Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Tue Jun 01 2004 - 17:03:28 PDT

This is really just too much information Victor! :-) But I am sure we will
pick up on all these themes as we go along.
Have you ever read Felix Mikhailov's "Riddle of the Self"?
A very unusual book, which uses variations of a kind of Socratic dialogue
to explore these questions.
At 05:22 PM 1/06/2004 +0200, you wrote:

>Andy, <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns =
>"urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
> Sorry for so belated a response to your messages on Ilyenkov’s
> theory of ideality (from 12/05 to 16/05). They appeared when I was
> first, immersed in trying to make heads and tails of Ilyenkov’s “The
> Concepts…” and then, while working out a reasonable interpretation of the
> paper. At that time “The Concepts…” was so confusing that I refrained
> from writing for fear of contributing more gibberish to the gibberish
> already written on Ilyenkov’s theory of the Ideal (mostly by Bakhurst and
> to a lesser degree in the responses to Bakhurst’s contrivances). Didn’t
> respond to those messages with which I was in complete agreement and to
> those that were uninteresting (the journey in the house of mirrors).
> Your message of
>12/05 ( 1 )15:10 I fully agree with. Ilyenkov’s theory of the objective
>ideal is implicit to all Marx’s examples of value including Linen
>cloth/linen coats, money, and so on. Still, Marx ambivalences on the use
>of the term, ideal, can be very confusing to say the least.
>13/05 ( 1 ) 11:12: Ilyenkov’s theory of the ideal certainly has political
>implications, but what theory does not? As critique it certainly was
>aimed at the ritualistic restrictions of the diamat to the theory of the
>party and to the theory of class (outside the USSR of course), but that
>does not make EVI’s concept of the ideal just a political
>statement. True, I think I wrote somewhere that the greatest threat of
>Ilyenkov’s work to the Party was that it provided tools for a critical
>examination of any social system, including that of the Social Soviet
>Republics, but, surely, this would be true of any method that enables
>discovery through research. In Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR, Lenin’s
>analytical approach would have been no less a threat than that of Ilyenkov.
> I’m not sure what you mean when you write that Ilyenkov was not
> dealing with an ontological problem. Certainly he was not interested in
> the ontological problems of sensation (the unfortunate mirror analogy of
> Lenin), but there’s more to ontology than the mediating role of sensation
> in the relation between perception and natural conditions. As I see it
> quite a bit of “The Concepts…” is devoted to the ontology of the ideal;
> an important issue for a theory of the ideal that regards it as a
> restricted domain of general material conditions.
>13/05 ( 2 ) 11:21: Agreed.
> Your welcome, (for the URL on Dubrovsky) I certainly agree with
> your that Dubrovsky ‘s equating the ideal with subjective reality and the
> material with objective reality is justified by at least some of Marx’s
> writings, but as we noted above and as you’ve pointed out in your message
> of 12/05 that Marx was often ambivalent on issues concerning the
> ideal. Dubrovsky appears (I’ve not enough access to his works to make a
> full determination of this) to be no less a dialectician than Ilyenkov,
> so his assertion of subjective - ideal/objective – material dualities in
> his theory provides an interesting and possibly a useful contrast to
> Ilyenkov’s theory of objective ideality. I wish we could learn more
> about Dubrovsky’s thought; Bakhurst’s strange idealist interpretations of
> Ilyenkov’s works make suspect his evaluations of any Marxist thinker, and
> very little of Dubrovsky’s work is readily available in English
> translation. Yes, I caught the Bogdanov quote, but I can’t find any
> corroborative evidence of this anywhere. Both Lenin Materialism and
> Empirio-Criticism, and Ilyenkov (1979) Leninist Dialectics and the
> Metaphysics of Positivism fry Bogdanov for his “Machism.” I suspect that
> the origins of Ilyenkov’s theory of objective ideality is only to be
> found in the Hegelian “tendencies” of Marx’s Grundrisse and Capital and
> in Lenin’s conspectus of Hegel’s The Science of Logic and The Smaller Logic..
>14/05 ( 1 ) 01:45: Regarding your comments on a Marxist theory of
>psychology: Marx, despite his extensive constructive criticism of Hegel’s
>works, never actually produced an alternative to Hegel’s theory of
>knowledge. Lenin in Conspectus, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism,
>Summary of Dialectics and The Three Sources and three Components of
>Marxism comes a bit closer to a general theory of knowledge than Marx but
>he never followed these up with a complete treatment of the issue. It is
>Ilyenkov who tries to formulate of at least some of the basic components
>of a general Historical Materialist theory of knowledge. I regard
>Ilyenkov’s work as primarily a theory of knowledge (of logic and of
>dialectics) rather than as an examination of the implications of
>Historical Materialism for psychology. As a theory of knowledge it is not
>only social theory but also the metatheory for Historical Materialist
>research for all scales and areas of human social activity, hence its
>usefulness for research on psychological (e.g. any number of CHAT articles
>on education) and organizational (e.g. Paul Adler’s material on the
>socializing effects on labour of the Toyota work system) issues.
> Concerning the ethical vs. scientific concerns in Capital: It seems
> to me that your evaluation of Capital as critique is mostly relevant to
> the popular first volume. Most of the other volumes really are more
> political economy than polemics. Anyway, a basic tenet of Historical
> Materialism is the relatedness of all thought and knowledge to virtually
> all other aspects of culture, including, of course, ethical
> issues. Marx’s expressions on ethical issues (despite his expressed
> disavowal of ethics) in Capital seem to me to be quite consistent with
> his general theory of human knowledge. Naturally, so long as the
> materialist theory of human knowledge was limited to the analysis of the
> capitalist mode of production, the ethical elements of theory were
> primarily related to issues of commodity production, class relations, and
> relations between capitalist societies and their hinterlands. One of the
> most positive features of Ilyenkov’s efforts is to broaden the use of the
> tool of Historical Material analysis to other issues and a more concrete
> understanding of its ethical implications.
> Your comments on Marx’s description of money (in the first chapters
> of Capital) aroused my curiosity, so I checked. You’re right, of
> course. Though I’m not a stickler for argument from authority, I’d like
> to know what you think of the omission of the term, ideal, in Marx’s
> discussions on the issues of exchange value.
>14/05 ( 3 ) 17:24: These snippets remind me what a headache Hegel-reading
>can be. Do we really need all this elaborate verbiage to demonstrate that
>the tool despite its production by a subject is by virtue of its being
>replicable by others the norm for labour and that ideality is the
>necessary unity of the material and conceptual and the objective and
>subjective properties of the instrument?
>15/05 ( 3 ) 15:47: Agree that the mirror metaphor is a reversion to
>contemplative materialism. Is it a mild Machist infection of Lenin’s
>materialism maybe?
> What do you think?
>Again, sorry for the delay.
>Highest regards,
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <>Andy Blunden
>To: <>
>Sent: Saturday, May 15, 2004 3:36 PM
>Subject: Re: EVI's Concept of the Ideal - mirrors
>I think that both Vygotsky and Ilyenkov really loved Lenin, and this
>mirror metaphor caused them some problem because Lenin had committed
>himself to it so decisively in 1908. Nevertheless, I think Vygotsky is not
>being true to himself in repeating it. Perhaps it was not politically
>possible to criticise it, but surely he didn't have to repeat, don't you think?
>For me, it is the fact that the mirror is passive, whereas a human being
>is active. (see good old Theses on Feuerbach again). Lenin points out
>(correctly I think) that reflection is a capacity of *all matter* (e.g. a
>footprint) and one can even impute an element of "interpretation" in
>nature. But what is lacking is the 3-sided process of human activity which
>includes an *ideal*.
>What do you think?
>At 06:27 AM 15/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>>I like this point Andy makes below about the subject-object problem:
>>Andy said:
>>"If a number of different people say "We are all pursuing the same ideal
>>..." what is it that they are pursuing? A phantom? A state of brain
>>matter? Obviously what they are pursuing is something which exists
>>independently of "the mind" (in Lenin's sense, ontologically), but not of
>>course independently of objective, willful, needy, human practice.
>>"The whole issue is the posing of the issue as a mind-matter problem,
>>when it can be understood only as a subject-object problem."
>>As for Vygotsky's mirror image quote, I am with Andy on this, too.
>>Andy said:
>>"I really didn't like the way Vygotsky used the "mirror" metaphor so
>>beloved by Lenin."
>>Andy's quote is from Chapter 13 of The Historical Meaning of the Crisis
>>in Psychology: A Methodological Investigation (1927). It is part of
>>several paragraphs where Vygotsky rambles around, trying to liken a
>>mirror image to consciousness. I believe he fails. He even comments on
>>this series of paragraphs as being a "protracted argumentation" and seems
>>relieved to end it. I believe these paragraphs about an object "A" and
>>its mirror image "a" can be happily skipped over with no loss in an
>>otherwise brilliant work.
>>The problem with Vygotsky's analogy is that light beams bouncing off a
>>mirror do not form an image unless a reasonably intelligent being
>>(perhaps a bird, a dog, a human) is seeing it and interpreting it. This
>>is the fatal flaw in LSV's line of reasoning in creating this mirror
>>analogy for consciousness. Without a conscious being involved, mirrors
>>cannot produce "images." They can just reflect light beams. A mirror is
>>not a form of consciousness just because it reflects light. It has no
>>mind or brain or nervous system or other organic system that responds to
>>stimuli. Mirrors cannot be a successful analogy for how organisms
>>"reflect" in Marx's or Lenin's sense because mirrors have no
>>consciousness. Mirrors do not **process** images - only organisms
>>do. It does not help when Vygotsky begins to talk of the reflections in
>>mirrors as phantoms - for mirrors cannot reflect phantoms at all -
>>because the light beams they can reflect are certainly never phantoms
>>because they do not exist. Anthropomorphizing mirrors in order to
>>explain consciousness could only work if we imagine the mirror as a
>>living being with its own agenda. But then, if we performed such a
>>thought experiment, a mirror's capacity to "reflect" in the way we want
>>to understand would be due to its being a living entity, and not due to
>>its ability to reflect light beams. It would "reflect" because it was
>>responsive. Leontiev as a comparative psychologist (comparing the
>>psychologies of different animals) considerably developed this idea by
>>analyzing the different levels of responsiveness among different kinds of
>>animals, and how these levels evolved. Mirrors were not likely among the
>>objects of his investigation, but spiders were.
>>Some of the other points LSV makes in that chapter 13 about ontology and
>>epistemology - and about the object/subject relationship - are, however,
>>very useful to the materiality/ideality discussion we have been
>>having. Perhaps we can return to LSV's thinking on these issues.
>>- Steve
>>At 02:24 PM 5/15/2004 +1000, you wrote:
>>>Sorry, I accidentally omitted the first line of that quote. I've added
>>>it in below.
>>>>At 08:32 PM 14/05/2004 -0700, you wrote:
>>>>>Andy, can you give the full citation to LSV's use of the mirrror metaphor?
>>>>>This goes to the question of the use of the term, reflection, in this
>>>>Mike, this is copied from an article Dot Robbins showed me. The source
>>>>is shown:
>>>>Let us compare consciousness, as is often done, with a mirror image.
>>>>Let the object A be reflected in the mirror as a. Naturally, it would
>>>>be false to say that a in itself is as real as A. It is real in another
>>>>way. A table and its reflection in the mirror are not equally real, but
>>>>real in a different way. The reflection as reflection, as an image of
>>>>the table, as a second table in the mirror is not real, it is a
>>>>phantom. But the reflection of the table as the refraction of light
>>>>beams on the mirror surface - isn’t that a thing which is equally
>>>>material and real as the table? Everything else would be a miracle.
>>>>Then we might say: there exist things (a table) and their phantoms (the
>>>>reflection). But only things exist(the table) and the reflection of
>>>>light upon the surface. The phantoms are just apparent relations
>>>>between the things. That is why no science of mirror phantoms is
>>>>possible. But this does not mean that we will never be able to explain
>>>>the reflection, the phantom. When we know the thing and the laws of
>>>>reflection of light, we can always explain, predict, elicit, and change
>>>>the phantom. And this is what persons with mirrors do. They study not
>>>>mirror reflections but the movement of light beams, and explain the
>>>>reflection. A science about mirror phantoms is impossible, but the
>>>>theory of light and the things which cast and reflect it fully explain
>>>>these “phantoms.” (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 327)
>>>>Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky. Vol. 3.
>>>>Problems of the theory and history of psychology. In R. W. Rieber and
>>>>J. Wollock (Eds.). New York: Plenum Press.

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