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

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 21:34:44 PDT



Just as well you're taking a short vacation from the discussion, it'll give me the time necessary to research and formulate an appropriate response. My response needs some introductory material that I hope will provide us with a common basis for discussion:


Discussion of the history and nature of the ideal (you can skip this if you like)----------------------------------


Part of the controversy between us involves arguments between Hegelian objective idealism and subjective idealism concerning the nature of the ideal KM and EVI while criticizing Hegelian objective idealism, both regard it as an integral part of the general theory of human development; historical materialism, and this is especially true concerning Hegel's general definition of the ideal and its relation to the material world. Other elements of the discussion concern the remaking of the Hegelian concept of the ideal made by Marx, suggested by Lenin in part, and finally realized by EVI. Finally, I've made some additional observations concerning differentiation of the ideal (particularly the differentiation called by Hegel, "the theoretical ideal," and, "the practical ideal,") inspired by theoretical and practical work by Vygotsky, some of EVI's writings, and current exchanges concerning the origins of spoken language: particularly work by Tomasello, Deacon, and Plotkin.


     The most important distinction between Hegel's philosophy and those that immediately preceded him, especially Kant, was his assertion that the ideal was a unity of the material and the spiritual. Kant, more or less like Descartes, Locke, Hume, and of course the good bishop Berkeley, set apart ideation and "things of the spirit," from the world of palpable materiality. As you can see from the list of Kant's predecessors in this regard, the pedigree of this ontology includes some of the most important contributors to the formation of speculative and social-political thinking of modern European civilization, and it is no surprise that Hegel and Marx are hard to understand, even for those who value their works.


     Kant's dualism, his strict separation of thought and sense, focuses the search for meaning primarily onto the language based constructs of formal thought and discounts any determinate relation between the products of thought and world conditions. Ideation itself can only be a strictly subjective act, and any possibility of human transaction must be a function of fundamentally human ways of thinking (the a priori categories of transcendental ideation). Society is then a function of identical human participants sharing basic mechanisms for thinking (more or less the view of Chomsky, Pinker, and Calvin with all the associated difficulties of this standpoint). Change and development of thought, much less activity, is virtually inexplicable for subjective idealism. If considered at all, it can only be the product of unpredictable impact of indeterminable forces of an essentially inaccessible material world on otherwise finished human products.


     Though Hegel's critique of Kant's philosophical ideas focuses on all these aspects, it is the strict segregation of sensuality from ideation lies at the heart of the problematic relevance of Kantian subjective idealism to social theory. Clearly, people cannot directly read the minds of others so communication between individuals can only be effected if ideation is in some way united with sensually detectable experience. Hegel posited that while ideation itself is an essentially subjective internal activity, it is made into a sensually detectable idea through the medium of objectification, objectification being the material expression of ideation; the result being the IDEA. In short, for Hegel the idea is a meaningful object and ideality, thought expressed, represented, or embodied in material objects. Bakhurst's impression of the "strangeness" of EVI's concept of the externality of the ideal is characteristic of all objectivist philosophy from Plato to Ilyenkov and says more about Bakhurst's philosophic stance than about EVI's theories about ideality.


     Hegel, despite his theoretical recognition that thought was far more extensive than verbally based ideation, represented ideation as an essentially language based logical process. The ideal was then essentially theory and theorizing as it is embodied in words and sentences spoken and written. This form of the ideal he called the "theoretical ideal." The theoretical ideal translated into practical action (what we call the application of theory) represents a higher ideality that Hegel called the "practical ideal."


     Marx and Engels never developed an explicit theory of the formation of the ideal, but as EVI shows in his works: (1960) The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital, and (1974) Dialectical Logic, in the course of producing Capital they developed material "systems" of relation to replace Hegel's formalist notions and relocated ideation itself in material practical (productive) activity. These modifications of Marx and Engels of the Hegelian schema were, of course, consistent with their general theory that human culture and history are functions of tool-assisted production that is the particular manner in which humans realize their organic state (as living, reproducing organisms).


Marx's concept of the ideal is then somewhat different from that of Hegel's. The Marxist ideal is essentially the "practical ideal," the unity of practice (knowledge) and volition and the merging of labour with object (objectification of social practice or productive activity). In short the practical ideal represents that stage of development of practice where means becomes one with ends. The Hegelian argument that the practical ideal is emergent from the theoretical ideal represents a much more restricted (objective idealist) theory of civilization than that of Historical Materialism. And what of the theoretical ideal in materialist theory? The answer to this question is one of the more important contributions of EVI to theory.


    EVI, to the confusion of his soviet critics and Bakhurst among others, argues that Hegel's objective idealism does in fact explain the subjects of inquiry for which it was made. EVI's judgment of objective idealism resembles Marx's evaluation of the theories of classical political economy of Smith and Ricardo, which were superseded by his own theory of Capital. EVI identifies Hegelian philosophy of civilization as essentially the theory of the practice of verbally expressed speculation and theorization. This kind of specialized creative practice - and creative practice it is - emerges from the development of division of labour between "thinkers and workers." Naturally, as a theory of knowledge, objective idealism reflects the restricted attention of the theorists, the special practitioners of logical practice. EVI's work clarifies both the debt of Historical Materialism to Hegelian thought as well those features of HM by which it succeeds and supersedes objective idealism. While his recognition that Hegelian philosophy represents a restricted theory of the development of the ideal contextualises objective idealism in the science of culture, EVI's analysis of the relation between production of theory and general production is limited to the cultural historical development of the division of labour. EVI never actually accounts for the special ontological relations between production as a condition for survival and reproduction of the human race and production of language and of verbalized theory. It appears to me that a goodly part of our difficulty in understanding ideality is the function of our lack of theory concerning this relation.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------End of discourse on general theory of the ideal


Now, my response to your message (May 24, 2004 - 12:21 PM; Subject: Re: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation, artifacts):


The paradigm of ideality I present is more like this:


Cultural artifacts = ideality = object {embodying social practice meaning} + practice {objectified and thereby made social}.


 This "equation" represents the simplest form of ideality. As Ilyenkov writes in the Concept of the Ideal, more complex ideality would represent complex combinations of simpler objectified practice. Idealities could conceivably represent arrays of objects that are in turn objectifications of other practices. The choice of gold dust, miniature copper hoes, or dentalium shells as objectifications of labour value that is itself represented by the amount of commodities that may be exchanged for the commodity produced by it (I hope that makes sense). So we can have


 Cultural artifacts = ideality = objects {embodying other Idealities = objects embodying {social practice meaning}+ practice {objectified and thereby made social}.


     The paradigm of ideality that I am pushing is more a combination of A and B than one or the other. On the one hand ideality is identified as the cultural artifact while its ingredients are the embodying objectification and the embodied social practice (labour) on the other hand it emphasizes the unity of materiality (objectivity) and activity (practice) that distinguishes objectivism from the dualism of subjective idealism. Also rather than representing ideality as a mechanical combination of two distinct forms, I use {} to represent the relation of embodiment. Note that the embodiment of practice is in fact a product of objectification. The ideal represents a further step in which the object becomes a cultural expression or representation of practices and where practice, now objectified, can become cultural practice. My reasoning on this is that the cultural artifact is a socially meaningful object (an object produced through social labor that creates ideality or social meaning, and that the "outcome" at each step of the process is a changing cultural artifact - ideality, reflecting the dynamic which emphasizes how conscious and intentioned human labor transforms material nature into cultural artifacts


     The problem I'm working on concerns the ontological relation between the ideal as represented by this general theory of ideality as socially endorsed objective representation of social practice and the special form of ideality of products of spoken and written language, graphic diagrams, and other specialized representations of labour. In other words what are the special features material and practical that distinguish language use, glyptic representation, and diagramming practices from general ideality and how does the former develop relative to the latter. As we have seen above, Hegel's schema of the ideal that views the practical ideal, as the negation of the theoretical ideal and the penultimate stage of the development of the idea has virtually no meaning for Historical materialism, so the relation between practice (as knowledge) and theory (as a special form of knowledge) must be found elsewhere.


  My original idea was that ideality emergent from elementary production, i.e. the product as representation of the practices that produce it and those practices in which it may be an element in the means of productions (the instrument or subject of production), ideality in which an object is mobilized to represent social practices that have little or nothing to do with its production or its role in the productive process, and ideality as embodied in language and other complex symbolic forms are dialectically related in single dialectical schema. Recent readings in pre-human and proto-human signalling activity suggest another possibility: that language emerges out of a dialectical union between ideality emergent from elementary production (meaning) and its negation, information transmission through autonomic signalling systems. The idea that semantics (language meaning) may have its origins in non-linguistic activity is in fact implicit in the objectivist and materialist theory of the ideal and may help resolve one of the most elusive features of language, its meaning.

Highest regards,



  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Steve Gabosch
  Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 12:21 PM
  Subject: Re: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception, representation, artifacts

  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 interpretations.

  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 commodity.'

    '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 objects).


    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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