RE: [xmca] Translation Problem?

From: Lampert-Shepel, Elina (
Date: Fri Feb 02 2007 - 09:11:56 PST

Hello, David,
I am not an expert in geographical terminology, but I checked the collected works in Russian (published in 1982, I was given when I immigrated; a 'treasure copy with the comments of researchers from Kharkov lab and Daniil El'konin on the margins...:-)) and found the quote in the original. The quote you referred to was translated quite literally. It seems that Vygotsky is using the analogy with South and North poles to explain his view on the locus of the concept on the intersection of abstract and concrete thought about an object, unity of abstract and concrete in each concept. This is, as you say, an important distinction of scientific concepts from any others, this thought was built on by Davydov in his idea of theoretical generalization vs empirical one. My interpretation is that "longitude of a concept" is a vertical line, that sympolizes the generalization spectrum from immediate sensual experience of the object to the abstract generalization. ( It was interesting for me that in this place Vygotsky was not neccessarily following Hegelian understanding of abstract and concrete...) Vygotsky explains in the next paragraph that if we imagine globe to represent all the variety of the views on reality, "latitude", as far as I understood it ,symbolized the space the concept occupied among the concepts of the same "longitude."




From: on behalf of David Kellogg
Sent: Thu 2/1/2007 4:22 PM
To: xcma
Subject: [xmca] Translation Problem?

In Chapter Six of "Thinking and Speech" (in Volume One of the Collected Works), Vygotsky is discussing how scientific concepts, unlike spontaneous ones, emerge swaddled in a dense network of related concepts. He uses a kind of Cartesian grid, only he imagines it in three dimensions, as global coordinates instead.
  One set of coordinates gives the location of the concept in terms of what we might call "object/meaning" or "meaning/object": that is, is the concept identical with a concrete object or action (say, "my goldfish", or "I kicked the ball") or is it almost pure generalization (e.g. numbers, where the concept is only very remotely linked to the concrete action of counting)
  The other set of coordinates gives the location of the concept in terms of other concepts at the same level of generality (that is, the same proportion of "object/meaning").
  The problem is, which set of coordinates is which? Here's how the passage appears in the Collected Works:
  "Imagine that all concepts are distributed at certain longitudes (does he mean latitudes?) like the points of the earth's surface between the North and South poles. Concepts are distributed between poles ranging from an immediate, sensual, graphic grasping of the object to the ultimate generalization (i.e., the most abstract concept). The longitude (he must mean the latitudinal location) of a concept designates the place it occupies between the poles of extremely graphic and extremely abstract thought about an object. Concepts would then be differentiated in longitudinal (that is, latitudinal) terms depending on the degree to which the unity of concrete and abstract is represented in each concept. Imagine further that the globe symbolizes for us all reality which is represented in concepts. We can then use the concept's latitude (that is, longitude) to designate the place it occupies among other concepts of the same longitude (that is, latitude), concepts that correspond
 to other points of reality just as the geographical latitude designates a point on the earth's surface in the degrees of the earth's parallels." (226-227)
  I THINK I understand what he's trying to do. Unlike the Cartesian grid, he wants to have two distinct poles at which variation is not really possible: one of them (which we'll call the North Pole) is really the spontaneous concept, which is pretty much sui generis; the child does not have other concepts at the same level of generality as "wood" or "water" that occupy exactly that conceptual space. At the other pole (we'll call it the South Pole) we have the purely scientific or mathematical concept; the number of names of any particular number is infinite, but they all have exactly the same abstract meaning. In between we find concepts that are very much in between, that is, the conceptual space they occupy is slightly different from neighboring concepts which are hyponyms or hypernyms and thus vary on the North-South axis, but also different from analogous concepts which are at the same level of abstraction but which cover different conceptual spaces. That is why there
 are only two poles in this system.
  The problem is that the passage only makes sense to me when I substitute latitude for longitude and vice versa. At first I thought that it was my usual inability to keep "left" and "right" from getting mixed up. Then I thought maybe LSV was using "longitude" to mean "position on a line of longitude" (that is, latitude). I checked the Vakar and Hanfmann translation (1962) and they simply use "coordinate grid", which unfortunately doesn't allow poles. I also looked in a German translation from 1964, but it has the same text as the Minick translation. Can anybody clear this up? What does the Kozulin translation say?
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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