RE: Derry on LSV, Piaget, Buridan's ass, & mediating artefacts

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Mon Jan 24 2005 - 18:09:48 PST

Hmmm, thanks for the reference Tony. I'm going to have to think about this. The idea that external stimuli created by the mind and dependent on fate (i.e., lot) strikes me as different from what Spinoza had in mind in his Ethics, but perhaps I am misreading something, It seems to me for Spinoza there are no artificial or arbitrary conditions in the true material world because they are all part of the same substance of God. It is the realization of God that brings the true knowledge of the material world not anything humans create by themselves. In this way it seems to me Piaget is actually closer to Spinoza's intent concerning the material world than Vygotsky, but again maybe I am missing something.
The idea that the mind creates methods for choosing between two material objects, and these methods are completely separate from the material being considered also doesn't seem to go that far in breaking down the mind/body distinction. But what if we say that it is the concrete materials itself that drives the creation of the symbols and as the concrete materials changes the symbols change so mediation is ultimately fluid. In essence the symbols are nothing more than instruments used to solve an immediate problem. I still think in the long run this is what Vygotsky was after - though again I don't see it as that close to Spinoza. And the citations you give about Buridan's Ass certainly work against my thesis.


From: Tony Whitson []
Sent: Mon 1/24/2005 12:44 PM
Subject: Derry on LSV, Piaget, Buridan's ass, & mediating artefacts

here is on page from the Derry article:

[p.] 118 J. Derry

mind moves and is moved in activity. Self-determination is not possible through a pure act of will, but arises in (indirect) mediation-the mind is steered towards its intention.

Vygotsky cites the case of Buridan's ass where the animal is unable to choose between the stimuli of two equal bales of hay and thus starves. He uses the tale to distinguish the possibility of freedom in human activity through the use of mediating artefacts. In the simple case of an inability to decide, a human may toss a coin. No matter that the point is trivial, the human has an additional means of interaction with external determination; the ass lacks such a means (Vygotsky, 1997). For Vygotsky, following Spinoza, the basis of freedom is man's ability to separate himself from his passions, from the contingencies of nature, and to make for himself a space within which he can determine his actions. Such actions are determined not by external and independent causes but by those that lie within ones sphere of ef?cacy.

It is possible to discern this concept of freedom in Vygotsky, as for instance when he discusses the sense in which consciousness is just assumed by Piaget (Vygotsky, 1987). For Piaget, consciousness occurs in the child once the bankruptcy of his own thinking is evident, whereas for Vygotsky consciousness arises through a subject's changing location to external forms of determination. Vygotsky looks to the unfolding mediation of consciousness rather than its arbitrary positing in relation to what Piaget took to be the evaporation of egocentric speech as egocentric thought atrophies. Vygotsky takes issue with the way that 'Piaget represents the child's mental development as a process where the characteristics of the child's thought gradually die out' (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 175). He ?nds the genesis of consciousness in the development of scienti?c concepts and contrasts his research with Piaget's, arguing that Piaget sees only the difference/opposition between the child's spontaneous and non-spontaneous concepts (scienti?c concepts) but not their identity (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 177). Vygotsky criticizes Piaget's failure to understand that a child's lack of conscious awareness is affected by his position in relation to what he was asked to understand rather than to a con?ict between his own childish concepts and those which gave him access to reality. Human behaviour according to Vygotsky is neither controlled nor directed by immediate means based on pure acts of will, but is moved indirectly through the use of signs and tools. The modi?cation of the world by human activity creates an arti?ciality (or 'artefactuality') of conditions. Within such arti?cial and man-made conditions volition can be directed/mediated (caused), but in these circumstances the cause of an action arises through man's own creations/artefacts and not merely in response to external determinations. The 'ability to conform to the dictates of no particular situation, but to any' (Bakhurst, 1991, p. 251) provides for human beings the possibility of a universality not available to animals which do no more than respond directly to environmental determinations, i.e. without conscious mediation or re?ection. What is signi?cant in the analysis of these issues in Vygotsky's work, is the symbiotic relation between the development of consciousness and scienti?c concepts, the ability to operate actively on matter rather than being its passive subject.

Vygotsky followed Spinoza, in asking crucial questions: how to free ourselves from our concrete circumstances, from our passions; how to be free, not determined by external causes but to be a cause of ourselves (causasui). A key point of Spinoza's Ethicswas the rejection of a 'disembodied' will. According to Spinoza we are not able to control ourselves directly through a will not tied to matter:


From: Tony Whitson [mailto:twhitson@UDel.Edu]
Sent: Monday, January 24, 2005 10:30 AM
Subject: Spinoza, Buridan, & LSV -- RE: Scaffolding


I think Buridan is best known for his ideas about intellect and will. The role in LSV's thinking (via Spinoza) is suggested in the two articles referenced below.


Title: The unity of intellect and will: Vygotsky and Spinoza

Author(s): Jan Derry

Source: Educational Review Volume: 56 Number: 2 Page: 113 -- 120

DOI: 10.1080/0031910410001693209

Publisher: Carfax Publishing, part of the Taylor & Francis Group

Abstract: Jerome Bruner points out in his prologue to the first volume of the English translation of The Collected Works that Vygotsky flirts with the idea that language creates free will. This article attempts to consider the influence of the Dutch seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza on Vygotsky. An account of Spinoza's anti-Cartesian conception of will is given, to which Vygotsky recognizes his indebtedness. We will consider elements of Spinoza's philosophy that were important to Vygotsky's theory of the development of intellect, and claim that an appreciation of the philosophy informing Vygotsky's theory of the development of intellect is necessary if the full implications of his project are to be grasped.

2005 Educational Review



Export Citation: Text RIS

Studies in East European Thought

55 (3): 199-216, September 2003

Copyright 2003 Kluwer Academic Publishers

All rights reserved

The Russian Spinozists

Andrey Maidansky

Department of Humanities Taganrog Institute of Economics and Management Dzherzhinskogo 154 kv. 8 Taganrog 347931 Russia


The article deals with the history of Russian Spinozism in the 20th century, focusing attention on three interpretations of Spinoza's philosophy - by Varvara Polovtsova, Lev Vygotsky, and Evald Ilyenkov. Polovtsova profoundly explored Spinoza's logical method and contributed an excellent translation of his treatise De intellectus emendatione. Later Vygotsky and Ilyenkov applied Spinoza's method to create activity theory, an explanation of the laws and genesis of the human mind.


philosophy of Spinoza, Spinozism, Polovtsova, Vygotsky, Ilyenkov, Russian Marxism, activity theory, logical method

Article ID: 5122509




From: Michael Glassman []
Sent: Monday, January 24, 2005 7:48 AM
Subject: RE: Scaffolding


I thought Jean Buridan was a logician and a (French) contemporary of William of Occam? It seems to me Buridan's Ass is a variation on Occam's Razor and the idea that we use logic to force choice, part of the philosophical trajectory of the time. Applying mediation to this idea seems something of a stretch. I don't really get what Valsiner is getting at (why the supposedlys?) and I am wary that Vygotsky would use this as a reference for mediation.


On the other hand I am really interested as to where Vygotsky did use this and would really appreciate it if you had the reference. It might suggest that there was at least a small sliver of Vygotsky interested in logic in the same way the Pragmatists (especially Pierce) were interested in logic.





From: willthereallsvpleasespeakup who-is-at []
Sent: Sun 1/23/2005 8:13 PM
Subject: Re: Scaffolding


This reminds me of Buridan's Ass,

I do remember Vygotsky mentioning it, but Valsiner's diagrams really
bring out the significance of the reference for mediation.


Ana Marjanovic-Shane wrote:

> It would be fascinating to compare concepts like Skinner's "shaping"
> to "scaffolding" to ZPD.
> >From the little quote by Skinner about how they taught a pigeon to
> bowl, and from the descriptions of the mother-child interactions
> (further down), there seems to emerge at least one big difference in
> the two types of learning:
> Pigeons learn within almost closed feedback loop between their
> behavior and the "reward" -- it is learning in a given situation and
> by "blind" trial and error.
> Children (people) have the "third" component, which mediates between
> the behavior and its "outcome" -- symbolic behavior -- language and
> other symbolic devices.
> I think that the process of mediation, or in other words, symbolic
> tools are that what is being constructed in ZPD. The learning is not
> direct -- ZPD is a "place" where you focus on construction of tools
> for a particular knowledge domain -- tools that can be used to
> actually get a grip on a particular domain of the reality. That is why
> it so often seems that children and adults already can do/understand
> something in play while it is still impossible in "reality".
> The question is -- can we observe learning through construction of
> symbolic tools in animals?? Or some animals? Ability to construct and
> use symbolic tools becomes an interesting evolutionary difference
> between humans and other species. The question is, is there an
> intermediary step between learning by a direct feedback loop and
> learning through a mediated ZPD? How does this new way of leaning and
> understanding come into existence in the evolution?
> Ana

Email: willthereallsvpleasespeakup who-is-at

"The zone of proximal development defines those functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that will mature tomorrow but are currently in an embryonic state. These functions could be termed the buds or flowers of development rather than the "fruits" of development. The actual developmental level characterizes mental development retrospectively, while the zone of proximal development characterizes mental development prospectively." - L.S.V.

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