RE: [xmca] a materialist *dialectical* psychology

From: Mabel Encinas <liliamabel who-is-at>
Date: Thu May 15 2008 - 01:09:43 PDT

Dear Martin, Steve and all,
Martin, this is the kind of thing that I need to discuss at this stage… of my life, I guess, so I feel very happy about your answers to me in search of precision. I agree with you in several points:
· I pretty much agree with your definitions of materialism and idealism, and Vygotsky sustains indeed a materialist psychology. Was it clear in my previous emails? But a particular kind, that makes his psychology different from Gagné’s and from James’ perspectives, for example.
· The need (implicit in your assertions) of finding the philosophical roots for a unified phsychology, a need that Vygotsky expresses as: “Fact and philosophy are directly interrelated. This is particularly true of facts such as those that Piaget has discovered, reported, and analyzed because they concern the development of the child’s thinking. If we want to find the key to this rich collection of a new fact, we must first clarify the philosophy of the fact, the philosophy of its acquisition and interpretation. Otherwise, the facts will remain silent and dead” (Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 55)
· It is necessary, as Vygotsky stated that we do not continue with the process of division.
· There is a principle issue that starts with the need of an “appropriate ontology” – but an ontology that has history in the centre, I would say.
· Philosophical idealism, as well as ‘mixtures’ of idealism and materialism are ontologically dualist, and so, no useful to the task of building the foundations of a dialectic materialist psychology.
I would add:
· ‘Gross’ philosophical materialism (and please I would be very grateful is someone could give me a better word in English, I think you mentioned one in one occasion, Steve) is not good either for this task, as it is ontologically dualist, particularly because, as Vygotsky explains about James-Lange’ theory, a ‘gross materialism’ “stripped the emotions from consciousness” (Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 328)
Then, as much as an idealistic psychology is untenable, a (gross) materialistic psychology is; as much as Vygotsky “**was** ruthless and uncompromising about idealist psychology's future”, as Steve points out, was he with (gross) materialist psychology. So qualifying materialism with the adjective “dialectic” is important. Then the question is where does ‘dialectical’ and historical materialism come from? I believe it is not the child of that ‘gross’ materialism per se. My argument is that his synthesis is a materialist dialectical approach, and I mean philosophically speaking, born from (gross) materialism and idealism.
Now, the problem of ‘ontology’ is a difficult one, as for Marx, and I believe as well for Vygotsky, passes through a philosophical construction in which history is foundational. I think it can be worth discussing this, but then I would be worried that we this discussion is becoming a big off-topic in relationship to the list (especially with the beginning of the discussion of the new article).
Then a good approach for understanding what idealism offers to the construction of a dialectical materialist (vs a ‘gross’ materialist) psychology, would need to recognise what Steve started to do: to recognise what idealism offers that a ‘gross materialist’ psychology does not (I would appreciate very much here some help from philosophers)? We already have some points that Steve and you underline:
· Penetrating insights into consciousness and I would add, the recognition that consciousness has the capacity to anticipate and more generally, to ‘separate’, so to speak, from reality.
Also you mention, Martin
· Individual cases for their general relevance, and I would point out, but underdeveloped, because the individual is not seen in it fullness as living in the world.
· A certain understanding of subjectivity through the light of phenomenology
· And you mention the method, that I am not sure at this point, but yes, in idealist psychology, the analytic method is historical in certain perspectives.
Also then, I would add that it is important
· The recognition of history/genesis/development
What is missing, Vygotsky would say, is the relationship between this consciousness and life, the history of consciousness as emerging from/within/as-part-of life.
When Vygotsky put the things "right side up", he is in fact was doing more than that, he is aiming to break with dualisms, which is quite a difficult task. I think that Vygotsky supports his ideas philosophically, (“The movement of research towards philosophical problems permeates the whole contemporary psychology”, Collected works, vol. 1, p. 79), and he discusses precisely how both materialist approaches up to his times (and up to know!) and idealist psychologies, lack the possibility of a good understanding of human consciousness.

Steve, Good points! When I wrote that idealist psychology had nothing to add I wasgetting caught up by Vygotsky's revolutionary rhetoric. It certainly didhave things to add: the "analytical method," for instance, the study ofindividual cases for their general relevance, was an approach which had beendeveloped in phenomenology, but which Vygotsky argued needed to be centralto his general psychology. He wrote that "we do not wish to concede one bitof the territory that belongs to us in the process of division." Theanalytic method was part of the territory to be included in a materialistpsychology.
 You're right that the principle issue is starting with the appropriateontology, and that Vygotsky was rejecting the ontological asumptions of(philosophical) idealism, as well as mixtures of idealism and materialismbecause these are ontologically dualist. So, yes, this was a dialecticalapproach, as Mabel points out, but is was a dialectical relation of theoryand practice, not of idealism and materialism (realism). Martin On 5/14/08 3:36 AM, "Steve Gabosch" <> wrote: > Mabel adds some provocative ideas to this discussion of a materialist> psychology. One of them is stressed by Ilyenkov - it has often been> the idealists in history, not as often the materialists, who have> contributed the most penetrating insights into consciousness.> > Certainly, a concrete psychology, a new general psychology, would seek> to draw on these achievements, albeit setting them "right side up" in> the process.> > It would surprise me if Martin could offer convincing evidence that> Vygotsky really felt that "idealist psychology has nothing to> contribute to his new general psychology." (Maybe he can - I have> certainly not read everything Vygotsky wrote, not by a long shot). My> take from my present sense of Vygotsky is that formulation seems to> overstate the case, mixing together past and future aspects of the> issue in a way he would not.> > I don't think Vygotsky meant to dismiss idealist psychology's past -> just challenge its future. And he **was** ruthless and uncompromising> about idealist psychology's future. I think Vygotsky was saying that> the materialist camp - and not some new, "third" camp - should become> the inheritors of the achievements of the idealists, and the> leadership of the new psychology he was seeking. He seemed to be> proposing a revolutionary overthrow, with the materialists in power> and the idealists deposed - not a grand compromise where the two camps> somehow merge, or a where a "third camp" emerges in the fray. I think> Martin correctly emphasizes this part of Vygotsky's views.> > Keep in mind, by the way, that Vygotsky was writing in 1927 in the> USSR when he wrote his unpublished manuscript "Crisis" - he might have> a very different strategic outlook today about how the different camps> within psychology today are interacting - in the US, Europe, Asia, C> America, S America, Africa, Russia, or elsewhere - and how> revolutionary materialists ought to deal with today's realities.> Martin has correctly stressed that Vygotsky should not be taken out of> context, and this strategic commentary by Vygotsky pertaining to> trends within the USSR in the mid-1920's would be a very easy one to> do that with.> > At the same time, we can learn a lot from Vygotsky's thinking process> in formulating these ideas. Martin has been gleaning some very> valuable insights, which I and I think many others have been learning> a lot from. My take, although I have not looked into "Crisis" nearly> as deeply and effectively as Martin has, is Vygotsky was arguing the> **ontological** outlook of the idealists had to be abandoned, and> therefore, he was saying that idealist-based psychology needs to be> "severed" from general psychology. On this, I believe Vygotsky was> uncompromising and revolutionary, in the tradition of Marx, Engels,> Lenin, and others.> > But I have never seen Vygotsky suggest that the many discoveries,> observations and insights that idealists have developed over the> centuries should be tossed aside, that idealist psychology has> "nothing to contribute." My sense of Vygotsky is he would stress just> the opposite, in the same way Marx and Engels approached Hegel's> accomplishments and contributions. I think it is important to make a> strong point of this at the same time as the other, and I appreciate> Mabel bringing this side of the issue up.> > (As for some of Mabel's ideas about a "unified" psychology, and a> psychology that is both "causal" and "teleological," I would need> more ... these are excellent topics for discussion ... perhaps Mabel,> you might toss us some thoughts sometime about how these ideas fit in> with your studies of Vygotsky and other cultural-historical theorists> on emotion ... ).> > Best wishes,> - Steve
> Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 16:43:56 -0500> From: packer who-is-at> Subject: Re: [xmca] a materialist *dialectical* psychology> To:> > Perhaps it would be helpful to clarify that when Vygotsky writes of "the> untenability of idealistic psychology" he is not refering to having ideals,> or even to having ideas. "Idealist" psychology is the kind of psychology> that accepts the philosophical position known as "idealism," which maintains> that all the objects we know exist only because we know them. My dictionary> defines it this way:> > € Philosophy any of various systems of thought in which the objects of> knowledge are held to be in some way dependent on the activity of mind.> Often contrasted with realism (sense 3).> > Realism, in contrast, is:> > € the doctrine that matter as the object of perception has real existence> and is neither reducible to universal mind or spirit nor dependent on a> perceiving agent. Often contrasted with idealism (sense 2).> > In arguing for a materialist psychology, Vygotsky was a (philsophical)> realist. His argument (in part) was that if one tries to combine both> idealism and materialism one recreates the dualism (mind/matter) which he> considered it crucial to escape.> > Martin > > > _______________________________________________> xmca mailing list>>
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