germ cells germs cells all abound

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Mon May 09 2005 - 20:37:47 PDT

Glad the Hedegaard example was useful to you Phillip. Preparing for another
class, I stumbled back across this passage from Engestrom, prior millenium.
The point of departure in Il'enkov's work is a redifinition of the meaning
of 'concrete' and 'abstract'. Contrary to the common notions, dialectics
does not see 'concrete' as something sensually palpable and 'abstract' as
something conceptual or mentally constructed. 'Concrete' is rather the
holistic quality of systemic interconnectedness.

"(...) if consciousness has perceived an individual thing as such, without
grasping the whole *concrete chain of interconnections *within which the
thing actually exists, that means it has perceived the thing in an extremely
abstract way despite the fact that it has perceived it in direct concrete
sensual observation, in all the fullness of its sensually tangible image.

On the contrary, when consciousness has perceived a thing in its *
interconnections* with all the other, just as individual things, facts,
phenomena, if it has grasped the individual through its universal
interconnections, then it has for the first time perceived it concretely,
even if a notion of it was formed not through direct contemplation, touching
or smelling but rather through speech from other individuals and is
consequently devoid of immediately sensual features." (Ilyenkov 1982,

General notions are formal abstractions since they separate arbitrary
features of objects form their interconnections. Genuine concepts are
concrete abstractions since they reflect and reconstruct the systemic and
interconnected nature of the objects. This systemic nature is not of the
static classificatory 'genus-species' type but of a *genetic and
dynamic *type. Il'enkov uses Marx's concept of the proletariat to
illustrate this.

"When Marx and Engels worked out the concept of the proletariat as the most
revolutionary class of bourgeois society, as the gravedigger of capitalism,
it was in principle impossible to obtain this concept by considering an
abstractly general trait inherent in each separate proletarian and each
particular stratum of the proletariat. A formal abstraction which could be
made in the mid-19th century by comparing all individual representatives of
the proletariat, by the kind of abstracting recommended by non-dialectical
logic, would have characterised the proletariat as the most oppressed
passively suffering poverty-ridden class capable, at best, only of a
desperate hungry rebellion.

This concept [better: general notion; *Y.E.*] of the proletariat was current
in the innumerable studies of that time, in the philanthropic writings of
the contemporaries of Marx and Engels, and in the works of utopian
socialists. This abstraction was a precise reflection of the empirically
general. But it was only Marx and Engels who obtained a *theoretical
of these empirical facts (...).

The concept of the proletariat, as distinct from the empirical general
notion of it, was not a formal abstraction here but a theoretical expression
of the objective conditions of its development containing a comprehension of
its objective role and of the latter's tendency of development. (...)

The truth of this concept was shown, as is well known, by the real
transformation of the proletariat from a 'class in itself' into a 'class for
itself'. The proletariat developed, in the full sense of the term, towards a
correspondence with 'its own concept' (...)." (Ilyenkov 1982, 130-131.)

In other words, the systemic nature of the genuine concept is essentially
temporal, historical and developmental. The concept expresses the origin and
the developmental tendency of the totality it reconstructs.

"To *comprehend* a phenomenon means to discover the mode of its origin, the
rule according to which the phenomenon emerges with necessity rooted in the
concrete totality of conditions, it means to analyse the very conditions of
the origin of phenomena. That is the general formula for the formation of a
*concept * (...)." (Ilyenkov 1982, 177.)

Moreover, the concept "expresses a reality which, while being quite a
particular phenomenon among other particular phenomena, is at the same time
a genuinely universal element, a 'cell' in all the other particular
phenomena" (Ilyenkov 1982, 79). The task of genuine concept formation is
thus to find out the developmental 'germ cell', the initial genetic
abstraction, of the totality under investigation and to develop it into its
full concrete diversity. Herein lies the kernel of the 'other logic'
Vygotsky pleaded for but could never formulate. *"The logical development of
categories (...) must coincide with the historical development of the object
*(Ilyenkov 1982, 215-216; italics added)." In other words, we are not
talking of an eternal and content-indifferent logic but of a developmental
logic of the object itself. This logic is stored nowhere in the form of
ready-made formulas to be imposed upon the object. To the contrary, "the
concrete history of a concrete object should be considered in each
particular case rather than history in general" (Ilyenkov 1982, 215).

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