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

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Sun May 30 2004 - 06:36:43 PDT


   I was not entirely satisfied with my earlier message. Please regard this as an addendum.

1. The Development of the Idea: Overview

My suggestion that Ilyenkov regards the ideal as solely one of practice (the practical ideal being the objectified product and representation of socialized human logic, reason, knowledge) was, frankly, a somewhat crude provocation. It is in truth not exactly my invention. EVI’s theory is considerably more interesting than that. A fuller understanding of his concept of the Ideal requires that we re-examine it in the light of Hegel’s theory of the development of the idea. Classical Hegelian theory of the development of the ideal regards ideality as a three-staged dialectical process:

1. Theoretical Idea: A category of Hegel's Logic, which stands opposed to actuality, but its concretisation up to the Practical Idea means the raising of the theoretical negation of the object from the essential to the actual, so that the abstract notion has itself become actual — “confronts the actual as an actual“.

2. Practical Idea: In Hegel’s system, the Practical Idea is the penultimate stage of development of the Idea. The Absolute Idea is the unity of the Theoretical Idea and the Practical Idea. In his characteristic “upside down” way, for Hegel, theory is the criterion of truth. In the Practical Idea, Cognition (knowledge) and Volition (will or intention) are synthesised; the subjective Notion is merged with Objectivity, Means is identical with Ends

Ilyenkov deals with these:

3. The Absolute Idea:

But, he (like Lenin) ignores the last stage, in accordance with Marx’s dictum that there is no need for any such concept since history is the product of people, not the other way around

2.Ilyenkov’s Presentation of the Development

of the Ideal:

     Ilyenkov’s treatment of the stages in the development of the ideal are quite literally hidden in the text of “The Concepts…” It is quite likely that this reflects a certain wariness about getting involved in a potentially dangerous doctrinal debate about the nature of the theoretical ideal, the developmental progression from theory to practice and so on… After all, the Stalinist and post-Stalinist doctrine and doctrinaires of the Soviet Republic were hardly receptive to the subtle of EVI (or Lenin for that matter). And, despite EVI’s close conformity to Lenin’s version of Historical Materialism, he was already regarded and treated as a dissident idealist. Any way, while EVI never explicitly discusses the development of the idea, he gives himself away in his distinction between the Ideal as cultural artifact and necessary condition for consciousness and will, and the ideal as practical social activity incorporating consciousness and will.

3 EVI’s Critique of Hegel’s Theory of the
 Development of the Subjective Notion
      EVI’s conceptualisation of the Theoretical Idea is not the same as Hegel’s. Ilyenkov in (1960) Abstract and Concrete… and in (1974) Dialectical Logic criticises Hegel’s theory of the development of the subjective notion. He regards Hegel’s concepts of the abstract and the concrete and of the UPS (not the mail service but the Universal, Particular, and Singular (what Andy and others call the Individual)), and his handling of the syllogism as reversions to formal logic. EVI argues that the difference between the abstract and the concrete is a matter of the relatedness of a concept to other concepts rather than the simpler formalist definition of the abstract as a representation of a single aspect of a concrete thing while the concrete is just a lot of abstractions cobbled together to create a substantial image of the thing. For EVI the abstract is just as substantial as the concrete, but for the paucity of relations between it and the other things or actions with which it can be shown to be related. For those who are interested EVI replaces the formalist UPS schema with which Hegel constructs the syllogisms with ideas on logic originally developed by Spinoza (particularly his concept of notiones communes) and develops a materialist logic that is much closer to Wittgenstein’s Philosophic Manuscripts than it is to the formalisms of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic..

4 EVI’s Concept of the Theoretical Idea
      The Upshot of Ilyenkov’s (and Marx’s) modification of Hegel’s theory of the development of the notion is that he replaces the formalist Hegelian concept of theory with a construct that is much closer to practice than it is to theory. When EVI calls the ideal (the cultural artifact) a social objectification of social labour he’s presenting a much broader concept of theory than the narrow intellectualist one of Hegel.

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

Note that EVI’s Theoretical Ideal is the description of a cultural artifact only. As such it is only the necessary condition for consciousness and will. These will only emerge in the second stage of the development of the idea as a negation of the strictly collectivist character of theory.

5 Comparison of EVI’s and Dunayevskaya’s
 Treatment of the Theoretical Ideal
     Raya Dunayevskaya does something very similar, but the basis for her contention is somewhat different. Dunayevskaya, on the bases of Hegel’s identification of reason as including all forms of human socially mediated productive activity, asserts that Hegel envisioned theory in much the same way as Marx; as the general notional aspect of all practice. The main difference between EVI and Dunayevskaya is his identification and brilliant constructive critique of the basically formalist character of Hegel’s theory of the development of the subjective notion and its outcome in Hegel’s philosophical formulation of the Theoretical Idea.

6 EVI’s Concept of the Practical Idea

  A perusal of paragraphs §118 to §125 of “The Concept…” presents EVI’s theory for the emergence of the practical idea out of and as the negation of the theoretical idea.

 Consciousness only arises where the individual is compelled to look at himself with the eyes of another person, the eyes of all other people and where he is compelled to correlate his individual actions with the actions of other men (within the framework of collectively performed life activity). It is only here that there is any need for WILL, in the sense of the ability to forcibly subordinate one’s own inclinations and urges to the dictates of the organisation of the “collective body”, the collective that has formed around a certain common task. (1976) §121

If the theoretical ideal, the unity of social practice as subjectively designed and socially objectified social practice represents one unity of subject and object (theoretical unity). The “penultimate ideal,” the practical ideal, represents another level of unity of subject and object: that of the theoretical ideal and of subjective practice of ideal or social practice through the development of consciousness and will. The acquisition (through learning) and the discipline of convention through which the practical ideal is realized in the subjective activity of the individual and group (more or less analogous to the, “role” of social pragmatism/symbolic interactionism) represent a second level of unity between the subjective and objective.

7 The Absolute Idea
  As written above EVI follows Marx in refraining from consideration of Hegel’s Absolute Idea. At least one Humanist Marxist, Dunayevskaya has proposed a Historical Materialist interpretation of the Absolute Idea. I believe that EVI’s concept of the ideal can be extended to include the Absolute Ideal, but this is another discussion entirely and will have to wait.

Highest Regards,


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