Re: [xmca] a materialist psychology

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Tue May 13 2008 - 16:43:18 PDT

He, he. I guess it's almost self-evident that I think that
Hegel is absolute central to both Vygotsky's program and
even more important for its furher development. I just think
that explanation of the human species in terms of biological
evolution is peripheral if interesting to both projects.
Basically work like Merlinm Donald's (which I support
enthusiastically) are specualting on the basis of what we
know fairly well about what we know almost nothing about. I
am sure that if Hegel had had the benefit of reading "Origin
of Species" he would have radically revised his theory of

A summary of my view of Hegel's contribution is at


Martin Packer wrote:
> Andy,
> 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?
> Martin
> 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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Andy Blunden +61 3 9380 9435 
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Received on Tue May 13 16:44 PDT 2008

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