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

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 03:21:45 PDT

Hi Victor,

Other projects are going to tear me away from our fruitful exchanges on
Ilyenkov for a few days, but I am still quite interested. I probably won't
be able to post much more this week on this due to other commitments.

But let me point to a theme in your 5/23 post:

You say:
Ideality is a higher level of unity for two very different, and
contradictory, concepts: the artefact and meaning.
"... the ideal as a unity of object and meaning ..."

Here are a couple thoughts on this.

This paradigm (we'll call it paradigm A) seems to identify ideality as the
dialectical unity of cultural artifacts and their meaning.

The paradigm I am working from (we'll call it paradigm B), and which I
believe Ilyenkov is advocating, identifies cultural artifacts as the
dialectical unity of materiality (material properties) and ideality (meaning).

The order is different. Putting these in a crude algebraic shorthand:

paradigm A:
ideality = artefacts + meaning

paradigm B:
cultural artifacts = materiality + ideality (cultural meaning)

In these crude, mechanical "equations", an "outcome" is cited on the left,
and the "ingredients" needed for this outcome are listed on the right.

Paradigm B (mine) illustrates the idea that cultural artifacts are
comprised of two "ingredients" - the material (natural) properties of a
thing, and its ideality (cultural meaning). As an object of nature, say, a
branch from a tree, is whittled into a pointed stick, the material
properties of the branch are modified, and meaning is invested by human
labor and activity into that object. It is the act of labor on materiality
that creates ideality or meaning, and the "outcome" at each step of the
process is a changing cultural artifact - a unity of the materiality of the
object and the ideality or meaning, created by the labor imbued in the
object up to that point. I believe Paradigm B reflects Ilyenkov's
essential conceptual dynamic in his concept of the ideal, which emphasizes
how conscious (meaning-directed) human labor and activity transforms
material nature into cultural artifacts.

Paradigm A (yours) may lose some of this dynamic. By making ideality the
"outcome", and the artifact an "ingredient," numerous relationships may
become harder to keep track of, such as where labor fits in, or just what
the intended outcome is. I don't think paradigm A quite reflects
Ilyenkov's concept of the dynamics of the relationship between materiality,
ideality (meaning), and cultural artifacts, all set into motion from
beginning to end by human labor and activity.

You ask this question: "The question I'm asking is; what if any features of
the material production of artefacts, as objects and subjects of
production, contribute to their development as embodiments of meaning,
their becoming idealities (remember that artefacts that are idealities are
not just neutral material objects)."

Perhaps following the dynamic indicated by paradigm B would pose things
differently and bring them more in line with what I think is Ilyenkov's
approach. If I understand your question (which I may not), where labor
(production) fits in, following paradigm B, would be that the purposeful,
meaning-directed labor and activity (production) of the worker (the
subject), mediated by the features of the materiality they are working on,
as well as whatever tools and processes they are working with, creates
cultural artifacts - which are material objects (outcomes) embodied with
ideality, or cultural meaning.

Certainly, the inter- and intra-mediations between all the ingredients of a
production process will influence the eventual meanings (idealities) of the
final outcome. For example, if one burns dinner badly enough, it may mean
that it winds up in the garbage. In fact, it seems that when things like
that go wrong, it often becomes a subject of intense interest as to just
which production factors - and which people - involved in the attempted
project contributed to its demise. On the other hand, when a product is
especially appreciated, commendations and talk of how it was done so well -
and of course, who did it - may also become topics of animated
discussion. And so goes not a small amount of human discourse.

I'm sorry I have to absent myself this week, but I will be back. I just
wanted, before too much time passed, to give you some feedback on what
could be an important difference between these two paradigms or

What do you think?

- Steve

At 08:26 AM 5/23/2004 +0200, you wrote:
>It appears we don't even differ in nuances. Rather our focus on different
>features of ideality reflects (sorry Mike) different subjects of interest.
>As Mike Cole put it (as well as yourself)
>'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
>'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.'
>Ideality is a higher level of unity for two very different, and
>contradictory, concepts: the artefact and meaning. Meaning, the ultimately
>notional dimension of ideality can be either subjective or objective with
>one important limitation; objective meaning can only be ideal, i.e, united
>with the artefact (which is by the way by definition a man-made or
>reworked article). Objectification is a necessary condition for ideality.
> It is the very difficulty of distinguishing between neutral materiality
> and the material aspect of ideality that lies at the heart of the
> so-called problem of the contingency of the relation between meaning and
> the modes and means of its representation by artefacts. It is a
> so-called problem insofar as the contingent relation between meaning and
> modes and means of representation is the only way an a-historical theory
> of meaning can relate to the ideal. Clearly what makes an object ideal is
> the array of properties that collectivities (mostly if not exclusively of
> humans) embody in artefacts.
>Discourse on the ideal as a unity of object and meaning can then focus on
>its material or notional features, but this can only be meaningful if the
>original subject of focus is ultimately shown to be related to its
>contradictory but integral partner in ideality. Thus, if in the course of
>discussion of ideality, we focus on the production of artefacts, we must
>then show how the special or not-so-special productive processes are
>related, historically and in rarer cases ontologically, to the aspect of
>meaning inherent to ideality and idealities. Vygotsky's work on language
>acquisition does just this. Speech itself is vocal noise; I think it was
>Ursula LeGuin who called it "bagabba bagabba." For speech to be
>meaningful specific noises, call them what you may, accretions of
>phonemes, words, word strings, and sentences, must be unified to notions
>or meanings. Vygotsky by and large worked from meaning to object,
>consistent with his interest in discovering the ontological development of
>concept. The question I'm asking is; what if any features of the material
>production of artefacts, as objects and subjects of production, contribute
>to their development as embodiments of meaning, their becoming idealities
>(remember that artefacts that are idealities are not just neutral material
>The catalyst for the recognition of this problem was Jones's contention
>that ideal objects bear special features not encountered in material
>objects. Now, Jones argument for utensiles and instruments as material
>objects ignores the ideational (notional or meaningful) aspects of
>production. Whether verbally expressed or not, the production of even the
>simplest tools involves some conceptualization of what we intellectuals
>call physics, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and these, as Hegel,
>Marx, and Ilyenkov have shown are notional, the product of conscious,
>purposive relations to natural material conditions. Jones's argument that
>the notional aspects of material production are materially identical to
>the object itself, just does not hold, unless someone can show how the
>exploitation of the principle of the difference between the motion/time
>necessary for circumnambulation of the circumference of a circle and that
>of circumnambulation of its vertex is materially expressed in the material
>form of the hammer. Jones's argument that the object representing strictly
>social activity is also not convincing. Marx's example of primitive
>exchange; the linen cloth/linen coat case, does not posit a necessarily
>different form between the object as means of production and the object as
>relation of production (in this case as commodity). Still, Jones has a
>point: standards of value, indications of social rank and power, and
>tokens of membership are often, though not always (the stone of scone for
>example) marked by special features that distinguish them from other
>objects. Archaeologists are particularly sensitive, and sometimes overly
>so, to the "ritual artefact;" that peculiar object that has no imaginable
>use as a means of material production or that object that may resemble
>other things involved in material production, yet appears to be too small,
>too delicate, or whatever for its incorporation in industrial
>process. The "reuse" of an artefact as a signifier of activities that are
>not related to its meaningful relation to production represents a change
>in ideality which is at least sometimes expressed in some special material
>form imparted to the object itself and/or (sorry about that) to its being
>associated in some special way to other objects; e.g. being enclosed in a
>special envelope, placed on a special surface, or handled in a special manner.
>Then there is the special problem of languages; vocal and non-vocal
>alike. Language forms are not at all like means of production or even
>means of production modified to indicate that they signify something other
>than productive process. The labour and means of production by which they
>are generated is different from those devoted to the means of production
>characteristic of elementary productive systems. In addition to this,
>language production, and for that matter the production of special objects
>signifying relations other than those involved in their production,
>involves motivations that are different from those of elementary
>production, namely the transmission of meaning. That is, language
>production is production of ideality! I'm still not sure that the
>development of production of language has the same roots as elementary
>production; it appears to originate in calling systems which are at least
>as ancient as systems for elementary production. It may well be that
>semantical relation, the relation between object and meaning may have
>been the product of the unity of two very different kinds of human
>activity; meaningful collective labour and autonomic call systems, and
>that it is only when the latter is united with the former that we have
>semantically significant calling systems (language). At any rate it
>appears to me that the social demands of production and reproduction are
>and were more likely to form the basis of ideality than expressions of
>anger, surprise, and so on that are the proto-forms of spoken language.
>What do you think?
>Highest regards

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