The fragment of “Crisis” which has attracted your interest is worth to
comment cause it contains both deep insights and equally deep
But before comment - a little preface.
Deepening into L.Vygotsky’s texts we have to realize what our aim is, what
are we looking for?
In case of “Crisis…” it is obvious that we can have two motivations: the
first is a historical interest. We can examine the text from the point of
view of development of Vygotsky’s ideas.
The alternative motivation takes place if we are seeking the methodological
ideas in “Crisis…”
Both motivations are looking as equally possible. But actually reading of
“Crisis…” with “methodological” motivation can be hardly estimated as an
effective investment of your researcher’s time. I mean that Vygotsky was one
of the pioneers of investigation of Marx’ method, of dialectic as a
methodology and he left us a couple of deep insights in this domain like say
an idea about germ cell, or analysis in units. But…
How do you value an investigator say biologist (not historian of biology
!!!) who will seek the methods of his current investigations in a monograph
issued in 1927? I’m afraid that this researcher will have grate problems
with publication of results of his investigations, cause the majority of
researchers’ community will estimate his methods slightly fossil while the
researcher slightly eccentric.
If Vygotsky was right in his theoretic reflection, if human’s creativity is
based on his culture and if real theoretic culture of Vygotsky was Marxism,
it means that we in our current investigations have to base on the most
up-to-date version of dialectical logic instead of classical work written in
Meanwhile between 1927 and 2006 Marxist theory was not dead. In the middle
of the last century the great step in the development of Dialectical logic
was made by Evald Il’enkov. So if one wants to continue the Vygotsky’s
theoretic researches, one need to study Marxist method from more up-to-date
saucer – the works of Evald Il’enkov first of all Dialectics of the Abstract
and Concrete, Dialectical Logic, The Concept of the Ideal, Leninist
Dialectics and Metaphysics of Positivism.
I repeat, if Vygotsky didn’t make a mistake regarding himself as a Marxist,
so we to go deeper into Vygotskian (=Marxist, or =Dialectical) psychology
have to study dialectic method rather from Il’enkov then from Vygotsky. I am
sure that if Vygotsky was alive now he would evidently share this position.
To demonstrate both similarities and differences between Vygotsky’s and
Il’enkov’s comprehension of Dialectic one need to realize a special
comparative analysis of their texts. And we (I mean a group of Il’enkov’s
disciples: Lev Naumenko, Alexander Simakin, Alexei Novokhatko, me and some
others) are planning to write a multi-author book about this topic. Such an
investigation was totally impossible in Soviet days because a tiny hint to
Vygotsky criticism could gave a heavy weapon to enemies of CHAT and shift
the discussion from academic to ideological soil. On the contrary, now such
an analysis is the only way to save the school from degeneration into
But let’s return to your question about ontological and epistemological
aspects of psychophysical problem. I think, that the difficulties you have
experienced in comprehension of the fragment is quite objective, because the
fragment is really vague. Vygotsky is trying to play an away match
discussing the problem in Neo-Kantianist terms - Ontology, Gnoseology
(Epistemology) - while dialectic regards all this notions excessive.
According to Il’enkov as well as Lenin Dialectic is a Logic and Theory of
Knowledge of Marxism so that we haven’t need in three words because this
three notions are identical. If you like to examine their arguments in
detail you can find it in Chapter 9 On the Coincidence of Logic with
Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism of “Dialectcal logic”
Now what I think about all of this. Surely the relationship of Geist and
matter is the most universal formula of the problem of identity of Thinking
and Being. Substantially, dialectically it was discussed in Descartes’ and
Spinoza’s reflections and rethought by Il’enkov in the first two chapters of
The problem of so called “Ontological” status of subject and object has two
1. ascends to Descartes and supposes an existence of two separate
substances with opposite ontological status. So Descartes saves the special
ontological status for realm of thought, will, reflection etc, etc.
2. ascends to Spinoza and supposes an existence of only one substance.
So it insists that there is only one “Ontological status”, that assumption
of the second bodyless “Ontological status” is a simple return to mythology.
Evald Il’enkov in his “Dialectic of Ideality” summarize all this in
following words: (s tochki zreniya posledovatel'nogo materializma v mire
voobsche net i ne mozhet byt' nichego, krome dvizhuscheisya materii, krome
beskonechnoi sovokupnosti material'nyh tel, sobytii, protsessov i
(from the point of view of consistent materialism there is not actually and
can’t be anything but moving matter, but unlimited totality of material
bodies, events, processes and condition). It is characteristic that Il’enkov
did this statement in his classical work concerning the problem of ideality.
Thus even hypothetical admission of existence of more than one “ontological”
state leads us to strong contradiction with the basics of Spinozism. It
(this contradiction) meant nothing for idealist Hoffding but it was awkward
for materialist and Spinozist Vygotsky.
Vygotsky declares: “Both mind and body are for us objective, but whereas
mental objects [geistigen Objekte] are by their nature related to the
knowing subject, the body exists only as an object for us.”
Here in understanding of objects as having by nature nothing to with any
subjectivity or cognition Vygotsky against his Spinozian inclinations acts
as pure Cartesian.
As for subject-object relation it can be understood in different theoretic
cultures quite differently. In formal logic and in positivist tradition the
subject-object relation is no more than a grammatical definition. As it was
clearly described by our colleague David Kellogg:
“I guess for me a subject is a grammatical subject or else a discourse
subject (that is, a "speaking subject") and an object is either a
grammatical object or a hearer or listener. So that puts me in the semiotic
camp rather than the activity theoretic one, though I am willing to accept
that the activity theoretic camp probably has a lot more interesting things
to say about animals.”
It is characteristic that some problematic interest from dialectic approach
he waits only to understand the nature of ungrammatical animals.
The dialectical alternative is in understanding of subject-object relation
as relation which arises from spontaneous activity of some special sort of
bodies (we mean living or in terms of Il’enkov “thinking bodies”) so that as
a result of this activity we have a fact of mutual positioning of Subject
and its Object (or better Gegenstand or Predmet).
I’m afraid that it’s impossible to comment the last one as briefly as David
did, so for more details I can only address to my text “LIFE, PSYCHE,
CONSCIOUSNESS” which is available to download in English from here:
As for Vygotsky’s sophisticated reasoning about reflection in the mirror it
gives us one extra prove of his unwilling Cartesianism and a chance to
demonstrate the potential of activity approach.
But the topic is so tasty and the time in Moscow is so late (or already
early :-)) that I will leave my comments for the nest post.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of Martin Packer
Sent: Thursday, November 30, 2006 4:55 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD
Given the current discussion of the dialectic this seems an excellent time
to ask for guidance on some passages from Vygotksy's 'Crisis' that strike me
as important, but which I find confusing. Sasha, I'd welcome your
interpretation. Vygotsky is arguing for the need, in a truly 'general'
psychology, to distinguish the epistemological problem of the relation of
subject and object from the ontological problem of the relation between mind
and body, and then of course to solve both problems. Then he writes:
"³We must not mix up the relation between subject and object with the
relation between mind and body, as Høffding  splendidly explains. The
distinction between mind [Geist] and matter is a distinction in [established
at the level of] the content of our knowledge. But the distinction between
subject and object manifests [establishes] itself independently from the
content of our knowledge.² (323) [The material in brackets is my
modifications to the translations based on the Spanish version; a bit risky,
He then quotes Hoffding:
³Both mind and body are for us objective, but whereas mental objects
[geistigen Objekte] are by their nature related to the knowing subject, the
body exists only as an object for us. The relation between subject and
object is an epistemological problem [Erkenntnisproblem], the relation
between mind and matter is an ontological problem [Daseinsproblem].²
I find it difficult to reconcile these two paragraphs. Is he saying that
mind and body are objective for us; we experience them as really existing.
But all objects are such only for a knowing subject, so the body, for
example, exists as a real object only for us, as subjects. This distinction,
between subject and object, arises whether we experience it or not? Or,
since Œknowledge¹ is something valued for V, perhaps he's saying that Geist
and matter are things we can know. They are real. Their relation is a
problem, and it is ontological. Whereas subject and object are how things
appear, or how they can appear, in ³epistemological consciousness,² i.e.
introspection. It follows that the subjective (the for-us) must not merely
be described but also explained, in terms of real objects and real
processes. Mental processes are real processes, not identical with
subjectivity. ³Empirical, psychological consciousness² is, it seems,
non-dualistic. My joy is real (and non-dualistic). My introspection of this
joy introduces dualism.
A few pages later:
"³After all, a cornerstone of materialism is the proposition that
consciousness and the brain are a product, a part of nature, which reflect
the rest of nature² (327).
The last sentence is not grammatical English, so something has clearly gone
wrong with the translation.
If anyone has access to the original Russian and could comment,that would be
great. (Page numbers are from the version in The Essential Vygotsky.)
On 11/30/06 2:43 AM, "firstname.lastname@example.org" <email@example.com> wrote:
> Hi Mike,
> I mean the text from the volume 6 of Russian collected works of LSV
> "Utchenie ob emotziakh" or "Spinoza" as it was titled by LSV himself.
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