Re: Response to Michael Glassman's questions on ideality

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Wed Jun 02 2004 - 02:04:47 PDT

This response took less time than I expected.
I've appended my responses to your commentary on Michael's message directly
to Michael's questions rather than to your answers in the hope that the
messages will not develop the inordinately long tails that take up memory
space and so on. Hope that hasn't made things too confusing.
Highest regards,

1. Steve, what do you mean when you say Wartofsky's three types of
artefacts are dialectically related? Are you saying that human go from
recognition of one artefact to the next through the (shorthand) A, not A, A'
process and that is what allows us to recognize all three? Does this mean
that the third level of artefacts is in some way more advanced than the
first and second level? If so, what determines this hierarchy?

Your reinterpretation of Wartovsky's tripartite typology is interesting, but
not quite what I had in mind in my (dialectical) differentiation of three
distinct kinds of ideality. The general idea was (was, because I've since
dropped it for another which appears to me to be closer to Vygotsky's theory
concerning the development of spoken language and recent thinking on pre-
and proto-languages) that idealities may be seen to vary both in how they
are made and in what they are designed, made and used to represent. As
written above I've dropped it for another approach that basically involves a
dialectical representation of the historical (actually prehistorical)
development of language that is essentially an annex to Vygotsky's
ontological theory of language development. It involves a slight
modification of LSV's definition of speech from simple vocalization to
vocalized signalling that generates autonomic (thoughtless and subjective)
response. The idea is that language is a unity of vocalized signalling and
meaning engendered by social labour, language itself being a modification of
signalling systems to systems for transmission of accumulated knowledge (see
below in "3" for how I describe language). This has several interesting
implications for the understanding of spoken language:
1. Semantics is a function of social labour rather than language
2. Language arises out of the negation of the negation of meaning
represented by signalling systems.
3. Language is then an integration of the negated and sublated signalling
system into the world of cultural artefacts (idealities) produced by social
labour with tremendous effect on range and scale of the impact of the human
inorganic body in the world.
    I have doubts that the third level of Wartovsky's typology represents an
advance on the already formulated theory of the ideal plane of activity of
Ilyenkov and ultimately of Marx. The fact that man can use reason to design
(prefigure?) the products of his labour implies that he can and must choose
(or judge) between essentials and that he has considerable freedom in the
formulation of how he proposes to realize his objects in production.
Imagination, even high imagination, appears to me to be an implicit property
of activity on (in?) the ideal plane.
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?

My mistake. I intended here to write what I did put down in the next
question. That the individual agent appropriates, usually only temporarily
and locally one or another, aspect of social practice and the associated
cultural objects, uses them to fulfil his needs and then goes on to other
things. In fact the idea of "subjective ideality" is a contradiction in
terms, somewhat like the illogical postulation of a totally private
language. Must have been distracted or dreaming.
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)?

The ideality question: You explicitly identify ideality with meaning.
Though you don't really define meaning, I've gathered from your descriptions
of its significance etc. that meaning is understood to be knowledge, i.e.
the knowledge embodied in the cultural artefact. This knowledge or ideality
(including recognition of ideality in material objects) you describe as
 1. The product of collective human consciousness;
 2. As a creation of human social relations; and
 3. As a part of the collective consciousness.
You then go on to state "Ideality is imposed on artifacts and nature by
human social activity and relations."
Several questions come to mind:
1. How does collective human consciousness produce ideality?
2. How do human social relations create ideality?
3. In what way is consciousness made collective?
And, finally, if knowledge is imposed on artifacts and nature by human
social activity and relations, then where does it come from, or better yet
how is it made?
      Do you see yet where I'm going with this?
      Ilyenkov asserts that it is a certain kind of human collective
activity that generates ideality, and for good reason. This kind of
activity is creative social labour: the kind of activity that creates things
be they saws, tokens of value, or words. For Ilyenkov Ideality emerges from
the tool enhanced creative social labour through which man transforms the
material conditions of his existence to produce the things he needs to
reproduce himself as a living organism and to project his species into the
future. Humans do this by learning from each other about how to make
artefacts from resources natural and artificial and when necessary working
together to realise the production of the things they need in accordance to
the conditions of existence imposed upon them by nature and historical
conditions. Now human beings haven't the capacity for immediate perception
of each other's subjective states, so they must acquire this information
from things they can perceive. These are the objects they make or modify
such as push saws and cosmological sky maps. As Ilyenkov points out neither
the objects that embody knowledge nor the knowledge embodied in the object
can exist as external ideality. The object does not imply the knowledge it
embodies, and the knowledge embodied in the object cannot be external, i.e.
social, without the object. The external ideal then must be a unity of both
the social object and social knowledge.
     Vygotsky's definition of spoken language as "meaningful speech"
provides me (and I think Ilyenkov as well) with a model for identification
of the more general Ideal with the "cultural artefact." There is more to
this relationship between spoken language and the Ideal than just analogous
use of an expression.
      It was Tony Blunden's article on Vygotsky that made me "sit up and
notice" the full significance of LSV's use of the combination, "meaningful
speech," for, spoken language. I'd first read Vygotsky years ago (in the
late '60s) and several, even many, times since without catching the
dialectical union which describes spoken language for Vygotsky. You must
review Andy's article, and then the relevant sections of LSV's Thought and
Language to understand how I regard language. Language for Vygotsky is the
unity of meaning, roughly comparable to what you call meaning, and speech,
the vocal production of sounds. Pre-vocalized meaning/knowledge has its
origins in the learned (and to some degree subjectively researched)
operations of the body, direct interaction with objects and so on that
comprise the earliest education of the child. The organization of
knowledge; i.e. knowledge as it is presented in the theory of
logic/dialectics/knowledge is an inherent feature of the way humans act and
has its origins in man's essential nature as a tool-using- animal (see
Ilyenkov's Abstract and Concrete. for this). This early knowledge has all
the features that we associate with more sophisticated means of expressing
meaning, but for the fact that it is only demonstrated by management of
physical processes, gesture, handling of material objects and so on. The
learning of spoken language involves the acquisition of a complex system of
expression of knowledge that has been designed by the community (over many
generations of invention and use) specifically to transmit knowledge between
the members of the community. This is hardly a simple process; the learning
of vocal expression is a long process (generally taking at least some 16 or
more years of regular practice).
     Since logical thinking is natural to almost all humans, the
difficulties of language learning must be a function of the form and use of
the tool rather than the meanings it is designed to transmit. Spoken
language, unlike other instruments we learn to make and use is:
1. Built to express knowledge. That is it is a tool that involves minimal
energy use, maximal exploitation of a minimal diversity of channels (modes
of action) and maximal diversity of particular activities (e.g. word making,
sentence making, and so on) that is necessary for effective communication of
experience/meaning/knowledge. Language learning is probably the most
incremental of human learning processes. There is no obvious relation
between the objects (vocalizations) learned and their meaning not are the
relations between elements of spoken language immediately obvious to the
inexperienced user.
2. Learned through a long period of exposure to others speech and of
practice and experimentation with the speech tool. The development of
language skills involves amassing a wide range of experience with the vocal
expression of knowledge: first, since the kind of knowledge that is
important to even the simplest of human communities involves a wide range of
conditions, many of which only are encountered in the course of maturation
and development of the individual agent. Second, because human knowledge is
an open ended system, continually being transformed and expanded by the
creative labour of the community and its members.
3. Especially subject to continuous and extreme formal and essential
modifications. Both the form (see 1) and the practice (see 2) of meaningful
speech make its transformation nearly effortless and necessary. One of my
favourite pastimes at work and in the army was to invent new words and
expressions. I found that all that was required for this was a poetic sense
of language and a sharp eye for inadequate means for social expression of
particular (and usually new) situations and conditions.
Vocal language, the paragon of tools of communication comes closest to the
pure expression of knowledge, but only by virtue of it particular and I
would add here, peculiar, material form as a tool socially designed, made
and used to transmit information. Without this form knowledge/meaning can
only exist as subjective experience; and worse, as potential action (or as
Hegel points out, as inaction). As such the ideal cannot just be meaning,
it must include as a part of its essential being, the material forms through
which it is represented and expressed. These forms are active receptacles
of meaning and not the hapless victims of meaning imposed on them from
outside. The material form meaningful artifact have acquired through the
productive process goes a long way in determining just how the knowledge
they embody is organized and expressed and their material properties also
have a key role in the capacity of men to acquire knowledge and to expand
their presence in the world.
      In light of all this it appears to me that we must regard the external
ideal as a unity of material and spiritual (meaning, knowledge) properties
in one. Spoken language is among the artefacts most faithful to the natural
human reasoning process, but it is only one artefact among many and as such
can only be one form of expression of human knowledge. The closest we can
come to a general statement of the nature of the Ideal is to describe it as
cultural (social knowledge) artefacts (socially designed, produced and used
material objects).
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)?

     We have no real disagreements here. I would just add that the
thoroughly socialized individual acquires what G H Mead would call the
"generalised other," the interiorized (memorized?) array of social practices
that comprise the social consciousness of the individual. There are a lot
of analogues between Ilyenkov's and Mead's theorizing.
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?

    Very good job! I am green with envy!
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

I'm right with you here. I have a real problem integrating the concept of
mediation with the dialectics of negation and the negation of the negation.
For example, I find it hard to go from the principles behind Leont'ev and
Engstrom's triangles to those of the dialectics of the development of
knowledge or of the development of the Capitalist mode of production.
      Andy uses the concept of mediation a great deal and might be able to
clarify this issue for us. He gave it a brave try several months ago, but
his explanation now seems to me to be very close to the Hegelian methods
that Ilyenkov regarded as formalistic.
      Maybe, if he's lurking about, Andy would be good enough to give a
second try at explaining mediation, its relation to dialectics and to EVI's
interpretations thereof.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Gabosch" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, June 01, 2004 1:53 PM
Subject: Response to Michael Glassman's questions on ideality

> Hi Michael, Victor, others following this discussion about ideality,
> I am going to take on Michael's six questions, trying to be as succinct as
> possible for readability and clarity. Often, I will rephrase a question,
> which has the danger of missing the original intent. I will try hard not

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