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

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Wed May 19 2004 - 14:50:27 PDT

Better late than never.
Here's the last part of the commentaries. It's probably the most interesting, because it is here that he goes beyond the philosophical issues and addresses the kinds of things that interest us as social scientists; the nature of culture, the sociology of education and so on.
Hard work, but, very, very useful.
Interested to read your reaction.
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Steve Gabosch
  Sent: Monday, May 17, 2004 4:38 AM
  Subject: Re: Response to Steve G on EVI and Bakhurst - The annotations


  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 structures
  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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