Re: FW: [xmca] Wells article

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Tue Oct 09 2007 - 23:35:30 PDT

  I'm confused. I don't know what you mean by "subjectness" since this isn't a word in the English language. As such, the three dimensions of it remain beyond my ken.

Alexander Surmava <> wrote:


I'm afraid that in understanding of nature of subjectness we are taking the
problem from radically different perspectives. I distinguish between three
categories: subjectness, subjectivness, and personality(ness). Subjectness
occur in specific, organic or alive form of interaction, it is (along with
the object positioned by him) an attribute of object-oriented activity. It
doesn't coincide with subjectivness and even less with consciousness or
personality. Abstract subjectness is a characteristic of activity of
unicellular organisms or plants. Subjectivness is an attribute of
multicellular organic activity, selfsensation or abstract zoopsyche. On this
level we have a special type of object-oriented activity, which is
necessarily mediated by selfdirected, or reflexive activity. It means that a
multicellular animal can act according the objective shape of its object, or
more exactly according to the shape of objective field, only in case if
subactive organs of this animal are acting against each other. Taking an
apple from the tree I can't act as a solid, indivisible, unilaterally
directed "activity", but as an alive activity, as an activity which can
touch the apple and can withdraw my hand from it. Such type of activity is
something substantially contrary to mechanic movement and can be realized by
complicated system of subactive muscles acting one against another.

Finally the consciousness occur only in human object oriented activity
mediated by another person. Human personality appears only in case when
(minimum) two human beings are solving a common objective task in other
words they conjointly act against their common object and realize it in
active hand in hand and in the same time contradictory interaction. Here we
have a new, higher level of reflexivity and selfconsciousness as it is. All
this was formulated in Dialectical psychology as an attempt to overcome a
great number of Cartesian contradictions in classical CHAT - in LSV and ANL.
Thus Leont'ev insists that he formulates materialistic Theory of activity,
and in the same time interprets activity as some magic process which is
wedging between mechanical stimulus and mechanical reaction. Vygotsky from
his side tries to liberate a human being from mechanical Stimulus-Reactive
determinism applying to so called cultural sign. In the same time he fails
to explain how totally mechanical marionette can invent this sign and how
the meaning of this sign can interact with wooden marionette.

As for the real way to muster concept (Begriff) I think that much more
productive than Hegel's speculative formalisms, will be an attempt to
elaborate a new form of old Marxist idea of integration of learning and
productive labour.

When Luria asked illiterated Uzbek peasants to exclude something unnecessary
from a group including irrigation ditch or "aryk", soil, spade and melon,
they vigorously refuse to do such a stupid choice because everything in the
list is necessary to grow melon. Vygotsky commented the situation so that
those peasants has not scientific concept but still type of "complex"
thinking while literate children, having school experience and solved this
task easily are closer to scientific type of thinking.

Let's wonder: who - the experienced (but alas illiterate) Uzbek peasant or
verbal schoolchild is closer to real comprehension of melon cultivation, is
closer to real concept (Begriff)? The question I think is quite rhetoric.

Evidently, a modern student can hardly acquire say differential calculus, or
theoretic psychology in abstract praxis. But as evident is that the first
step to real Begriff is the spontaneous active movement meeting an
opposition of a real object.



-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Paul Dillon
Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2007 5:09 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Wells article


Thanks for the detailed reply to my queries.

I totally agree that the subject-object distinction cannot be reduced to
the active/passive (yin/yang) distinction. But I can also state from
experiences with a certain type of Mexican sage (salvia divinorum) that body
consciousness can disolve completely (inability to locate or more legs,
arms, or any other part of the body) while "experience" continues, but
withou any possibility of sustaining or identifying the locus (even
imaginary) of a sense of personal "ownership of or identification with the
experience itself-the possibility of even talking about it being something
like the concept of Vorstellung you describe in your response, and neither
can the thoughts accompanying the experience be separated from the
experience itself (no, noema-noeisis distinction to use Husserl's
terminology) since the boundaries of subject/object constantly change into
each other, much like the description of Being and Nothing in the first part
of Hegel's Logic. The anthropologist Michael Taussig has described this
state both in relationship to the experience of being torture (resulting in
the Stockholm syndrome) and to the ayahuasca (banesteriopsis caapi)
experience which is central to Amazonian shamanism. Very similar at the
experiential level to Hegel's descriptionn of "fear of death" in the
section on the Master-Slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Mind.

But that brings up the adequacy of your identification of receiving the
bridge's blow as evidence of some subjectivity. I think it comes down to
the forms in which consciousness becomes domesticated into some form of
regularity/normalcy which is of course necessary for biological survival
but might have nothing at all to do with the real structure of the conscious
experience out of which our normalized experience of "reality" -- the
experience of the bridge's blow or a tooth ache as happening to "me" -- has
been cultivated through the process of our socialization.

Your explanation of the Vorstellung-Begriff relationship is more or less
how I understood it. Your use of the teaching example especially approrpite
since every honest teacher knows that it's one thing to have learned
something as a student and another thing to have to teach it. Multiple
choice tests probe that parrot like ability to repeat information
(Vorstellung) and there are lots of A students who can't demonstrate much
understanding about the material upon probing - but to be able to teach
about some object/field, not just stand in front of a class likewise
parroting, something student's can pick up on quickly, but to be able to
answer totally unexpected questions to the student's satisfaction, requires
the ability to get into the "Begriff", right??, and thereby be able to
adapt the presentation of the "object" to different contexts and
cricumstances raised in the question or illustrate that the question doesn't
really fit the object. In this vein, doesn't

hegel arrive to the concept(Begriff) after discussing the sublation of the
ground (Grund) in which it appears?


Alexander Surmava <> wrote:

I can comment your questions:

1. Dialectical psychology do insist that a "subject" as well as an "object"

can be understood only as something which can be caused by one and the same

act. If "A" and "B" doesn't interact at all we have no reason to call one of

them "subject" while another - "object". Even in case if "A" is myself and I

have all introspectic evidence of my subjectness. In this case I probably

have at least some imaginary object and interact with it in my imagination.

But if I as "A" don't interact with any "B" I am not a Subject relatively to

"B" and it simply means that "B" is not my object. If I sit in a boat

dreaming and boat is going with the stream along the slow river in total

darkness I can surely be regarded only as a subject of my dreams. But the

situation will radically change if my forehead occasionally meet a low

bridge (surely if I'll survive after this meeting (:-)). In this very moment

I'll find myself as a subject of blow while ill-fated bridge as my object.

Otherwise (without active from my part contact with the opposite, passive

side of interaction) I have no reason to name myself proudly "Subject".

Leont'ev's (Ivan Pavlov's) idea that two things irrespective of their

interaction in which the first plays an active, spontaneous role while the

second is only passive object can be regarded as "Subject" and "Object" is

totally false. The quality of subjectness is not something which can be

understand by examining the inner structure of some body, thou naturally the

body which is able to perform an active role in object-oriented interaction

has to have some special features - we mean it is alive. From other side

life as it is can be rationally understood (without any vitalistic

appendage) as an active process which includes active alive subject and

passive (in this relation) object. Thus when say sheep eats a grass the

sheep plays a role of a subject, while grass is only a passive object. Quite

contrary, when sheep is absent and grass itself is actively spreading its

leaves to the sun the grass acting as a subject of life (object oriented)


I'm afraid, but I really think that all this evident argumentation, which is

based on ideas of Spinoza, Fichte, Marx and Il'enkov has nothing to do with

any kind of witchcraft and do roots in occidental philosophic culture.

2. As for problem with terms die Vorstellung and das Begriff or their

Russian equivalent predstavlenie i pon'atie, it has nothing to do with any

linguistic. Actually the problem has utterly practical significance. Each

school-teacher or college professor which meets with special ability of

his/here students to repeat after him/here using correct words and theoretic

definitions without a tiny hint to real understanding of problems analyzing

in his/her lecture meets with mentioned above substantial distinction

between Vorstellung and Begriff. So this distinction plays a great role not

only in Hegel's or Il'enkov's logical treatise, but in schools, colleges and

I will add in research practice. Even Vygotsky who knew both German and

Russian and moreover was acquainted with Hegel's and Marx' philosophy become

confused in those categories. Thus reasoning about a development of concepts

(der Begriff) he puts so called "scientific concept" (which in actual fact

is nothing but formal verbal definition or die Vorstellung) in the summit of

the hierarchy of concepts. The great difficultness for all who really want

to understand something, not only imitate such an understanding before

those boring teachers, is to fight his/here way through the word's shell to

the real understanding. The crucial criteria of such an understanding is

practice. I do comprehend something (I muster das Begriff) if basing on my

understanding I can practically act (by my own hands or by hands of other

people) upon some natural or cultural object according to its objective

shape. And contrary the brilliant "knowledge" of all kind of verbal

definitions has nothing to do with real education and real research.


-----Original Message-----

From: [] On

Behalf Of Paul Dillon

Sent: Sunday, October 07, 2007 9:05 AM

To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity

Subject: Re: [xmca] Wells article


1. Although it might be difficult to grasp the idea that subject and

object appear at the same time, given the occidental cosmovision/ontology of

non-complementarity causality -- eg, bearded dude/super agent in plane of

non-existence calling forth all that exists , this notion needn't be

considered implausible (although still magical and mysterious) and is the

ground of many non-occidental ontologies (see attached graphic

representation drawn from taoist cosmovision). Isn't it possible that the

rational mind gets in the way sometimes?

2. I learned that Vorstellung was best translated to English as

"representation", Begriff as "concept" but from Sasha's posts I guess

that's not right. What's the significance of this apparent relativism? Is

it simply linguistic?

Paul Dillon wrote:


And so the discussion continues. Yes, it is true that together we have

traveled a common road but certainly with different vehicles, both in search

of an understanding of the human condition. I can appreciate that "ideal" is

not to be taken figuratively as, "It would be ideal if there were no mice in

my basement." However, if you and I live in the same house and we have to

discuss the problem of eradicating the mice, how would we undertake this

discussion? Besides the twisting and turning of reading Hegel and Ilenkov

could you provide me with an example that will help me wrap my tiny brain

around the puzzle of dialectic materialism?


To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"



Subject: Re: [xmca] Wells article

Andy Blunden

Sent by:

10/06/2007 09:45 AM ZE10

Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" size=-1>

Eric, the problem is that the relevant words - ideal, object, subject,

discourse, activity, action, act, operation, thought, matter, mind - all

have radically different meanings according to whether they are taken as

part of Leontyev's Activity Theory, Marxism more generally, Kantian

philosophy, Hegelian philosophy or everyday common sense.

I included a link in earlier mail,

solely to clarify what "ideal" meant to me and in the CHAT tradition. The

way Ilyenkov explains the meaning of "ideal" he does indeed see it as

evolving out of human objectives and needs, but it does not mean the same

as "ideal" as in the sentence: "It would be ideal if there were no mice

here." "Ideal" refers to the universal aspect of an activity which is

reified or objectified, that is to say, imputed to the properties of

material objects or actually embodied in matter by changing the form of

matter through some kind of labour, so that the material object can be

interpreted and used to coordinate collaborative human activity. Every

concept or thought is an ideal, because that is exactly how we think and

use concepts.

In an earlier mail I included a link to so that if anyone

wanted they could check up on what is meant by "material" in the tradition

of thinking to which CHAT belongs.

"Subject" and "object" are also very contested words. "Object" does not

mean for us what it means in a sentence like: "The object was to get rid of

the mice" and "Subject" does not mean what it means in the sentence: "The

subject of our conversation was the best method for eradication of mice."

"Object" in the sense of what is intended to be achieved is similar to

"object" here, and perhaps someone else will help me here, but I suspect

that when Leontyev and his followers talk about "object-oriented activity"

they do indeed mean "object" in this sense, as opposed to the meaning of

"object" when contrasted with "subject". The two meanings are closely

related but not identical.

The meaning of "subject" is extremely tricky and I will make it my

contribution hopefully before I die to clarify this one. Despite the fact

that CHAT arose from the tradition of thought: Hegel - Marx - Vygotsky,

using the Hegelian meaning of the word "subject", in common with all

contemporary philosophy, advocates of CHAT almost invariably use the word

"subject" in its Kantian sense, tied to methodological individualism. This

meaning is so ubiquitous and also it remains the only means of capturing

the ethical meaning, that it is almost impossible to avoid using "subject"

in the sense of a morally responsible individual person. But that is not

what it meant to Hegel and Marx. I don't have the knowledge to track how it

was used by the Russians, though I'd love to be told.

So Eric, almost all the difficulties you and I have had communicating in

this discussion, I think, derive from differences in word meaning. I am a

bit stubborn that way, I admit. I refuse to give up the meaning of words

when those meanings are so profound and contain so much of science from the

past which is lost in everyday language. Apologies. All I can do is enjoin

you to acquaint yourself with the Hegel-Marx-Vygotsky meaning of these

words as I try to follow what they mean in the Kant-common sense-modern

philosophy usage. My observation is that within CHAT these words are used

with inconsistent meanings by different people.


At 10:54 AM 5/10/2007 -0500, you wrote:



>I truely believe that the result may be far from the ideal. However, if

>there is a discourse taking place between people who are engaged in a goal

>directed activity, then within the paramaters of this discoursing the

>"ideal" is the "object"??? I must admit I am engaging in this discussion

>more for a sense of trying to hear what my thoughts are as I write them

>down. Here is an example:


>Perhaps I have mice in my basement. I go to the feed mill and talk to an

>expert on mice eradication. The ideal would be to rid my basement of


>The discourse between I and the expert revolves around ridding my basement

>of mice. This may not result from the efforts I engage upon my return


>but nevertheless, when I am talking to the expert we are engaged in a

>discourse of "rid the mice"; not, "get rid of SOME of the mice."


> Andy, I do not think the expert sees me as a subject to be manipulated


>rather views "rid the mice" as the subject. The ideal provides a catalyst

>for how to discourse with me, the customer.


>Is any of this making sense?







> Paul

> Dillon



>> cc:


> Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca] Wells

> article

> xmca-bounces@web








> 10/03/2007

> 01:41


> PM


> Please

> respond


> to

> "eXtended


> Mind,

> Culture,


> Activity"












> Before entering into the argument strictly speaking, I would like you


>look at some evidence (see attachment).


> I don't agree that the "ideal" exists in the discussion unless that

>discussion has an identifiable

>[object/frame-of-reference/verifiabilty-space/etc?] that exists

>independently of the ideal that exists in the discussion and against which

>any given instantiation of the ideal as developed in the discussion can be

>compared. Say the shape of a knife. Form as ideal - cleaver or scalpel?


> Also, internalized discussions in which imagined communities


>"Walter Mitty" comes to mind, must clearly enter in the discussion space


>which shadows of ideals sport and play.


> I think the evidence I' ve attached provides an arguable demonstration


>how the ideal in discussion can lead one far from the ideal that might

>exist independently of that discussion.


> Paul




> wrote:




>That is indeed a good question pertaining to the "ideal". If the ideal

>nose is invisioned then what is the product end result of the operation?

>There is the activity of the "noe job" and then there is the operation of

>changing the nose. The ideal is the discussion of what the new nose

>should look like and then there is the material end of a new nose. Just

>positing in fun : )






>To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"



>Subject: Re: [xmca] Wells article

>Paul Dillon


>Sent by:

>10/02/2007 03:25 PM MST

>Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" size=-1>

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