[xmca] Monism Is Not Reductionist

From: David Kellogg (vaughndogblack@yahoo.com)
Date: Fri Mar 09 2007 - 15:38:14 PST

Dear Martin:
  The way I understand Chapter Five, it is almost entirely about internalization. At every stage of the emergence of the true concept from heaps and the various types of complexes, the explanatory principle that Vygotsky posits has something to do with generalization: the child generalizes one feature of to create a complex out of a heap, and then generalizes to a more abstract aspect to create a pseudoconcept, and finally situates this pseudoconcept in a network of abstract (that is, generalized) paradigmatic and syntagmatic relationships to create a true concept.
  When we examine in detail Vygotsky's concept of the word we see that it is based on Sapir's, not Saussure's. That is, the essence of a word lies in generalization, not opposition. But this generalization is an aspect of a word's meaning; it is not an aspect of the pronunciation or the orthography or the medium in which we find the word.
  There isn't anything dualistic in this. Vygotsky's solution to the "dual nature" of the word is not to reduce words to physical components of the outside world (the way that, for example, J.J. Gibson does in his theory of unmediated perception). Nor is it the upward reductionism of those who believe in conversation without cognition (e.g. Coulter, J. "Language without mind", in Potter and te Molder, Conversation and Cognition, CUP 2005).
  What Vygotsky does is to assimilate both the physical component of the word (the orthography and the pronunciation, which is what I referred to as "external") and the mental act of generalization that constitutes its meaning (which we may refer to as "internal" with some confidence, now that you have admitted that Vygotsky uses "internalization" in a non-dualistic way) to a single, larger whole. Pronunciation and meaning are linked, but distinct.
  Does Vygotsky ever SAY this? Yes, he does. The word "word" is used throughout Chapter Five: see Vol. 1, p. 159, p.163, p. 164, and above all on p. 165, where Vygotsky takes Buhler to task for assuming that concept formation takes place without internal integration and generalization and is purely external in its formation:
  "If, in fact, the concept arises on the basis of judgment or thinking, we might ask what distinguishes the concept from the products of concrete or active thinking practical contexts. Again, Buhler forgest what is central to concept formation. He forgets the word. He fails to take account of the word in his analysis of the factors that play a role in concept formation. As a consequence, he cannot understand how two processes as different as judgement an the combining of representations can lead to the formation of concepts."
  Does Vygotsky every EXPLICITLY link concept formation with the actual word internalization? Yes, he does; in his discussion of verbal thought and above all in his discussion of the adolescent's formation of a concept of self. In Volume Two, for example (p. 197) we find:
  "A game of rules serves as an example of (the formation of self-direction). Later, these forms of cooperation, which led to the the subordination of behavior to a given game's rules, become internalized forms of a child's activity, voluntary processes."
  In Volume Five, on p. 174, we find "The third direction in the development of self-consciousness is its internalization. The adolescent begins to recognize himself more and more asa single whole." This needs to be read in conjunction with his earlier discussion of the development of thinking and the formation of concepts in the adolescent, esp. p. 75, where he talks about how the metaphors of the adolescent differ from those of a schoolchild.
  In Volume Six, the translators have chosen the term "interiorization" rather than internalization, but the concept and the Russian original is clearly the same. Here the results of Chapter Five of Thought and Speech are referred to using "interiorization" and "exteriorization" quite explicitly. See p. 54:
  "Thus we come to the conclusion that every higher mental function inevitably initially has the character of an external activity. As a rule, at first th esign represents an external auxiliary stimulus, an external means of autostimulation. (...) The fact of "interiorizing" sign operations was experimentally trackedi ntwo situations: in group experiments with children of various ages and in individual experiments in long term experimentation with one child." (This is where he introduces the famous "parallelogram of development" that explains his forbidden colors results.)
  But I don't really fully understand why all this makes you uncomfortable, Matin. After all, if what you say is true, and Vygotsky uses the term internalization in a non-dualistic way, then why CAN'T he apply it to concept formation? We are not suggesting that internalization involves the creation of a Popperian World Three (which I've always thought of as a kind of Third World, a place of uneven and combined development where permanent revolutions invariably spill over into the first and second worlds!).
  Concepts (scientific concepts, for example) are created and shared (and accessed by the child) through language. Language is part of the world. But I don't see why we have to say that language is part of the world in exactly the same way as lions or death (by which I mean living, breathing lions and tangible, physical death, not the English word "lion" or the abstract concept of "death"). I'm not sure what such a statement would mean, since I don't think that meaning is part of the world in exactly the same way as pronunciation is. They are linked, but distinct, or at least distinguishable.
  The world is an extremely big place, and includes phenomena that are, for example, physical but not biological, or biological but not social, and even social and not linguistic. Linguistic phenomena seem to me to be a subset of a larger category of social phenomena, in much the same way as social phenomena are a subset of a larger category of biological ones and biological phenomena are part of a larger subset of physical ones. To say that they are all the same type of phenomena is not monism; it's just reductionism.
  Yes, I've read Bakhurst, and I applaud him; he was one of the first to stand up for Volosinov. I certainly agree that minds do confront reality directly. But that is not all they know how to do.
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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