RE: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD

From: Alexander Surmava (
Date: Wed Nov 29 2006 - 16:30:05 PST

Hi, Andy


I’m afraid but I think that just in this issue we have better to base our
analysis on Marx and Il’enkov themselves than on Lektorsky. If you are
retelling him correctly he doesn’t gives us an insight into the problem of
Subject and Object (Predmet) relation but simply shares the old mistake with

If subject is “some self-conscious system of activity” it means that both
animals and plants can’t be estimated as subjects, surely, if we don’t
ascribe them some form of self-consciousness :-). So it means that all
living creatures (except the self-conscious humans) are mere objects (here
it doesn’t mean “predmet” but something passive). This is nothing but
ancient Cartesian formula.

Let’s go ahead. You write: “subject arises out of some definite, objective
system of activity when it becomes self-conscious”. I will agree with this
statement if you (or Lektorsky) will explain us what makes your “definite,
objective system of activity” turn into self-conscious being? The
possibility of such a magical transmutation of something mechanical, passive
(“objective”) into self-conscious is looking like the popular among some
psychologists idea of emerging. According to this point of view we explain
something if we say that it suddenly emerges, or in old Soviet ideological
style if something appears as a result of transition of quantity into
quality. You probably know that Vygotsky scoffed at the very idea of
emergentism in his “Emotions teaching”.

The main (Cartesian) mistake of CHAT classics was in their theoretically
fruitful attempts to jump from mechanic S==>R level to the level of
consciousness leaving out three necessary stages. It is clear that such
transition is possible only in fair tales where the fairy godmother gives a
soul to the ugly nutcracker.

In reality to pass from mechanical to the consciousness level we have to
ascend to the levels of chemism and organism and only here on the stage of
organic life we will meet the real subject-object (predmetnoe) relation. The
birth of subjectness takes place here on the level of abstract life. But on
the first stage (including unicellulars and plants) we have only
subjectness, not subjectivness. We have no reasons to search here
self-consciousness because on this level we haven’t even psyche.

Only on the next level when a living subject starts to relate to itself or
the predmet activity of living subject is realizing by means of self
directed, reflecsive activity we are coming to the level of psyche (zoo
psyche) or self-sensation (still now – not self-consciousness).

Thus we can go to the next level – the level of consciousness and self
consciousness only standing on the level of zoo psyche.

Only basing on such intermediate evolutionary levels separating the
mechanical (Cartesian) S==>R robot and still Cartesian bodiless soul with
free will we can acquire the rational, not magical understanding of free
bodily human being. On the contrary, if we will insist on our Cartesian
attempts we will at best have a chance to repeat after LSV the questionable
metaphor of triangle and sign mediation or after ANL the idea of activity
mediating the relation of stimulus and reaction.

We entirely agree with Vygotsky’s declaration that “the problem of freedom
is a central problem of psychology” (it was recently published in Russian
among other materials for Vygotsky’s archive). We insist that both Vygotsky
and Leont’ev belonged to one and the same theoretic school (you know some of
our colleges are denying this fact) because both they were trying to solve
the one and the same problem – the problem of freedom. How a human can be
free from the mechanical S==>R causation of its body?

So if we want not only repeat both true and erroneous words of Vygotsky and
Leont’ev being said long ago, but to do our part for development of CHAT we
have to go further than they in solving the same problem which was in the
focus of their theoretic interest, the problem of freedom. And we can do it
only abandoning the false Cartesian position identifying animals with
mechanical (exclusive of subjectness) S==>R causality, doesn’t understanding
them as a subjects, (not to say about subjectivness) but as a soulless
mechanical toys. We are stressing that transition from Cartesian tubes,
threads and valves to the modern conception of living body as a
biomechanical S==>R robot left us entirely inside Cartesian mechanism as a
specific logic.

I realize that all this is hardly acceptable for those investigators who are
trying to develop the semiotic approach appreciating LSV’s idea of sign
mediation as his central and the most fruitful idea. It can't be helped.

We have to choose the way: are we going to share Vygotsky’s way based on
ideas of sign mediation, or we are going to share Vygotsky’s way based on
ideas of Spinoza. Vygotsky had too little time to realize that two these
ways led him to the opposite sides, split the very logic of his
investigation. I am sure, and I share this position with Il’enkov who
fundamentally argued the absolute incompatibility, of semiotic and activity
approaches, that the semiotic way leads us to the dead end, while activity
approach gives us a chance to build a new dialectical psychology.

And we have to realize finally that Vygotsky was not a God, so if we are
investigators, not believers we have to cease the protracted interpretation
of his “sacred” texts and start, or better to say – continue after him
investigation of problems he formulated for himself and for all of us.



-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Wednesday, November 29, 2006 12:22 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD


Big question Michael.

See for

a book-length answer from Lektorsky.


Subject and object are always two distinct entities, but the subject (some

self-conscious system of activity) arises out of some definite, objective

system of activity when it becomes self-conscious, and the activity then

constitutes (in AN Leontyev's words) the "intertraffic" between subject and

object. The activity of the subject then is to objectify itself in the

object, giving its activities material forms deposited in the objective

world around it, vested with meanings by which the subject

"institutionalises" itself.


So in the beginning there is no distinction, because the relevant system of

activity has not yet become self-conscious, and in the end there is no

distinction because the subject has "naturalised" its activity and become

indistinguishable from the object. These are of course both tendencies, and

not absolute truths, and the whole life of a subject exists between these

two poles.





At 02:03 PM 28/11/2006 -0500, you wrote:

>Andy and Paul,


>What is the argument that a dialectical approach, even dialectical

>materialism, dissolves the difference between subject and object? I guess

>we are all influenced by what we have been reading lately, but it seems

>that it is difficult for a dialectic based perspective to escape the

>idealism trap.






>-----Original Message-----

>From: [] On

>Behalf Of Andy Blunden

>Sent: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 5:09 AM

>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity

>Subject: Re: [xmca] Empirical Evidence for ZPD (was= Does VygotskyAccept

>the "Assistance Assumption"?)


>Paul, surely you overstate the matter.


>ZPD is, like all scientific concepts, a theory-laden object. To say that it

>exists says that certain more or less well-defined procedures understood

>within the Vygotskyan theory, will produce this or that verifiable result.

>Otherwise what is the useof the concept and the theory of which it is a

>part? While there are lots of concepts within the Vygotskyan theory which

>are new and unique, or have a Marxist genealogy, there are also plenty

>which are shared with all pedagogical theories and common sense. In fact,

>all scientific theories must incorporate "common sense" concepts into their

>framework in order to be truly scientific. "Empiricism" denies that

>scientific objects are "theory laden" and that there is anything

>problematic in the idea of a purely factual test for the existence of some

>object. But to deny Empiricism is not to deny the validity and necessity of

>empirical evidence.


>And surely it is wrong to say that in Marxism or Vygotsky "the subject

>object distinction is dissolved". The absolute independence and

>separateness of subject and object is certainly denied by Marx and

>Vygotsky, but neither claim that "subject" and "object" are invalid

>concepts, or concepts between which no distinction can be made. For

>example, Marx does not claim that an object (e.g. ZPD) exists insofar as a

>subject (Vygotskyan psychology) incorporates the concept in its activity,

>so that empirical refutation of the concept is ruled out in principle. No

>subject exists in absolute separateness from every other subject, all

>subjects exist in a material and therefore infinitely interconnected,

>world. So the identity of subject and object can only be relative, not





>At 12:26 AM 28/11/2006 -0800, you wrote:

> > Isn´'t the idea of "empirical" evidence for the ZPD something of an

> > oxymoron in itself? Didn{t Vygotsky develop his thinking within the

> > framework of dialetical materialism, something that many north americans

> > and others seem all too ready to forget? Isn't the concept of a ZPD a

> > dialectical model in itself, which is to say, a model in which the

> > subject object distinction is dissolved, a dissolution which defies the

> > concept of empirical?

> > Paul Dillon


> Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM

>identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651



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