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Re: [xmca] Consciousness: Ilyenkov


Let me go back to where this started.  You wrote:

Consciousness is what is given to us; matter is what exists outside and independently of consciousness. Further enquiry into the meaning of consciousness can only be a further enquiry into the human condition. Further enquiry into "matter" is called natural science.

I responded that this seemed dualistic. You seemed to be saying that we have access only to Cs and not to matter; that matter is "independent" of consciousness (and presumably vice versa); and that two separate kinds of inquiry are needed.

Perhaps we can agree the what is needed is the articulation of a dialectical relationship, in which consciousness is 'secondary, produced and derived' from matter. (This phrase was not present in your definition of Cs.) In which matter is *given* to us in and to consciousness. (As Ilyenkov writes, "the world is given to us in sensation." As I noted earlier, Cs is always relational.) In which scientific inquiry can explore consciousness, as Vygotsky was trying to do. We can 'contrast' Cs and matter, but that isn't necessarily to draw a categorical distinction between them. We can contrast hydrogen and oxygen, while recognizing that they are both forms of matter. If matter can only be defined through its opposite, consciousness (as Ilyenkov proposes), then it is not independent.

Ilyenkov clarifies the historical context of MEC; Lenin was responding to the use of Ernst Mach's writing by some Russian Marxists. Mach proposed a 'phenomenalism': that only sensations, atomistic experiences, exist, and the individual mind puts these together to form the impression of an external reality. In the context of that debate it was important to insist that there is a material reality that is "independent" of consciousness. But within the context of a dialectical materialism that way of phrasing things is misleading. Human consciousness is derived from matter; and the material world is shaped by human activity, and so by human consciousness. There is not "independence," in either direction.

Tony may be on the right track to remind us of form. An Aristotelian materialism?


On Sep 25, 2009, at 11:40 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

OK. Obviously one can find plenty of true statements in Ilyenkov as elsewhere. The point is consciousness matter and was Ilyenkov wrong when he said:

"'Consciousness' ... is the most general concept which can only be defined by clearly contrasting it with the most general concept of 'matter', moreover as something secondary, produced and derived"?

Your claim is now that the claim that consciousness is an attribute of matter is tantamount to denying the above definition. I find the two statements (Spinoza and Ilyenkov) quite compatible.

I grant that Spinoza's formulation was a deliberate effort to get out of the hole that Descartes had dug by making Cs and matter the two substances, i.e., fundamental components of reality. It directed attention to the organization of matter rather than the presence of a "life force" or some such thing. A great move for the 17th century, and a better foundation for a science of consciousness. Though as it turned out it was cultural psychology not neuroscince which cracked the problem.

But being an attribute of something does not put it in the same catgory. If Spinoza's formulation helps you, that's good; combine it with the quoted sentence from Ilyenkov we have been discussing.


Martin Packer wrote:
On Sep 25, 2009, at 10:45 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
He means that if you deny the categorical difference between your consciousness and the world outside your consciousness, then you are an idealist. The fact that you do so by saying your thoughts are matter rather than by saying that the sun and the moon are thoughts, makes no difference.


I've copied below more paragraph from Ilyenkov's text (thanks for the link) with my gloss interposed (in the style of Steve). You'll see that, on my reading, Ilyenkov agrees with Spinoza that thinking is one of the attributes of substance (matter).
Lenin's position isn't formulated here very precisely. It doesn't consist in the simple acknowledgment of 'the existence of an external world and its cognoscibility in our sensations', but in something else: for materialism, matter – the objective reality given to us in sensation, is the basis of the theory of knowledge (epistemology), at the same time as for idealism of any type, the basis of epistemology is consciousness, under one or another of its pseudonyms (be it the 'psychical', 'conscious' or 'unconscious', be it the 'system of forms of collectively-organised experience' or 'objective spirit', the individual or collective psyche, individual or social consciousness). <Lenin shouldn't be interpreted as saying merely that matter exists and we can perceive and know it. His position was that matter is the *basis* for knowledge. For idealism, the basis of knowledge is taken to be Cs, but this is an error> The question about the relationship of matter to consciousness is complicated by the fact that social consciousness ('collectively- organised', 'harmonised' experience, cleansed of contradiction) from the very beginning precedes individual consciousness as something already given, and existing before, outside, and independent of individual consciousness. just as matter does. And even more than that. This social consciousness – of course, in its individualised form, in the form of the consciousness of one's closest teachers, and after that, of the entire circle of people who appear in the field of vision of a person, forms his consciousness to a much greater degree than the 'material world'. <Social Cs comes before and forms individual Cs, much more than experience of the material world does.> But social consciousness (Bogdanov and Lunacharsky take precisely this as the 'immediately given', as a premise not subject to further analysis and as the foundation of their theory of knowledge), according to Marx, is not 'primary', but secondary, derived from social being, i.e. the system of material and economic relations between people. <But this social Cs is not basic; it itself is based on something more fundamental: social *being*, the system of material and economic relations among people.> It is also not true that the world is cognised in our sensations. In sensations the external world is only given to us, just as it is given to a dog. It is cognised not in sensations, but in the activity of thought, the science of which is after all, according to Lenin, the theory of knowledge of contemporary materialism. <We are *given* the world in sensation. But it is in thought that the world is *cognised.* If we want to understand the basis for human knowledge, we will need to consider the character of thought.> ... Spinoza. He understands thinking to be an inherent capability, characteristic not of all bodies, but only of thinking material bodies. With the help of this capability, a body can construct its activities in the spatially determined world, in conformity with the 'form and disposition' of all other bodies external to it, both 'thinking' and 'non-thinking'. Spinoza therefore includes thinking among the categories of the attributes of substance, such as extension. In this form it is, according to Spinoza, characteristic also of animals. For him even an animal possesses a soul, and this view distinguishes Spinoza from Descartes, who considered that an animal is simply an 'automaton', a very complex 'machine'. <We agree with Spinoza, who considered thinking to be a capability of certain kinds of material bodies. Bodies with this capacity can adjust their activities with respect to other material bodies. This is to say that one of the attributes of substance (matter) is thinking.> Thought arises within and during the process of material action as one of its features, one of its aspects, and only later is divided into a special activity (isolated in space and time), finding 'sign' form only in man. <Thought arises in material activity, even in animals. In humans it takes a more advanced form, in which activity is adjusted to signs.> [...] If one proceeds from individual experience, making it the point of departure and basis of the theory of knowledge, then idealism is inevitable. But it is also inevitable if one relies on 'collective experience', if the latter is interpreted as something independent of being, as something existing independently, as something primary. <It is a mistake to try to understand human knowledge in terms of individual consciousness or experience. But it is also a mistake to try to understand knowledge in terms of *social* consciousness. As we have said, social *being* - collective practical activity is primary. Nonetheless, we can learn a lot from Hegel...:> [...]The collective psyche of mankind (spirit), which has already been developing for thousands of years, is actually primary in relation to every separate 'psychic molecule', to every individual consciousness (soul). An individual soul is born and dies (in contrast to Kant, Hegel caustically and ironically ridiculed the idea of the immortality of the soul), but the aggregate – 'total' – spirit of mankind lives and has been developing for thousands of years already, giving birth to ever newer and newer separate souls and once again swallowing them up, thereby preserving them in the make-up of spiritual culture, in the make-up of the spirit. In the make-up of today's living spirit live the souls of Socrates, Newton, Mozart and Raphael – herein lies the meaning and essence of Hegel's – dialectical – interpretation of the immortality of the spirit, notwithstanding the mortality of the soul. One comes into being through the other. Through its opposite. <Hegel recognized how an individual's Cs is based on the collective. Individuals come and go, but humankind as a whole has been developing for many thousands of years and in this sense is immortal. The individual soul is mortal, but the human spirit endures, and gives rise to one individual after another. At the same time, it is individuals who make up the collective psyche.> With all that, Hegel always remains inside the sphere of the spirit, within the bounds of the relationship of the soul to the spirit. All that lies outside this sphere and exists completely separate from it the material world in general – interests him just as little as it interests Mach or any other idealist. But his idealism is much more intelligent, much broader, and for that reason much more dialectical, than the petty, vulgar and narrow idealism of Mach. <But Hegel remained thoroughly idealist, and phased all this in the idealist terminology of 'soul,' 'spirit,' etc. He tried to explain the character and development of consciousness without reference to the material world.>

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

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