from Michael Glassman: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation, artifacts

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 00:12:48 PDT

Forwarding the following from Michael Glassman to xmca.
- Steve

>From: Michael Glassman
>Sent: Sun 5/23/2004 1:47 PM
>Subject: RE: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation,
>Hello Steve and Victor,
>I have been following your very interesting discussion about Ilyenkov and
>ideality and I have a few questions that I am trying to grapple with. I
>am hoping you guys can help me gain a better understanding.
>1. Steve, what do you mean when you say Wartofsky's three types of
>artefacts are dialectically related? Are you saying that human go from
>recognition of one artefact to the next through the (shorthand) A, not A,
>A' process and that is what allows us to recognize all three? Does this
>mean that the third level of artefacts is in some way more advanced than
>the first and second level? If so, what determines this hierarchy?
>2. Victor, when you talk about the difference between objective ideality
>and subjective ideality are you making the distinction between attributes
>that objectively belong to the material but we understand as human beings
>(e.g., the ability of a piece of wood to float, the relationship between
>weight and gravity) and subjective qualities that we impose on objects
>through our own activities? Pepper tried to make this distinction by
>separating data from datum, I wonder if Ilyenkov (or you) are trying to do
>the same thing? But does this then mean that these two types of
>idealities have very different properties in human activity? Or are you
>trying to get to something else?
>3. If ideality is the result of labor, then what happens to ideality once
>the purpose of the labor (assuming all labor has some purpose, meets some
>rational need) is no longer important? Does the ideality still stay with
>the material? For instance if I want to cross a river, and I band
>together wood that floats so I build a boat in order to get across and do
>so, does the ideality of the wood remain objective (i.e., wood has less
>density than water and therefore will float, and how well it floats is
>dependent on the density of the wood) or does it become subjective even
>though the purpose of the activity has been achieved (the wood should be
>used to build boats in order to cross rivers)?
>4. If subjective ideality remains (as I have defined it) exactly who or
>what controls the staying power of this ideality and for what
>purpose? Do we consider it to somehow remain with the material as a
>natural part of the material (i.e., traditional idealism - it was always
>there in the material for us to discover, and once we discover it, it is
>naturally part of the material)? Or do we say it remains in the minds of
>the aggregate population (but not everybody in the population built the
>boat or even saw the boat float - so does it remain in the minds of those
>who actually did the building, or those who suggested the building, or
>those who offered a bushel of grain in order for the boat to be built)?
>5. If different parts of the population determines different ideal
>meanings for different objects because they are engaged in different labor
>(e.g. division of labor) whose meaning takes precedence and why?
>6. How is Ilyenkov's concept of ideality different from the way mediation
>is usually defined in the field? Or is Ilyenkov attempting to offer an
>explanation for how mediation occurs? But then wasn't that explanation
>(that humans infuse objects with meaning) always part of the whole
>mediation argument?
>I don't know how intelligable these questions are, but I am trying to put
>these ideas into a framework. Thanks for any help that can be offered.
>From: Steve Gabosch []
>Sent: Sat 5/22/2004 10:56 PM
>Subject: Re: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation,
>I want to focus on some issues regarding what is meant by "ideality", and
>ways to use this term. Reading Victor's annotations and his recent post
>on Wartofsky carefully, I believe we are pretty much on the same page on
>many essential items, but there may be some useful nuanced differences to
>What is sparking this post is a way Victor used the term "ideality" in his
>recent post commenting on the Wartofsky article.
>from Victor's May 21 Wartofsky comments:
>"... 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 ..."
>In this context, Victor is using the term "ideality" as a synonym for
>"artifact." If the reader substitutes "artifact" for "ideality" in the
>above, it is a strong and very good statement about cultural artifacts
>from a CHAT perspective - Wartofsky's three kinds of artifacts are
>dialectically related, represent different practices, they are important
>for identifying cultural and historical roles, etc.
>As I will try to argue, however, "Ideality" is not the same as artifact.
>The next passage from Victor's annotations provides what I think is an
>excellent description of ideality in the midst of making another point:
>from Victor's annotations, numbered 131:
>"...Nature (the natural properties of things) and Ideality (those of their
>properties which they owe not to nature but to the social human labour
>embodied in these things) ..."
>This distinction between the "natural properties of things" and the
>"properties which they [things - sg] owe not to nature but to the social
>human labour embodied in these things" gets to the heart of what I think
>Ilyenkov and cultural-historical theory mean by ideality. EVI is
>emphasizing that ideality is a set of properties that humans embody in
>objects that are not the same as the natural properties of these
>objects. Victor here and numerous other places captures this essential
>from Victor's May 21 Wartofsky comments:
>"The recognition of these distinctions and of their different roles in
>historical and cultural development might also enable us to further
>how different modes of ideality relate to particular social conditions and
>their development ..."
>I found the phrase "different modes of ideality" really interesting. If
>the term "ideality" is interpreted as meaning "artifact," it just becomes
>another way of saying that the "forces" or "techniques" of production
>change historically. That isn't very interesting. But if the phrase
>"different modes of ideality" refers to different modes of attributing or
>embodying human social properties and relations to material objects, it
>becomes a significant way to conceptualize different kinds of historical
>periods and cultural systems where the ways people think may differ. It
>allows us to understand that just as modes of production change in
>history, and social relations change along with them, we can understand
>that "modes of ideality" also change historically. This is a powerful
>conceptual tool for analyzing human cultural behavior, especially in our
>world today, where we seem to be co-existing with so many conflicting
>"modes of ideality". I like this term.
>Returning to this problem - just exactly what is "the ideal" - this next
>passage may miss the mark by a nuance or two:
>from Victor's annotations, numbered 131:
>"There is no self-evident material difference between the ideal and the
>neutrally material ..."
>This seems to imply that the ideal is material, but it is different from
>the "neutrally" material. The problem here may be that a few qualifying
>words got left out, but I want to pick this statement apart to emphasize
>EVI's theory, and try to sharpen CHAT theory in doing so.
>Let's look at the following passage from EVI''s Concept of the Ideal,
>which I numbered paragraph 132. (BTW, Victor inadvertently omitted the
>original paragraph 52 (my number) from his annotations, so our paragraph
>numberings differ by one after that.) Here, EVI uses the term the "the
>"ideal" plane of life activity" to add to our ways of looking at this
>thing "ideality."
>"Man acquires the "ideal" plane of life activity only through mastering
>the historically developed forms of social activity, only together with
>the *social* plane of existence, only together with *culture*. "Ideality"
>is nothing but an aspect of culture, one of its dimensions, determining
>factors, properties."
>What EVI is saying here, in my interpretation, is that ideality, one of
>the determining properties of culture, is a product of human social
>activity. Ideality is an aspect of cultural activity.
>Next, let's insert another statement about ideality EVI makes that focuses
>on things, this one from paragraph 134.
>EVI 134:
>"Ideality is a characteristic of *things*, not as they are determined by
>nature but as they are determined by *labour*, the transforming and
>form-creating activity of social man, his *purposeful*, sensuously
>objective activity."
>This emphasizes that it is not the natural or material properties of a
>thing that give it ideality, it is the purposeful activities of humans
>that do so.
>Next, let us add one of summarizing statements of the article that
>emphasizes the collective aspect of ideality, of its reality as an
>"aggregate of all social relations."
>EVI 139:
>For this reason the "ideal" exists *only in man*. Outside man and beyond
>him there can be nothing "ideal". Man, however, is to be understood not as
>one individual with a brain, but as a real aggregate of real people
>collectively realising their specifically human life activity, as the
>"aggregate of all social relations" arising between people around one
>common task, around the process of the social production of their life. It
>is "inside" man *thus understood* that the ideal exists, because "inside"
>*man thus understood are all the things* that "mediate" the individuals
>that are socially producing their life: *words, books, statues, churches,
>community centres, television towers*, and (above all!) *the instruments
>of labour*, from the stone axe and the bone needle to the modern automated
>factory and the computer. It is in these "things" that the ideal exists as
>the "subjective", purposeful form-creating life activity of social man,
>embodied in the material of nature.
>Returning to the passage in 132, let's look at the peculiar feature of
>ideality that makes it so vexing.
>EVI 132 continues:
>"In relation to mental activity it [ideality - sg] is just as much an
>*objective* component as mountains and trees, the moon and the firmament,
>as the processes of metabolism in the individual's organic body. This is
>why people often confuse the "ideal" with the "material", taking the one
>for the other."
>Here is what EVI calls the "secret of fetishism," the source of so much
>confusion for humans. In relationship to an individual's mental activity,
>the *material* properties of a thing are objective. But likewise, so too
>are the "ideal" properties of a thing. Being both objective to the
>individual, they become easily confused.
>This is so profound that it must be translated to simpler terms. The
>abstract terminology of philosophy at this point keeps us from ascending
>from the abstract to the concrete. We need to take this to the next level
>of concrete understanding.
>It is right at this point that we must step back and ask again, what is
>ideality, what is the ideal, what is this "ideal" plane of life
>activity? How can we speak of this essential idea - of the material and
>the ideal both being "objective" - in everyday terms? How can we
>translate it to a manner of speaking that all people and not just
>philosophers can use? How can we begin to sort this out, so we can learn
>how to avoid taking the material for the ideal, and the ideal for the material?
>My answer is to translate the concept of the ideal - the term "ideality" -
>to what is ordinarily meant by "meaning."
>The distinction between the material and the ideal is actually an everyday
>practice if we look at the "ideal" as being "meaning." The everyday
>dictionary is a perfect example. The dictionary is based fundamentally on
>the distinction between the material and the ideal, between the physical
>aspects of words and their meanings. It shows the graphic and phonic
>aspects of a word - its material properties - followed by its meanings -
>its ideal properties. Sometimes people use dictionaries to figure out how
>to spell or pronounce a word, and sometimes they look up the meanings.
>In doing so, they understand that the material properties of a word - on
>paper or spoken - and the meanings of a word - are objective. A
>dictionary has authority as a result.
>People make a distinction between the physical form and the social
>meanings of things all the time. This distinction forms the basis of a
>great deal of humor, drama, and irony. Over and over, people see that
>what things look like on the outside does not necessarily reveal its inner
>meaning. They see that the material properties of a thing may not at all
>reflect its "true" meaning.
>Of course, it is not quite this simple. The problem is, no "things" found
>in human-land - in the human-sphere - are really "neutrally
>material." None are just collections of material properties - they all
>have some kind of meaning, some investment of ideality. If something has
>no meaning, it immediately become a curiosity, a mystery, and if nothing
>else, becomes that "thing no one recognizes or knows what it is." Science
>fiction stories stereotypically begin with such unusual objects, events,
>What is a source of so much human entertainment are the everyday objects
>with ordinary meanings - along with their ordinary physical appearances -
>that have a hidden meaning, and perhaps, even a hidden material
>property. One icon in modern literature and the theatre arts that
>expresses this is the "murder weapon" - an ordinary object that is used in
>an out of ordinary event, and thereby accumulates a whole new level of
>meaning. An amusing version that captures both the hidden cultural
>meaning and the hidden material property aspects of this perpetual arena
>of entertainment is the old school yard puzzle about the murdered man with
>a punctured heart and a pool of water by the body - but no knife. We are
>told the weapon is still there. What was the murder weapon?
>Drum roll ... the pool of water, earlier in the form of an icicle. This
>is one of countless stories about things not being what they appear to be
>that seem to amuse humans, certainly modern day humans, to no end. In
>this scenario, an ordinary object, a pool of water, is transformed into
>both a murder weapon - and a solid - where neither of these properties
>were immediately evident.
>I've been picking apart some of the problems with the statement "There is
>no self-evident material difference between the ideal and the neutrally
>material ..." There are about three. 1) The phrase "neutrally material,"
>not a term EVI used in his article, must refer to a thing without any
>meaning, which is not likely in human culture - making it a purely
>hypothetical entity - thereby rendering the term "neutrally material" an
>unviable way to understand ideality in a practical or concrete way. It is
>much more viable to understand something by comparing it with things that
>do exist, rather than things that do not. 2) The distinction between the
>physical form of a thing and its meaning is actually a well-understood
>concept by anyone who understands dictionaries, and in general, modern
>culture. In dictionaries and cultural training in general, people are
>taught the physical characteristics of a thing on one hand, and its
>cultural meaning, on the other. "These are my good sewing scissors, don't
>hurt yourself, and don't use them to cut paper." Etc. 3) Finally, the
>implication that the "ideal" is a kind of materiality is a misreading of
>EVI's concept and what ideality must actually be from a materialist point
>of view. Ideality is a form of collective consciousness, a property of
>human social activity that is embodied in a thing, but it is not
>equivalent at all to materiality itself.
>So let's finish up with the original phrase that got me started on this
>post: "these three kinds of ideality," which Victor used in reference to
>Wartofsky's three kinds of artifacts.
>We need to immediately remind ourselves that artifacts are material
>objects that are invested with ideality, with meaning. Artifacts have
>ideality - ideality is a property of cultural artifacts. As Mike Cole
>stresses, cultural artifacts have both materiality and ideality. It is
>misleading to substitute the term "ideality" for artifact for the same
>reason it is misleading to substitute the term "value" for commodity.
>But if we look more closely at Victor's concept, I think there is
>something very powerful to examine here. Can cultural artifacts indeed be
>classified into three different kinds of ideality? Are there three
>different modes of meaningfulness that artifacts can be categorized
>in? Is this what Wartofsky is doing with his theory of three kinds of
>Possibly. In fact, the primary, secondary, tertiary system may be
>difficult to grasp without this high-level look. One easy error to make
>is to see the primary artifacts as "concrete" or "material" and the
>secondary and tertiary as "abstract" and "ideal." This is incorrect. All
>three kinds of artifacts are both concrete and abstract, all three are
>both material and ideal, all three have physical properties as well as meaning.
>One simple way to view them, is that primary artifacts represent
>themselves, such as a particular pair of sewing scissors "represents"
>itself. The words I might use, such as "my sister's sewing scissors," to
>identify them, are straightforwardly representational, and qualify as a
>secondary artifact. An artistic painting of these scissors (perhaps being
>used to form a face) would qualify as an imagined form of these scissors,
>and would qualify as a tertiary artifact.
>These three categories of artifacts may be very useful to look at as
>containing three different kinds of ideality or meaning - the meaning of a
>thing itself, the meaning of a representation of a thing, and the meaning
>of an imagined form of a thing (what Wartofsky refers to as an "offline"
>mode - contemplating, rehearsing - offline from direct praxis or direct
>human action). It is these different levels of ideality - three different
>kinds of meaningfulness - that may be the basis for the viability of these
>categories. I think Victor's use of the term ideality as a substitute for
>artifact may be intended to point toward this insight.
>Some food for thought, anyway.
>To conclude my little inquiry here, I see EVI's concept of the ideal - the
>idea that all cultural artifacts contain both materiality and meaning,
>both of which are objective properties in relation to the individual - as
>a powerful way to sort out .... many complex questions and relationships
>... the basis for common misperceptions and confusions about what is the
>natural, what is the "ideal" ... and the occasional imprecise statements
>we all make when we try to grapple with these difficult matters.
>- Steve

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