Re: [xmca] a materialist *dialectical* psychology

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at>
Date: Thu May 15 2008 - 23:49:20 PDT

I have found myself using the term "plain" materialism to convey the
meaning of "vulgar" materialism from time to time, wanting to avoid
the unfortunate pejorative sense the term "vulgar" usually carries in
English. The term "gross" materialism is interesting, and refreshing,
but still has an unfortunately disparaging ring to it in US English
language use. "Common" or "ordinary" materialism possibly sound less
like put-downs. I find myself liking "plain" materialism even
better. US Americans anyway often don't mind preferring "plain"
things, so calling someone a "plain" materialist probably would not be
seen as offensive to the usual US American ear, (unless you are a
Marxist, who would immediately hear, and correctly so, the term
"plain" to mean "undialectical.") The essential distinction being
made is the one Mabel emphasizes, between mechanical and dialectical
materialist thinking.

Ilyenkov makes a very interesting point in The Concept of the Ideal
about the dualism of both "plain" materialism and "plain" idealism.

(Ilyenkov uses, or at least, his translator uses, as Andy points out
is the Marxist norm, the term "vulgar." Isn't "plain" a little easier
on the ears? Or am I trying to be too polite? Whichever term one
prefers, I believe the terms "plain" or "vulgar" are being used here
to mean "undialectical" and "mechanical," to distinguish these forms
from their dialectical counterparts, originated by Marx and Engels on
the materialist side, and Hegel on the idealist.)

Ilyenkov explains that both perspectives, plain materialism and plain
idealism, tend to see the human skull as the essential boundary
between the "mental" and the "physical." This is a major source of
*agreement* between the two. That was a new, eye-opening idea for me.

This insight helps me see how this dualist perspective has become so
deeply rooted in "common sense." Everyday, "plain" thinking from
either of the major ontological persuasions tends to divide "reality"
and "mind" in a similar way. The assumption of the "skull boundary"
has consequently become universal over the millennia. This "skull
boundary" concept permeates traditional philosophical discourse, and
is a core principle of idealist psychology.

By thinking about these boundaries in a very new and different way, as
developed in the Hegel-Marx-Vygotsky tradition, by seeing
consciousness in all its manifestations as located not just in
individual human heads, but in **activity** (social relations,
history, culture, etc.) - and *at the same time* by seeing activity as
not just physical and external, but *simultaneously*, mental and
internal (cognitive, emotional, etc.) - cultural-historical thinkers
make a giant methodological leap toward overcoming "plain," everyday
common-sense dualism.

Mabel, I am impressed with your comment that "gross" (what I am
calling "plain," and is traditionally by Marxists called "vulgar")
materialism is "ontologically" dualist. Could you elaborate a little
on that?

- Steve

On May 15, 2008, at 1:47 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> Mabel Encinas wrote:
> ...
>> · ‘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)
> Mabel, the word is "vulgar". This is the word you will find in most
> Marxist works on the topic.
> ...
>> Now, the problem of ‘ontology’ is a difficult one,
> Mabel, I tried to deal with the problem of ontology in my paper
> discussed in January. Hegel I think made the key step in resolving
> ontological dualism with a tripartite logical conception of the
> subject. He left us of course with the problem of the conception of
> the whole as "thought", but in my opinion, this legacy is easily
> resolved with the help of Vygotsky's psychology.
> Declarations against dualism (and/or in favour of oneness which
> immediately gives way to dichotomy) are quite useless unless one has
> some definite counterproposal and I think Hegel+Marx+Vygotsky
> achieves that.
> Andy
> 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. Mabel
>> 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 evidenc
> e 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 "teleologic
> al," 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:>
>>> 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 ar
> guing 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 > > >
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