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[Xmca-l] Re: Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza

I am forwarding here more text from Sasha, which did not make it to the list:

Dear friends! First, excuse me for the delay with my reaction to your posts. Among other things I met difficulties with putting my answer here (I have put it twice without any effect :-( ). 
David, thank you for your kind advice with more exact translation of word «условный». I agree with you, that the best translation will be “conventional”. This term coincides well enough with Vygotsky’s idea that mature word in development of infant’s speech is something entirely "random", "reason-less", and "irrational", something established by mere agreement (conventions). (See “Орудие и знак в развитии ребенка”) As for Vygotsky's attitude to Pavlov and his entirely Cartesian theory, I’ll agree with your idea again. I do think that similarity of Vygotsky's and Pavlov's conceptions is based not on mere discretion. Pavlov’s “teaching” was canonized as something ideologically obligatory substantially later, closer to 1950 – the year of so called Pavlovian session of the Soviet Academy of Science. So a fresh trauma of this “historical event” evidently shade in Luria’s and Leont’ev’s mind the earlier situation. The affinity of Vygotsky's idea of HMF and Pavlov's Second Signaling System is not something coincidental. Anyhow, this subject deserves serious inquiry. 
Mike, your historical meeting with Bernshtein was something fabulous!!!  Had you a chance to have a chat with him this time or later, and had you discussed with Alexander Romanovitch Bernstein’s ideas? Thank you Mike for attached pdf with “Soviet psychology”. It is something fantastically interesting. I am much younger than heroes of the book, so even from my soviet perspective it looks extremely colourful :-) and indeed it explains much… 
Andy, I like very much your witty formula “In the 21st century, Spinoza is no longer a dead dog, but he is a dead end” :-) But I decisively disagree with you… I probably have too many objections to Vygotsky's theorizing, but regarding Spinoza’s (and Marx’s) role in future psychology I agree with him absolutely. I can not agree with you that “Any attempt to deploy Spinozian ontology in experimental Psychology is a charade” too. Surely, it is impossible to try to apply Spinozian ideas to (and even this in the best case) so called “experimental Psychology” which is based on primitive Cartesian logic.   However, I’m sure that Hegels’s motto that Spinozism is a necessary basis of any genuine philosophizing is as true now as it was two hundred years ago, and that it can be applied to psychology as well.   All the best!
P.S. In a few days I hope to finish updating of full Russian version of “Ilyenkov and revolution in psychology”. I’ll put it here and on Academy.edu

From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu <xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu> on behalf of Alexander Surmava <alexander.surmava@yahoo.com>
Sent: 29 July 2017 23:27
To: xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu
Subject: [Xmca-l]  Ilyenkov, Marx, & Spinoza

Hi Alfredo,
Thank you for your kind appreciation of my text :-). The idea, that matter (as Spinozian substance) is not something mechanical and dull and to explain human behavior we have no need to make up any uncorporeal substances like souls, psyches, or even immaterial “activity” is the most fundamental idea of Spinoza and Ilyenkov. In fact, that is ordinary materialism. From the first sight, it seems to be easy, even banal, but in case of non-dialectical approach one risks to fall into a trap of vulgar mechanicalism. More fundamentally I discuss this idea in my book « Origin of life, psyche and human consciousness or reflexive theory of activity» “”https://www.avramus.com/app/download/5824063863/%D0%9F%D0%A0%D0%9E%D0%98%D0%A1%D0%A5%D0%9E%D0%96%D0%94%D0%95%D0%9D%D0%98%D0%95+%D0%96%D0%98%D0%97%D0%9D%D0%98+%D0%9F%D0%A1%D0%98%D0%A5%D0%98%D0%9A%D0%98+%D0%98+%D0%A7%D0%95%D0%9B%D0%9E%D0%92%D0%95%D0%A7%D0%95%D0%A1%D0%9A%D0%9E%D0%93%D0%9E+%D0%A1%D0%9E%D0%97%D0%9D%D0%90%D0%9D%D0%98%D0%AF+PDF.pdf?t=1486819527
A short sketch of it (“LIFE, PSYCHE, CONSCIOUSNESS”) is available in English at Academia.edu or at my own web site https://www.avramus.com/я/my-texts-in-english/  Your attempt to apply this approach in the field of education is very interesting. Can I ask you to send me a text with your basic ideas?
What about my critic of Vygotsky’s idea of sign mediation.I only try to retell the logic of so-called “Triangle of mediation”. If we take into account only the base of the triangle we have a tough stimulus-reactive mechanical determinism and none of freedom, morality, beauty and so long. In other words, we have not a human being, but a computer or a marionette. Evidently, Vygotsky as philosophically literate thinker rejects this as rude mechanicalism.
What does he propose instead of it?First, let us analyze the situation a little closer.If a subject (in fact not a subject but mechanical OBJECT of stimulation) has at his/her disposal only one reaction, one reflex stored up for exactly this stimulus the problem of freedom is insoluble. Therefore, we have to presume that he/she must have minimum two alternative reactions. Say – reaction of (cowardly) avoidance and reaction of (courageous) struggle.In the latter case, a person (I remind, that in fact – not a person, but still mechanical marionette) meets a problem of choice.According to LSV in this situation mechanical marionette invents a sign as a magic tool, which can help to solve the problem of choice. All this do not resemble even science fiction, but rather fantasy, something with magister Yoda with his exceptional ability to telekinesis ... Especially after Ilyenkov’s revolutionary new interpretation of Spinoza.Above all, the situation with an alternative has very little to do with the problem of freedom. A choice means that a subject stays on the low stage of his/her development. Because truly free people do not choose. However, non-alternative situation is far from freedom too. To put it differently the choise lies on the level of arbitrariness, while freedom lies much higher.
Very characteristic illustration of this we can find in Vygotsky’s “Thinking and speech”. He reminds a scene from Leo Tolstoi’s roman "War and Peace" with Pierre Bezuhov who is trying to choose rather he has to stay in Moscow under Napoleon with the aim to kill this tyrant and ten to one to die himself, or to join Kutuzov’s army and stay alive.The choice is very hard for Pierre, so he decides to play patience and to follow the choice which will prompt it's lot. Vygotsky retells this scene to illustrate how “a cultural sign” can help a person to escape Buridan's ass's situation and gain freedom.The irony of this argumentation is that LSV is blind to the fact that in the end Pierre didn’t act in accordance with the lot, but acts honestly, act according his conscience which orders him to stay in Moscow. Thus Pierre Bezuhov acts as a free personality, while Vygotsky’s illustration illustrates something different – fallacy of his idea of sign mediation.Anyhow, let’s imagine that we don’t’ discuss a problem of freedom, but something much more primitive, say – the problem of arbitrariness. How a person chose one of two alternatives. Probably sign mediation can help in this situation?If an organism (in fact – not an organism but mechanism) is something entirely determined by external stimulation, like personal computer or Cartesian animal, as well as Cartesian human body, this organism (=mechanism, =PC) will meet a serious problem with interpretation of signs because he will suffer from lack of appropriate organ, organ which can perceive and understand not only “the thousand natural shocks” but also a subtle shade of sense. In case of a PC I think that is obvious. The similar difficulties forced Descartes to apply to idea of bodiless soul (psyche) and to pineal gland as a media between soul and body.You are quite correct, that Vygotsky sometimes uses the term “sign” in the conventional sense. But I will insist that this conventional sense is dominating in his theorizing. Thus in ‘Tool and sign’ he argues in detail that the ability of interpretation of words as merely conventional signs is a characteristic of high level of child’s development. Involving children in special ‘renaming’ play he demonstrates that younger children often refuse to rename say ‘lamp’ into ‘chair’ explaining their refusal by impossibility to sit down on the lamp. This refusal - comments Vygotsky – demonstrates weakness, lack of development of their thinking. Later, when they grow they will understand, that words are merely conventional signs and as such they have none of meaning, that word’s meanings are established entirely by a societal convention.In fact now we are approaching the next utterly interesting subject – the problem of origin and nature of ideality. You probably know that Ilyenkov is an author of very interesting dialectical conception of Ideality. This issue is in the focus of intensive discussions between Ilyenkov’s disciples after his death. Just now I am working on the monography concerning this problem. In understanding of ideality lays in fact the border between Spinozian, materialistic approach and alternative, semiotic one.This issue is too serious to discuss it in chat format, but I can not keep from giving a hint :-) – from my point of view (which I share with my son George) the universal and initial form of ideality is a material tool, something like a hammer, an axe or a spade, while symbols, derived from these tools are something secondary and derived, while all kinds of conventional signs are something tertiary which can not be understood without understanding of universal, starting forms. In this issue, we lean on Ilyenkov's basic ideas and dispute against some contradictions in his system in the same time.  You are mentioning a popular idea that activity as such is something fundamentally connected with societal relations. That is one more point which would be interesting to discuss. Vygotsky from our perspective was too far from any real understanding of history and culture so that his legacy only by ridiculous mistake is known as ‘cultural and historical’. We are not denying the social nature of human activity, but we derive it from social nature of human (material) tools.
 You have mentioned your dream to imagine “what a Vygotskyan (educational) psychology would be if Vygotsky would have indeed pursued the Spinozist quest he did not finish”. I am not sure that this task can be fulfilled, because I think that Vygotsky in the very beginning of his way turned aside from the path which can lead him to Spinoza and Marx to basically wrong semiotic direction. So the continuation of Spinozian quests is better to seek in the texts of Alexey Leont’ev, Nikolai Bernstein and Evald Ilyenkov. And first of all I think that an outline of  new based on Spinoza and Marx psychology we must seek not in turned yellow manuscripts of theoreticians of the last century, even such brilliant as Leo Vygotsky was, but in our own current investigations.
I also hope that our productive dialog will continue.Sasha