI helps resolve
some of the difficulties Peter Jones presents in his critique of EVI - of
which the most important difficulty was his contention that EVI did not
believe cultural artifacts had ideality. In my view, it is crucial in
understanding EVI's concept of the ideal to see that he did.

Your comments on perception and the idea that there are different kinds of
idealities reminds me of an important 1973 article by Wartofsky that Mike
Cole and others use to explain some key ideas in cultural-historical
activity theory (see accompanying post). At the end of this article,
Wartofsky describe three kinds of artifacts in a way that is reminiscent of
some of the ideas you bring up to distinguish different kinds of ideality.

In the beginning of this article, he describes his theses:

"... I will argue in this paper that the forms or modes of perception, its
themselves, are historically variant; that this variation is related to
historical changes in the forms or modes of human action (or praxis}:
and that this variation or change is perceptual modes in both determined
by, and in turn helps to determine such historically changing modes of
human action. Furthermore, I will argue that if this is true of perception,
then several traditional philosophical characterization of epistemological
questions are wrong, and that what is needed to replace them is an
historical epistemology."

Wartofsky continues:

"The theses I will argue for, in examining the foundations for such an
historical epistemology, are: first, that perception itself is a highly
evolved and specific mode of human action or praxis; i.e. that its
characterization as only biological or physiological or more generally, in
'natural' contexts, is inadequate; and that moreover, its traditional
treatment in philosophy, in the context of an historical epistemology, is
fundamentally mistaken. Second: that the specific feature of perception
as a mode of action is that it is mediated by representation: and third that
it is by the variation in modes of representation that perception itself
comes to be related to historical changes in other forms of human
practice, and in particular, to social and technological practice. For this
argument on the role of representation in mediating perception, I want to
resurrect the traditional term, imagination, in a specific sense, and to
relate it to the activities of picturing and modeling."

- Steve

At 07:57 PM 5/16/2004 +0200, you wrote:
>Here's installment two (one more to go).
>I should have done this much earlier, before reading Bakhurst.
>First, from careful reading (the 10th or 11th time, I no longer can keep
>track) I'm beginning to develop the view that despite its terrible
>organization (EVI here mixes commentary on Kant and Hegel with commentary
>on Marx without clearly indicating that he's doing so, jumps to and from
>issues with the abandon I associate with the kinds of complicated
>discussions we used to have as grad students in Friday night sessions in
>the local bar, and sometimes tediously repeats previous commentary over
>and over while making other important points in a short simple
>sentence)the work is quite consistent with his prior writings and has no
>resemblence whatsoever to Bakhurst's so called authoritative
>interpretations. As I see it now Ilyenkov is certainly not an
>idealist: subjective or objective. He is very much a mainline
>Marxist-Leninist whose main contribution is to give theoretical depth to
>the metascience of knowledge, logic and dialectics intimated, suggested,
>and partially worked out by his predecessors.
>Second, I should have been even more critical reading Bakhurst than I
>was. While it was easy to recognize that his idea that EVI was trying to
>find a synthesis of objectivist materialism and subjective idealism was
>totally without foundation, I overlooked the fact that DB accepts at face
>value Ilyenkov's identification of the Marxist analogue to Hegelian
>"spirit" as human collective activity. In fact, Ilyenkov's materialist
>analogue to Hegelian "spirit" is more precise: it is the collective
>productive and reproductive activity of man (general labour) that is the
>proper Marxist analogue to Hegel's spirit (though mentioned in the section
>I just sent this very well developed in the last 4th of the article). As
>EVI goes to great lengths to demonstrate in (1974) Dialectical Logic, it
>is Marx's reconstruction of materialist theory on the basis of man's
>active intervention in nature that extricates materialist theory from the
>subjectivism and dualism of contemplative (Feuerbachian and
>pre-Feuerbachian) materialism. Bakhurst's preference for the more
>abstract formulation of EVI's analogue to Hegelian spirit, by its implicit
>obliviousness to the active interaction between man and nature, revives
>the dualism and subjectivism of contemplative materialism without even
>being contemplative!
>Third, Jones's argument for a distinction between material objects (tools)
>and ideal objects (social relations) is misdirected. There is a
>difference between material objects and ideal objects (much of EVI's
>discussion in the Concept of the Ideal is devoted to this issue) for
>without this difference we revert back to idealism. But, this difference
>is most certainly not to be found in the distinction between tools and
>social relations. Thought, knowledge, may be a function of labour, but
>perception isn't. The very fact that ideal objects are distinctive parts
>of our world experience implies that we experience more than the useful
>products of thought.
>On the other hand, Jones does have a point that there are different kinds
>of idealities. EVI doesn't deal with this issue, but clearly there is a
>difference between elementary idealities (objectified notions that have
>been integrated into the collectively produced knowledge of mankind), more
>complex idealities (such as value-form that are idealities comprised of
>idealities) and ideal forms such as language that are in essence
>instruments for producing idealities.
>Highest Regards,

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