RE: [xmca] a materialist *dialectical* psychology

From: Michael Glassman <MGlassman who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 13 2008 - 10:22:02 PDT

I believe you are right in this as suggested in the quote below from the beginning of chapter 11



Now the term "empirical" attached to psychology designated the refusal to select a certain philosophical principle, the refusal to clarify one's ultimate premises, to become aware of one's own scientific nature. As such this refusal has its historical meaning and cause - we will dwell upon it below - but about the nature of science is says essentially nothing, it conceals it.

It seems to me in this passage, and the whole chapter, Vygotsky was arguing with James' absolutist perspective that idealism cannot enter in to investigation of human activity (if you want other things console yourself with spiritual psychology). Vygotsky was actually seems to be making the argument that this takes the study of the human condition out of the realm of science, because for it to be science you have to accept that you are working from a scientific premise. He wanted to be able to accomplish both, establish a scientific premise (which demands and idealist orientation) and actually do the investigation from a materialist orientation. This is often the ideal - for lack of a better word - in so many scientific experiments, but the inability to get one aspect to work with the other is why scientific investigation so often fails, isn't it. Yet what Vygotsky seems to be saying is if we can make the scientific principle somehow based on universal premises that are not subjective or magical then we can accomplish this. Later I think this is one of the things Vygotsky thought modernity brought us - the ability to escape the subjective/magical thinking of setting scientific premises. And some would argue that say in physics this has been accomplished - and a scientist can say they are entering from a premise of quantum or relativity or Newtonian physics and none of them are considered subjective or idealist in the more gross sense of the word.
James I think would flick Vygotsky away saying he is simply being naive. Who knows.


From: on behalf of Mabel Encinas
Sent: Tue 5/13/2008 3:08 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] a materialist *dialectical* psychology

Dear Martin,

I do not agree with your reading of Vygotsky in terms of idealism. He used a dialectic approach in his endeavour of solving the crisis: the same resource Marx used for finding the synthesis in the opposition between the materialism of Feuerbach (in the Thesis on him, Marx suggests the criticism against this 'gross materialism'), among others, and Hegel's idealism. Lately, for example, Engestrom uses the same methodology when mapping the terrain in relationship to learning: a dialectic materialist approach solves the synthesis by recognising the active (expansive) element embedded in Jung's idealism, 'together with' the material reality (that by itself is futile, reflective, repetitive), developed by Gagné (that I understand he uses as a paradigmatic example). In my understanding this 'together with' is history. Understanding things historically implies both material, and ideal in the ways it has been discussed here at some point (for example in considering a table not only as material but embedded with the ideas of the creator, and also embedded in the situation of being used in a purposeful way, and present, in a particular social context).

Interestingly, in any of the quotations you wrote, Vygotsky says something like 'let's get rid of idealism'. On the contrary, they sound quite synthetic: not a third psychology, but a unified psychology. Then my question is: if we have been outlining the world in different ways, how can we 'erase' the outlines, or redesign them in such a way that we can built a unified psychology?

Among other things, I wonder if what we would have after throwing away idealism, would be something different than a 'gross' or mechanical materialism. Vygotsky develops the way in which when you cut off and throw away something, it finishes by leaking unexpectedly by the unsealed fissures of the system. He demonstrates in his long (too long gosh!) 200 pages about 'The teaching about emotions' (Collected works vol. 6) how both, idealist psychology, but his main focus, materialist ('gross') psychology, are not but Cartesian! Funnily, both of them. They critique each other and finally, they succumb from the same disease. Although this may sound paradoxical, because, they outline the terrain and cut off and throw away 'half' :-) of the problem and this is not other thing but following Decartes. I would think that when throwing 'half' of the problem you are not facing the problem... maybe it is only taking the manageable part of it, and throwing away the real problem.

I absolutely agree with what you say about emotions: "the study of emotion is not identical with the study of the *consciousness* of emotion". I think many approaches in psychology take that stance, no psychoanalysis, by the way, but possibly 'emotional intelligence', for example. However, by understanding consciousness in a non mentalist way, we could find a most comprehensive approach to emotions in practice. Also, if we do not consider any impact of consciousness on emotions, then they would be reduced to "simple manifestations of the soulless robot of our body" (Collected works vol. 6, again, p. 234).

A possible hint would be in the distinction Vygotsky does between the kind of psychologies he analysis, that I synthesise with the question: how can we build a psychology that is causal and teleological simultaneously?

Best wishes,

> Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 14:45:20 -0500> From: packer who-is-at> Subject: Re: [xmca] a materialist psychology> To:> > Mabel,> > In 'Crisis' Vygotsky seems to be pretty clear that idealist psychology has> nothing to contribute to his new general psychology. For example:> > "Two psychologies exist?a natural scientific,materialistic one and a> spiritualistic one. This thesis expresses the meaning of the crisis more> correctly than the thesis about the existence of many psychologies" (188)> > "Nobody contests that the general psychology will not be a third psychology> added to the two struggling parties, but one of them" 189> > "only a rupture and the selection of a single psychology will> provide the way out of the crisis."> > "I venture to prove for the whole council of philosophers ? idealists as> well as materialists ? that the essence of the divergence of idealism and> materialism in psychology lies precisely here, and that only Husserl's and> Feuerbach's formulas give a consistent solution of the problem in the two> possible variants and that the first is the formula of phenomenology and the> second that of materialistic psychology. I venture, proceeding from this> comparison, to cut the living tissue of psychology, cutting it as it were> into two heterogeneous bodies which grew together by mistake" (231).> > The general psychology was to unify psychology and physiology, and unify> theory and practice, but *not* to unify idealism and materialism. Idealism> was to be cut off and thrown away.> > But I completely agree with you that a "gross materialism" won't do, and> it's not what Vygotsky was after. He went to some lengths to argue that> consciousness exists, and so its study will be central to his new> psychology. The rejection of idealism was intended to eliminate the> misconception that consciousness is some inner, spiritual, mental realm of> ideas and concepts.> > Emotions certainly provide a wonderful test case. I don't know Vygotsky's> writing on emotion very well. But years ago I found it very fruitful to> study emotions as interpersonal movements. I don't mean to say that this is> *all* that they are but, especially with young children, the embodied> character of emotion is undeniable, as is their *relational* character.> Vygotsky argued that conscioussness exists and can be studied in a> materialist psychology. But he also argued that psychological ('mental')> processes are real processes, not identical with subjectivity. It seems to> me this implies that the study of emotion is not identical with the study of> the *consciousness* of emotion.> > Martin > > On 5/12/08 1:53 PM, "Mabel Encinas" <> wrote:> > > > > Dear Martin, and all, I agree with the idea that Vygotsky's psychologist is> > materialistic, however, I do not think that he has proposed to go for the> > elimination of an idealist psychology, or said in a clearer way, there is> > something that idealist psychology offers in the understanding of humans, that> > a gross materialist approach does not offer: the consciousness of the process.> > I am working on emotions, and I have been reading as carefully as I can,> > Vygotsky's criticisms to James-Lange' perspective on emotions as reduced to> > their material physiological existence. When emotions are only reduced by the> > material reality, and so to speak the ideal aspect of emotions is kicked out> > of the house, this ideal component of the duality seem to come in by the> > window. As much as James and Lange, diminish the value of consciousness, and> > using Vygotsky's example, disregard the pain of a mother for the dead of her> > child, they have to recognise that there are certain emotions more "sublime"> > apart of those whose physiology is clearly defined. From a gross materialist> > approach, it would seem that consciousness has not impact on emotions. I> > insist in saying that I talk about emotions because that is my subject, but I> > have the impression, that a similar dialectical view could be traced in> > Vygotsky's thought, or at least the process of construction of such an> > approach. In what you mention in your note, I think that it would be important> > to separate Marx and Vygotsky from Feuerbach, whose position could be more> > mechanical and also, to distinguish between Marx and Vygotsky, and Hegel,> > because indeed he does not only put him upside down. However, because as I am> > a bit rusty from philosophy at this stage (I have not read Hegel for some> > years now), I would suggest that we could concentrate on Vygotsky for trying> > to untangle how a concrete, not dualistic psychology could be built, instead> > of keeping the separation in two psychologies. Unfortunately, in relationship> > to emotions, I think Vygotsky only hints to how an immanent psychology could> > be constructed for the understanding of emotions, but he does not finish to> > develop it. > > Martin, and all, would you think we could come back to discuss emotions? I> > have lost most of the discussions, because of lack of time, but I would love> > if taking Martin's ideas of a non-dualistic psychology, we could have another> > go --I am an old time lurker- Martin, I also agree with you that the mental is> > different from the subjective, but being coherent with this, and recognising> > the grounding of emotions in practices, emotions can not be only subjective> > either. Mabel > > > > > > > >> Date: Mon, 12 May 2008 11:22:17 -0700> From:> To:> >>;> Subject: Re: [xmca] a materialist> >> psychology> CC: > > So, Andy and Martin--> > If Andy's changes are acceptable> >> to Martin, where does this leave us?> > Does ideality remain in the world,> >> and hence in humans, by virtue of> inhabiting a human made world?> mike> > On> >> Sun, May 11, 2008 at 6:54 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> > > > > _______________________________________________> > > > >> >> xmca mailing list> > > > >> > > > >> >>> > > > >> > > > >> >> _______________________________________________> > > > xmca mailing list> > >> >> >> > > >> > >> >> >> > >> > >> > > _______________________________________________> > > xmca> >> mailing list> > >> > >> >>> > >> > >> > --> >> >> ------------------------------------------------------------------------> >> >> Andy Blunden < <> >+61 3> >> 9380 9435 Skype andy.blunden> >> >> >> >> _______________________________________________> > xmca mailing list> >> >>> >> >>> >> _______________________________________________> xmca mailing list>> >>>> > _________________________________________________________________> > Invite your mail contacts to join your friends list with Windows Live Spaces.> > It's easy!> >> > t=en-us_______________________________________________> > xmca mailing list> >> >> > > _______________________________________________> xmca mailing list>>
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