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

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Thu May 27 2004 - 00:46:39 PDT


My response here mixes (perhaps irretrievably so) Marx's, Engel', LSV's, EVI
's, and even some ideas from general systems and simulation systems with
mine own, so it will probably more appropriate to regard them as expression
of my understanding rather than that of any one of these theorists and
theoretical points of view.
A Perusal of your 5 questions (the one you addressed to Steve I'll leave to
him) reveals that they all point towards issues concerning the relation
between the external objective ideal and that of individuals and particular
groups within the community (of mankind, of a set of populations united by
biological and historical continuities, or of a particular population at a
specified historical juncture). The response to one question is then likely
to incorporate the response or at least part of the response to other
questions in your list.
>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?
    Ideality in objectivist theory (from Plato to Ilyenkov) is a unification
of subject and object and is as such external to the individual, while
particular idealities (culturally endorsed knowledge, here understood as
practice), comprise the personal knowledge of individuals. Objectivity
refers not to the properties of material, but to the representation of
practical activity in palpable things, thus enabling transmission of
knowledge, new and old, between individual agents. Objectivity is roughly
analogous to "symbolic representation" in theories of Symbolic
Interactionism of G H Mead and Dewey.
>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)?
     For the individual agent a hammer being used to pound nails into wood
is a cultural artifact that embodies the socially extant practical knowledge
concerning the hammer as the means for pounding nails into wood. Once the
pounding is finished the hammer becomes just another superfluous object
cluttering up the worktable. So where did the ideality go? The practice
embodied in the hammer is a property of the community of hammer users, much
as any particular symbolic representation is the property of the community
of speakers. The hammer used to pound in nails and the word incorporated
into a sentence may be regarded as the agent's temporary appropriation of
what is in fact a property of collective practice as his own in accordance
with his own particular needs of the singular place and instance of his
activity. The agent does not use hammers nor does he speak language, rather
he, as an individual agent, uses a singular hammer to pound in a singular
nail and uses particular words in a more or less singular sentence to
transmit an individual message. As such the particular and singular
features of the agent's situation in the material world necessarily
condition his appropriation of elements of social practice. Tomasello (2000
The Cultural Origins of HUMAN COGNITION) argues that the contrast between
human learning and that of his immediate relatives, the great apes, is to be
found in the humans' special capacity to imitate practice for realizing
socially endorsed ends. Tomasello interprets great ape learning to be a
matter of identifying the socially certified goals of practice and then
arriving at the means through personal trial and error. I think he overshot
the mark here. Ideality, knowledge, can never be as concrete as the
individual situation of the individual agent, therefore any actual
application of practice by a particular agent is never simply a matter of
imitating social practice. While it may be that human agents can learn more
practice than his proto-human relatives, his application of learned practice
to experienced conditions always involves some degree of trial and error to
"feel out" the individual circumstances of his activity.
>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)?
     As I pointed out above in my answers to questions 2 and 3, ideality is
external to the subject. Now then, if I understand question 3 correctly,
you are essentially asking whether ideality is a product of social consensus
or of properties inherent to material conditions. If this is the case my
response is 'yes' to one and 'yes' to the other. Let me demonstrate this by
example. The European saw is a "pull" saw. It is in essence a toothed
blade, each individual tooth being ground to a sharpened edge in the
direction of the user and then bent at a slight angle from the blade. The
"pull" saw teeth jut out slightly from the body of the blade, each tooth in
the opposite direction from its nearest neighbours. The "pull" saw cuts
only when the saw is pulled through the wood, the return forward stroke
being a non-cutting operation designed to reposition the saw for the next
cutting stroke. The Japanese "push" saw is built somewhat differently from
the European saw. The blade of the "push" saw bears two lines of teeth,
each tooth ground to a sharp edge on both its sides (obviously the sides
that are along the axis of the blade). The teeth of the push saw stand
exactly perpendicular to the edge of the saw blade, the teeth of each row
being aligned in an alternating fashion so that no tooth has a neighbouring
tooth in the other row. The push saw only cuts when pushed through the
wood, the return stroke being a non-cutting pull. The different cutting
practices involved in the use of these two kinds of saws involve more than
simply pushing or pulling to achieve the desired cut. For example; the pull
saw is best used standing up, the cutting blade intersecting the wood at an
angle to the surface of the wood, while the pull saw can be used by a
sitting worker and the cutting blade may intersect the wood at an angle
exactly parallel to the surface of the wooden object to be cut. Despite the
differences in practice of the making and using push and pull saws, both
practices involve profound knowledge of the material conditions of wood,
metals, wood cutting and so on. On the other hand, the different practices
embodied in the push and pull saws represent the cultural-historical
development of different communities of practitioners of woodcutting, which
can only be regarded as social, since any one can, with varying degrees of
instruction and trial and error, learn the wood cutting practices of either
or both communities.
>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?
     Either this is a very general question, in which case I can only
respond by suggesting that you struggle through Marx's Grundrisse and
Capital or the somewhat more user-friendly works by Engels, like his Against
Duhring, or it has a undetected agenda in which case I suggest that you
struggle through Marx's Grundrisse and Capital or the somewhat more
user-friendly works by Engels, like his Against Duhring. Here issues of
social relations of production (Marx and Engel's works mentioned above) and
of knowledge (Ilyenkov presents a sketchy description of the social
relations of knowledge in his Dialectical Logic, Section 2 "Dialectics,"
Chapter 7 The materialist critique of objective idealism) must be
considered, and I fear that a quick and superficial explanation would not do
justice to the seriousness of your question. Perhaps we could return to this
issue in another discussion.
>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
     Ilyenkov (in translation) does not use the concept of mediation very
much. It does not appear in his large 1960 work The Dialectics of the
Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital, it does not appear in his essay
(1976) The Concept of the Ideal, and it only makes a minimal appearance in
(1974) Dialectical Logic, in the chapter on Feuerbach. Despite the
considerable concern for mediation characteristic of CHAT discussion, it
appears not to have been an important term for Ilyenkov. However, if by
mediation you mean
"Existence or definition of a thing by revealing its relation to another
thing. The properties of things are revealed in their interconnection with
other things. A mirror mediates the thing it is reflecting and its image.
Mediated knowledge is knowledge, for example, related through past
experience and reflection which enables us to recognise things in the stream
of impressions."(from the MIA encyclopedia of Marxism
then mediation appears to be the negation of Ilyenkov's discursive style.
Usually he begins by informing us of what the subject of his focus is not,
and then goes on to describe what it is. It can be quite irritating at
times. In truth I find the concept itself to be an irritatingly messy and
superfluous one. You can, for example, write that the value of a commodity
is mediated by the quantity of other commodities that may be exchanged for
it. But why not be precise and state simply that the exchange value of a
commodity can be detected by the measure of other quantities that may be
exhanged for it. I realize I haven't actually answered your question, but I
do not think it is truly relevant to EVI's primary considerations as
expressed in his works. Perhaps Steve will provide you a better answer.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Gabosch" <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2004 12:25 PM
Subject: Re: from Michael Glassman: 1973 article by Wartofsky on perception,
representation, artifacts

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