Re: [xmca] Ilyenkov in A Stetsenko's articles

From: Andy Blunden (
Date: Fri Nov 04 2005 - 20:03:23 PST

   Responses on a couple of issues Mike.
   Firstly, my views on "the subject" are skewed because I believe it to
   be the central issue of the day, and I am in the midst of writing a
   book called "The Subject," so I am somewhat over-sensitive about views
   I might differ with when it is about "subjectivity."
   Secondly, the word has an interesting and very complex genealogy. It
   originates from Aristotle's 'hyperkeimenon', which translates into
   Latin as 'subjectum', and entered the English language as 'subject' in
   the 14th century. For Aristotle, it meant (sort of) the essential
   entity which has predicates attached to it (i.e., properties,
   qualities, attributes), while it nonetheless remains what it is, and
   not something else - the "material substratum of a thing" as opposed
   to its contingent "properties". From this is derived the idea of
   subject in the grammatical sense and as "topic", something about which
   things get said, as well as subject of an experiment, or a murder plot
   or a poem.
   In this same sense, when "subject" entered the English language it
   came to mean the people who constituted the material substratum of
   God's most important creations, his kingdoms and church. From there
   "subject" meant falling under the power of others, of being
   "subjected" to others.
   However, Descartes brought about the linguistic turn by designating
   the "cogito" as a distinct substance (L. substantia), as opposed to
   the material substance of the outside world. From Descartes it became
   customary in philosophy to refer to the individual knower as a
   "subject" and thanks to Kant, "subject" became fixed in philosophical
   usage as the individual, knowing *moral* agent. With Hegel however,
   "subject" became not necessarily individual, but rather individual,
   particular and universal simultaneously, and this was in line with
   current usage in terms of the "subject of international law".
   Thirdly, the interesting question of how one individual can know the
   state of another individual's consciousness. The experimental
   techniques you describe have always struck me as being exemplars of
   the solution of this problem, honestly. But it is one of those
   unanswerable problems of life. I think it is coextensive with the
   history of psychology, isn't it? To know what someone is thinking, the
   first and best requirement is to be another human being. All I would
   say though, Mike, is that this problem by no means exhausts or defines
   the problem of subjectivity.
   At 06:18 PM 4/11/2005 -0800, you wrote:

     A very helpful intervention, Viktor. For me, too, the
     interpretation of
     Ilynekov in the paper was a point where, as I commented to Anna in
     I diverged from her presentation. Here I would like to raise two
     noting that others are implicated by the later discussion involving
     andy, and
     martin, and hoping that Anna and others will contribute here as
     First, I always thought it very important that Ilyenkov was so
     involved with
     the Blind Deaf. I met him only once, when I was in Moscow with my
     and we participated in an excursion of Zagorsk with him, Davydov,
     and their friends. (I can't recall if Felix Mikhailov, who is
     ailing in
     was there, but Felix's close connection both to Evald and Suvarov
     and the
     blind-deaf community is, I think, relevantly symptomatic). This was
     project in the truest sense of the word: If, one is not born a
     but becomes one owing to the joint activity with others in the
     recreation of
     human life,
     then a project to enable children experience blind-deafness to
     become phds
     and live independently in Moscow is both a utopian project and an
     acid test
     theory. At first this project was celebrated in the USSR-- it was
     for example, in their glossy self promotion magazine. But by the
     same people were considered dissedents and clearly felt themselves
     opposition. The authorities wanted to close down the project and
     teach the
     deaf to make pencils in sheltered workshops. This, and the
     involvement of
     other late vygotskians in preschool education, "defectology,"
     research, etc always reminds me of the idea I associate with Marx
     that progress is made in the garbage heap of history. Yet Ilyenkov
     distrusted by
     many as a Stalinist. What a razor thin line to tread and no wonder
     alcohol was used to dull the pain of the cuts the razors caused.
     Second, and on a very different tack. I would really appreciate
     understanding warrants for claims about another person or group's
     I am a member of modern academic culture, so of course I have a
     general idea
     of what the term means from its uses, as in Anna's paper, but in
     studies more broadly. But, perhaps because of my training as a
     or perhaps because of my training as a student of Alexander
     Luria's, many
     of the term make me nervous, and that extends to Anna's paper and
     discussion with Martin (for whom the term is more comfortable, I
     believe --
     Please, Martin, Anna, Andy, Mary, and others join in here).
     Danzinger recounts how it came about that a researcher in a German
     laboratory in the 1880's-1990's came to be called "the subject,"
     the person
     psychological states/perceptions/elements of consciousness/.......
     his (it
     was all hims at the time) research-partner was, in collaboration
     with the
     trying to obtain "scientific evidence" about. In simple terms, it
     was the
     problem of how you could know what someone else was
     Luria writes about his disillusion with various attempts to solve
     problem. He specifed, in The Nature of Human Conflicts, and again
     in his
     a method in which the researcher created a situation where s/he and
     "subject" were coordinated in a cultural medium. The behavior of
     both was
     voluntary, not reflexive. Once they achieve highly coordinated
     actions, the researcher introduces a highly selected change into
     situation and
     determines if this change results in a change in the coordinated
     actions of
     the "subject." ONLY when there is selective, predictable,
     of the coordinated joint activity is there a warrant for a claim
     about the
     other person's thought/feeling.
     Peg Griffin and I sought to extend this idea into the diagnosis and
     remediation of reading difficulties of children with, I believe,
     success. Bruner and
     others used it, without acknowledgement or recognition of its
     importance so far as I know, in studies where, for example, infants
     first habituated
     to a series of stimuli while their "signature" rhythmic sucking is
     and then a small change of interest (phoeme, visual
     configuration...) is
     to see if the suckig is disrupted.
     I can give other examples from rare, but naturally occuring events
     I have
     participated in.
     But in general, what are the warrants for claims about another
     person's or
     another people's subjectivity? Last night on National Public Radio
     I heard a
     Palastinian and other people writing "in diaspora" speak of the
     fence as
     huge influence on his feeling of being walled out of his own
     country. The
     people from various parts
     of Africa rioting in Paris are clearly outraged over their
     treatment by the
     French and I see their anger in their actions. But what can I claim
     to know
     about their
     subjectivity (their anger is objectively visible to me)? What can
     daughter, who has lived in Eastern Madagascar at various periods in
     life, gotten
     extraordinarily ill from helping grow rice in swamps, participated
     in cattle
     sacrifice, grieved at the death of her Malagasy ancestors, know
     subjectivity? Behind my back,the BBC is showing anyone who will
     watch the
     subjectivity of Latin Americans outraged at American policies. What
     can I
     know about their subjectivity other than its external
     This is not a known answer question. I would appreciate help in
     coming to
     terms with the use of this term. I believe it must be used with
     great care
     and the
     possibility of claims being incorrect. Luria wanted to be able to
     distinguish what people said from what they "felt." In Anna's
     paper, the
     terms subjectivity
     and intersubjectivity are central. What is being meant by what is
     Thanks if you have read this far.
     On 11/3/05, Victor <> wrote:
> Anna,
> On the issue of object relatedness in CHAT:
> It has been for some time now that the CHAT model has appeared to
     me to be
> to be so strongly objectivist in approach that it was difficult
> impossible to utilize it for the analysis of conflicts inherent
     within all
> forms of social organization.
> My area of interest is mostly in organizational systems in which
> is not only inherent but so salient a feature of social
     interaction that is
> impossible to ignore subjectivity as a active force in the
     formation and
> development of the system, e.g. in economics and politics. As
> student a sometimes teacher, my impression of the classroom
     situation and of
> educational systems in general (subjects more often discussed
     here in this
> forum than economic and political relations) has ever been one of
> and precarious compromise where the unifying socio-cultural
     system is often
> more evident by its weaknesses rather than by its strengths. In
     general my
> impression of CHAT theories of the educational system have been
> lacking in the determination of the unity of the system as a
     function of the
> concatenation of the operation of many conflicting wills. I would
> welcome a CHAT that addresses more attention to the operation of
> subjectivity and intersubjectivity in the accounting of the
     outcomes of
> social interaction.
> On your paper:
> Most of your paper concerns the works of Leont'ev and Vygotsky.
> works I've read only a few times and so I'll have to accept your
> on his works as is. I agree with your comments on Vygotsky with a
> reservations that are not important to your main thesis so no
     discussion on
> his work is called for here. However, your description of
     Ilyenkov's ideas
> concerning the relation of object to subject and on the
     significance of
> subjectivity in the development of social life appear to me to be
> in need of correction.
> Ilyenkov's discussion on the relation between subject and object
> widely distributed throughout his works, is the especial focus of
     his "The
> Concept of the Ideal" (1977) and of Chapter8, "The Materialist
     Conception of
> Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic", of Dialectical Logic
> Ilyenkov is certainly not an easy writer to understand; his logic
> very good is often unsystematic, he peppers his works with
> allusions to material that he does not cite, and his treatment of
> concepts is often diffident and even hidden. Another difficulty
> Ilyenkov's works is that much of his writing is in a
     Marxist-Leninist mode
> that's special to the language of revolutionary communist
     literature, and is
> quite different from the language of academic philosophy. The
     result has
> been in my view an array of egregious misinterpretations of
> works, especially by Anglo-Saxon academic philosophers without
> grounding in dialectical analysis. The idea that Ilyenkov's works
> towards objectivism and towards a neutral contemplationist
     concept of
> scientific endeavor are precisely among the errors disseminated
     by these
> recent interpretations of Ilyenkov's works.
> Ilyenkov's concrete formulation of the meaning of the ideal in
> Concept of the Ideal" does refer repeatedly to one of the
     properties of the
> ideal as being "significant objects". However in this very same
> Ilyenkov also reiterates in a number of passages that the
> meaning of the term, ideal, is the necessary dialectical unity of
> significant object and of subjectivity. The ideal object is
     described as
> only the embodiment of conscious, willed activity, i.e.
     subjectivity, and
> that subjectivity is no less an essential component of the ideal
     than the
> object that represents it. But this is not all.
> When, in his 1977 article, Ilyenkov finally gets around to
     describing the
> difference between the Marxian and Hegelian concept of the ideal
> 93, 103, and here and there in between), he finds it in their
> theories of the genesis of the ideal relative to subjectivity.
     His argument
> in brief runs as follows:
> For Hegel subjectivity, the notion, i.e. subjective cognition,
> objectification are the prerequisite conditions for the emergence
     of the
> ideal, the ideal being the consequences of the development of
     categories of
> knowledge.
> For Marx (and Ilyenkov), subjectivity, the object, and the ideal
> simultaneously as the outcome of the special conditions of human
> the voluntary (in the sense here of non-instinctive)
     collaboration of mostly
> if not entirely socialized individuals for the purpose of
     producing the
> means for satisfaction of collective and individual needs.
> Ilyenkov infers from this that while for Hegel objectification is
> embodiment of pure activity in the ideal object, Marx regards the
> activity as labour or productive activity. The importance of this
> is not very evident in the 1977 article, but examination of
> interpretation of labour activity in paragraphs 44 to 51 (sorry I
     do not
> have a paginated version of the book) of chapter 8 of Dialectical
     Logic is
> very instructive in this regard. Here he makes the point that
     labour, i.e.
> the creative interaction of the agent with natural conditions, is
     never be
> entirely encompassed by the objectification of the activity (in
> 51). In effect Ilyenkov is saying here that subjectivity can
     never be
> entirely subsumed by the object and as such remains a significant
     element in
> the prosecution of human sociality whatever the concrete
     conditions of that
> sociality.
> What didn't Ilyenkov write: That which he could have and perhaps
> have written?
> For Hegel the objectification of subjective activity, i.e. the
> does not in itself produce the ideal. The ideal only is realized
     when the
> objectified notion or acquired concept, first negates Life, i.e.
> actual extant conditions which are the prerequisites of the
     formulation of
> the objective concept, and then joins it in the realization of
> (good) outcomes. For Hegel the acquired concept cannot be one
     with life,
> because formulation and employment of the objective concept is
> informed by the yet unsatisfied subjective goals of the agents of
> concept.
> The Marxian concept of the ideal (as interpreted by Ilyenkov) has
     no real
> need for the counterpoising of the objective concept to Life, it
     has a much
> more material target, namely the social practices from which it
     emerges and
> of which it is a representation. This need not be understood to
     mean that
> the formulation of an ideal is necessarily a broad rejection of
> communal practice, it can be quite a modest affair such as the
> representation of the "legitimate" rules of a game, the right
     price for a
> dozen eggs, and the proper way to eat peas with a fork. The ideal
     is invoked
> when an agent, individual or collective, mobilizes an objectified
     concept to
> change the extant practices of others to realize a social or
     material goal
> that she wants satisfied. The outcome of her employment of ideas
     will be
> dependent on complexes of material factors, of production, of
> and the co-existence of other invoked ideals, but this is a
> problem altogether.
> Why didn't Ilyenkov write this?
> 1.. The "idealist" bogeyman: The presentation of a fully
     practical theory
> of the ideal must posit that the ideal is not only a consequent
     of social
> practice, but at more concrete levels of analysis must be
     regarded as a
> prerequisite of social practice (see chapter 2, section 3 of
     Dialectics of
> the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960) for more
     details). An
> explicit presentation of the reciprocal effect of the ideal on
> relations would have provided his intellectual and political
     opponents with
> powerful arguments for labeling him as an "idealist".
> 2.. Border conditions and focus of analysis: Ilyenkov was very
> of the "border conditions" of his work. Most of his efforts were
     devoted to
> the elucidation of the later works of Marx and of Lenin's
     theoretical works.
> The focus of these works is nearly entirely on political economy,
     and on
> political economy writ large. Subjectivity finds a place in these
> either as descriptions of the rational activity of generic
     members of
> classes or as descriptions of the social activity of groups. When
> approaches the "borders" of the system of the relations of
     production, the
> issue of the historical development of the forces of production
     in see
> chapter 2, section 3 of Dialectics of the Abstract and the
     Concrete in
> Marx's Capital, or the "borders" of the abstract theory of the
     ideal, the
> relation of the individual to social organization in "The Concept
     of the
> Ideal" he draws back and "hands over the subject" to others.
     Ilyenkov is
> surely aware that borders between subjects of analysis are
     relative, in
> dialectical theory the relations of all concepts are essentially
> and relative rather than causal and absolute, so his
     fastidiousness is
> unlikely to be a matter of research domains consecrated by
> custom. It is more likely that this fastidiousness reflects
> regard for theory as a function of practical goals, and that his
     decision to
> limit his theorizing to the social interactions of collectivities
     and to the
> theory of political economic states is the outcome of his
     practical research
> aims rather than a universal law of theory.
> 3.. The political limitations on conflict theory in the USSR:
     From the
> point of view of all established elites, including the academic
> Marxist theory has all the endearing features of atomic weaponry.
     The unity
> of subjectivity and objectivity implicit in the dialectical
     approach to
> culture and history has produced a theory of society that is
> dynamic. It presents society as fundamentally unstable and
> without respite. Stalinist theoreticians, and not only Stalinist
> theoreticians, worked very hard to modify Marxist theory
> effecting changes in the population of Marxist theorists) so as
     to "stop"
> the dialectical process with the formation of the Soviet Social
> The critical implications of Ilyenkov's theory of the ideal (as
     well as his
> studies in dialectics in general) for the official ideology that
> development ends with the establishment of the Soviet State were
     not lost on
> the political authorities of his day, and he hardly was permitted
     to go as
> far as he did.
> As I see it Ilyenkov was hardly an "objectivist" theoretician. A
> of his two major works; Dialectical Logic (1974) and Dialectics
     of the
> Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960) show Ilyenkov
     as severely
> critical of "contemplationist" theory and a firm, consistent
     partisan of
> theory as a function of practice and of practice as the test of
> Ilyenkov is hardly reticent in declaring his own objectives;
     paragraphs in
> Chapter 8 of Dialectical Logic and his articles "Activity and
> (1974) and "From the Marxist Point of View" (1967) clearly
     indicate of what
> he thought the current task of theory should be; the critical
     review of the
> failures of the Soviet bureaucracy in realizing the aims of
     socialism and
> the development of means to correct them.
> Thanks for the article,
> Victor Friedlander-Rakocz
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