Re: [xmca] a materialist psychology

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 13 2008 - 08:49:19 PDT


Given the points you make about Hegel, which strike me as cogent and
important, what is your view of the contribution Hegel made to Vygotsky's
program for a general psychology, and the contribution our understanding of
Hegel today could make for our efforts to continue such a program?


On 5/12/08 7:18 PM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:

> Both the points you make are valid enough Martin, I am just
> being a bit pedantically precise, but I think it's worth it.
> For example, as I came to realise how firmly opposed, not
> just unaware of biological evolution Hegel was, it really
> focussed my attention on how he gets development out of
> consciousness and human activity. Interestingly, despite the
> oportunity for a radically "non-essentialist" philosophy
> here, Hegel made gender and race differences something given
> by Nature and introduced horrific sexism and racism into his
> philosophy. But feminists and postcolonialists have not been
> put off using Hegel for their own purposes.
> Likewise, his declaration in the Philosophy of Right that he
> was not here concerned with the history of Right, only what
> right is, forces one to think very deeply about the place of
> historicism in science. So even though we have to amend
> Hegel in places - I certainly do - it is well worthwhile
> keeping in mind what is Hegel and what is interpretation.
> Re appearance and reality: what is "reality", what kind of
> thought-form is it? Presumably you mean it as something
> outside thought?? Or is it potential thought? Is it of a
> different substance than appearance? ... Reality is I think
> synonymous with Actuality for Hegel, a category which is
> part of the Doctrine of Essence. I really don't think you
> can sustain the concept of Reality in the sense of the
> ultimate object of knowledge.
> Andy
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> Andy,
>> Yes, I don't want to anachronistically read Darwin back into Hegel. Right
>> now my Hegel scholarship is restricted to Marcuse's book since all my other
>> books are out of reach, and Marcuse emphasizes the dynamic character of
>> Hegel's conception of - well, of everything. If one considers Hegel's
>> position that the World makes progress towards knowledge and truth, through
>> the means of human subjectivity, one could read this as a particular version
>> of evolutionism - and as you know Lenin saw Darwin as a truly dialectical
>> thinker.
>> On moving from appearance to reality- I'm drawing here in part from the work
>> of a colleague at Duquesne, Tom Rockmore, who's an excellent Hegel scholar.
>> In a recent book Rockmore emphasizes that for Hegel the distinction between
>> appearance and reality occurs within our experience. For Kant, in contrast,
>> all we can ever experience is appearance. It is for Kant that there is "a
>> reality hidden behind appearances." For Hegel, human knowledge is fallible
>> but gradually progresses to more and more adequate knowledge of reality. But
>> what I think needs to be added is that (as I understand it) Hegel saw this
>> progress not as simply a result of humans knowing the world better, but also
>> as a result of humans transforming the world to make it suit our needs,
>> interests, and ideals. But that takes us into Mike's latest message...
>> Martin
>> On 5/11/08 8:54 PM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>> Martin,
>>> I agree with your main conclusion about LSV, that it was a
>>> *materialist* psychology that he aspired to, but could I
>>> offer some pretty small change "corrections" to your
>>> observations?
>>> Hegel's ideas about the origins of human life are
>>> surprisingly inconsistent with a modern reading of him. He
>>> emphatically rejected the idea that humans originated from
>>> animals or that any animal originated out of another animal.
>>> He was familiar with Lamarck and rejected this theory out of
>>> hand. He believed that Spirit was created, as in the Book of
>>> Genesis, all at once. This doesn't stop us "interpreting"
>>> him in a materialist spirit, in the light of Darwinism.
>>> However, Hegel did believe that consciousness originated in
>>> labour, child-rearing and speech. But not out of "matter",
>>> whatever that would mean. The idea of matter having the
>>> potential for thinking is not a Hegelian idea. Matter is an
>>> abstraction of thought, for Hegel.
>>> Also, I think that to talk of how "knowledge can ... move
>>> beyond appearance to reality" is dubious. This retains the
>>> idea of a reality hidden behind appearances. If there are
>>> two kinds of knowledge then I think "appearance" and
>>> "reality" are not the right names for them. If "appearance"
>>> and "reality" are meant to be categorically different
>>> things, then I think Lenin had it right in denying this.
>>> Andy
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Mike,
>>>> The more I think about this (and I have been thinking on it some in the
>>>> interim), the more comfortable I am that Vygotsky indeed insisted on
>>>> lopping
>>>> off the idealist side of psychology's dualism. The notion that the stuff of
>>>> the universe is solely material, and that there is no separate, distinct
>>>> 'mental stuff' or 'spiritual stuff' has a long and distiguished history, as
>>>> the BBC program makes clear. A materialist psychology would have been fully
>>>> in line with Marx's materialism. And even Hegel, despite being labelled an
>>>> idealist and despite Marx's claim to have turned him on his head,
>>>> recognized
>>>> that humans evolved from simpler stuff which must have had its origins in
>>>> matter. The capacity for thinking, Hegel reasoned, is a potential which is
>>>> inherent in matter, and develops over time, rather than having its source
>>>> in
>>>> some other, etherial, transcendental or platonic realm.
>>>> Vygotsky's materialist psychology avoids equating the mental with the
>>>> subjective, or consciousness with appearance as representation. It follows
>>>> that the study of consciousness is not the study of appearances that are
>>>> entirely distinct from reality (Kant's vision). It is not the study of the
>>>> way a person constructs mental representations of a world that exists
>>>> outside them. For Vygotsky, like Hegel, Marx & Feuerbach, our knowledge can
>>>> progress, and move beyond appearance to reality. If we accept this, we need
>>>> to have a different conception of the way humans live in the world.
>>>> Vygotsky
>>>> wanted to study the "material, sensory acts" in which a person knows their
>>>> world. He wanted to study the mind, but not as a mental subject, or
>>>> subjectivity, related to external objects. This is the way mind appears to
>>>> itself in introspection, but in action mind is not divided in this way.
>>>> Mind, and consciousness, are real and objective processes because they
>>>> exist
>>>> in the interactions between bodies and material objects. And these can be
>>>> studied empirically.
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 5/11/08 1:29 PM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:
>>>>> What is your current take on this issue, Martin? Perhaps a followup in MCA
>>>>> is warranted?
>>>>> mike
>>>>> On Tue, Apr 29, 2008 at 6:08 PM, Martin Packer <> wrote:
>>>>>> In the article published in MCA that was discussed here recently I
>>>>>> pointed
>>>>>> out that in Crisis Vygotsky declared the need to end the dualism in
>>>>>> psychology by eliminating the idealist pole and developing a thoroughly
>>>>>> materialist psychology. Some of the history of materialism, both in its
>>>>>> reductionist and non-reductionist versions (V¹s being the latter) can be
>>>>>> heard at the link below, in the BBC Radio program In Our Time. At the end
>>>>>> we
>>>>>> learn that they ran out of time to discuss Hegel and Marx, which is
>>>>>> rather
>>>>>> a
>>>>>> shame. (This is the same program which a year or so ago ran a poll in
>>>>>> which
>>>>>> Marx was voted the most important philosopher of all time, much to host
>>>>>> Melvyn Bragg¹s surprise and dismay.)
>>>>>> <>
>>>>>> Martin
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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