Re: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation, artifacts

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Fri May 21 2004 - 00:20:29 PDT

A few observations that may be of interest:
1. Perception and particularly perception understood as artefact rather than as biomechanics refers more or less to some of the more basic (primitive?)modes of the productive process, or labour (remember? the human transformation of (a part of)nature into a cultural artefact). Vygotsky's experiments in development of speech demonstrates just how critical the earliest stages of language learning are for the determinations of being, quantity, measure etc. that lie at the root of the productive process. Equally important, is his discovery that many of these basicdeterminations are acquired from social experience preceeding even the earliest stage of language learning while others are learned through non-verbal learning even long after language skills have been achieved. If, indeed, perception refers to the basic stages of the productive process, then Wartovsky's article should have first devoted to the interpretation of the currently popular term, "perception," in terms of the CHAT paradigm. My general impression of the article is that MW more than less accepts the basically contemplative orientation of the positivist definition of perception and then opposes it to praxis (the fancy word for practice)! MW, accepts the positivist view of primitive modes of production as contemplation, distinguishes it from "real" production and "real" products and then goes on to suggest that the relation between contemplative perception and active production is a worthy subject for research. The only real justification he gives to this distinction is an uncritical acceptance of positivist definitions of perception as contemplation. Experience and reason should show us that primitive modes of production, e.g. regarding a tree as pruned or still deserving of more attention by the pruner, is an integral part of any practice no matter how complex, in the aforementioned example; pruning a row of fruit trees. There is no earthly reason to regard them as distinctive categories of action.
2. Wartovsky's view of perception is strongly imbued (I write, "imbued," since he does somehow regard perception as action) with the contemplative bias characteristic of what EVI (and Lenin) called empirico-positivism. A real critique of this approach to "perception" would, by using the kinds of research proceedures explored by Vygotsky, show just how active are even the most primitive stages of learning productive processes. Humans, indeed most animals, begin to actively interact with their surrounding hours and even minutes after birth! At any rate, Wartovsky's article first, concentrates on the "traditional" issue of the relation between experience as it sensed and experience as it is understood and then goes on to relate perception to labour. Reminds me a bit of the distinctions made by Jones between produced objects and objects transformed into signifiers of social relations. True Wartovsky and Jones cut the cake in different places; Wartovsky distinguishes between primitive and more developed kinds of labour while Jones differentiates between artifact production and the strictly symbolic application of artifacts, but they both produce eclectic theories that involve breaking up the ideal into parts based on positivist concepts of thought and practice.
   The differentiation of idealities that interests me focuses on the technical side; the production of objects, the production of objects that are abducted to perform as significations of activities not directly or even indirectly related to their production (e.f. objects hijacked to transmit commodification, politicisation etc) and the production of objects that are designed to transmit ideation (those that in accordance with Vygotsky's formulation unite objects with meaning such as spoken language, graphic representation and so on). As I see it the important issue is the relation between experience as it is made and experience as it is understood.

3. It is my view that while these three kinds of ideality (determined of course by the processes by which they are produced and incorporated into production)are dialectically related, they represent distinctly different practices, and that it is important to recognize these and identify their particular cultural and historical roles to avoid confusions such as those exemplified by objective idealist tendencies to interpret all ideality as vocal or written language and by Jones's limitation of ideality to what I call hijacked objects (actually I think Marx used this phrase somewhere in Capital or Grundrisse). The recognition of these distinctions and of their different roles in historical and cultural development might also enable us to further investigate how different modes of ideality relate to paricular social conditions and their development (re. Ilyenkov's interesting analysis of the social roots of objective idealism in chapter of Dialectical Logic), how they are involved in the interaction between distinctive parts of the community (e.g. children and teachers, military commanders and politicians, and farmers and professors of agronomics). and so on.
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Steve Gabosch
  Sent: Monday, May 17, 2004 4:07 AM
  Subject: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation, artifacts

  This 1973 article PERCEPTION, REPRESENTATION, AND THE FORMS OF ACTION: TOWARDS AN HISTORICAL EPISTEMOLOGY by Marx Wartofsky was a chapter in the 1979 book Models: Representation and Scientific Understanding. This article was used as a core article in the 2003 xmca CHAT course.

  - Steve


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