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Re: [xmca] Consciousness

Hi Andy,

I've been trying to understand Lenin better by reading Althusser's commentary (perhaps not the smartest strategy!), and like you Althusser says that Lenin was drawing a distinction between philosophical categories and scientific concepts. The concepts scientists form about matter will change - and as you said, at the time that Lenin wrote MEC that was indeed the case, I assume with the discovery of electromagnetic radiation. The philosophical categories, such as matter and Cs, will not change.

So this is Lenin's position, apparently. To me it seems to draw a strange line between science and philosophy, and treat the latter as though it were timeless. This might please Hegel, who considered philosophical thinking to have reached its zenith, after which it would no longer change. It might please Kant, who considered all reason, including that of the philosopher, to be universal and timeless. It seems to me (no philosopher!) simply false. Philosophical categories can and do change, in part influenced by science.

I don't think of myself as arguing from a God's eye viewpoint. I think of myself as arguing on the basis of years of research by many scientists, research which has established beyond doubt (mine, at least) a general description of the formation of stars, planets, early forms of life, and the evolution of hominids. In this evidence-based description the material world existed prior to Cs. As a solitary individual I can be sure of very little. As a participant in a scientific community I can be sure of this, at least. Of course the concept of matter has changed greatly and will continue to do so. Matter in the C19 sense *did* cease to exist in the early C20. Indeed, we *need* a concept of matter that is rich enough to allow Cs as a possible material phenomenon.

My original point was simply that although Lenin's statement may have served a helpful function at the time it was made, considered performatively I don't think it is a very useful starting point today. And one plug for Foucault (just to give you a sleepless night!): he (and Bourdieu and others) have increased my recognition that embodied Cs is important, and neglected. The kind of Cs that I am depending on when I ride a bicycle is often ignored by cognitive science yet it is essential to our daily lives, and it is surely a material kind of Cs.


On Sep 21, 2009, at 11:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Apologies for my time zone, Martin, aggravated by lots of domestics this morning. Usually those in Europe and America are blissfully unaware of the roundness of the world, so believe me, I appreciate your frustration.

You know, I would never quote Engels or Lenin unless I had to. As it happens Lenin is completely right on this point, even if he did boringly spin it out to sledgehammer weight. It was not without reason that Ilyenkov devoted a whole book to defending MEC in the 1970s, and had great difficulty getting it published inside or outside of the USSR.

It is most important to recognize that what Lenin is talking about is consciousness as a *philosophical category*. Note that *matter* is simultaneously defined in the same way, and whatismore matter is defined as a category *derivative* of "consciousness"! How about that for philosophical materialism! Consciousness is what we are given immediately, and the idea of "matter" is derived from that, i.e., the conviction that something else exists. So we can't turn to Hegel for an answer to this question, because for Hegel *it is all thought*! "Being," for example, the starting point of the Encyclopedia, is a category of thought. Again, Hegel derives matter as a subcategory of Spirit, but only through the Matter/Form dialectic, not the Matter/Thought dichotomy. Nonetheless, it is absolutely ruled out that you can derive a "science of matter" or a "science of consciousness" (i.e. natural science or psychology) from these philosophical categories. Hegel on the other hand, tried to derive natural science from the concept of space, and he was wrong in that. Likewise in 1908, a lot of scientists and Bolsheviks were concluding that "natural science had proved that matter does not exist," and a whole lot of other rubbish which was causing havoc inside the Bolshevik Party suffering at the time from a period or repression and reaction.

If you want a deconstructionist response to the question, then ask M. Derrida or M. Foucault exactly what exists "beyond the text" ... if anything.

Random points.

Lenin had not read Hegel or Kant in 1908, but he had been trained by Plekhanov who had read everything. Plekhanov was his teacher in philosophy. (BTW, Plekhanov was also one of LSV's teachers in philosophy I suspect)

You say that LSV's claim that "consciousness is material" contradicts the claim that matter as a philosophical category is "that which exists independently of consciousness." The only way that I can interpret your meaning here is that you insist on interpreting the conceptual claim in "substantialist" terms. If you want to insist on concepts as names for things, then obviously clarity can never be achieved here. See Davydov.

If I make a distinction been marble and statue, does that really prevent me from claiming that Michelangelo's David is marble? or a million such examples. A categorical distinction does not divide the universe into two groups of stuff or things.

You are now claiming that Cs is material. OK, so my thought of the dollar in my pocket has no categorical difference from the dollar that may actually be in my pocket? Consult your Kant. Lenin was perfectly aware of the symmetry between his claim and Kant's and says that the difference, however, is that the thing-in-itself is continuously passing into appearance, rather than there being an impenetrable barrier between appearance and thing-in-itself (not the categories of course, but the content). Arguing here exactly along Hegelian lines, though it is certainly possible to argue with Lenin's philosophy on this as well as other points in the book.

You say: "to write that material reality is what exists independently of Cs is really misleading." (NB, not "material reality, but matter - not the same at all) And OF COURSE we add that "Cs does not exist independent of material reality." This is Lenin, the philosophical materialist remember. But you kow, you can't argue this from God's eye view, looking down on human life from the heavens. Descartes had a point: how does he (Descartes) know that the material world exists? Only by means of consciousness. Now, you can start from a truth and argue your way into falsehood, but if you start from a falsehood - that you know (??) that the material world exists even without consciousness - then you cannot argue your way to truth.


It is a difficult question, and one known to often lead to acrimony!!


Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov $20 ea

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