Re: [xmca] Re: the Strange Situation

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Sun Oct 26 2008 - 10:12:11 PDT

Andy, David,

I agree that Kant has to receive some credit. He was struggling to solve a
problem that the new individualism of the Enlightenment had given rise to:
if faith and tradition were no longer acceptable as sources of genuine
knowledge and values, how exactly could the individual use their senses and
their reason to figure out what is true and ethical? Obviously important
issues. Kant's answer was that each individual constructs inner
representations of the world around them which, although they cannot mirror
or correspond to how things are in-themselves, are still correct because
humans have an innate and universal capacity for reason.

It was a compelling model for how humans function, and it is still part of
both cognitive science and western common sense today. But as you know it
created as many problems as it solved. It did indeed open the door for
'constructivist' theories of knowledge and science, and Piaget's is
certainly one of these. But this kind of constructivism is entirely about
the way an individual constructs *knowledge* of the world - even though it
generally *claims* to be about how *reality* is constructed. Take the title
of one of Piaget's two books about infancy, for example: The Construction of
Reality in the Child.

What this kind of constructivism is unable to do is answer the question that
Kant tried, but failed, to answer: how can we have adequate knowledge and
ethics? These constructivists (Piaget, Berger & Luckmann, Gergen) remain
trapped in skepticism (about real objects and other minds) and relativism
(about both truth and values). They focus on the individual outside of
social relations, and they privilege theoretical reflection over practical
activity. They privilege representation over practical know-how.

Why is any of this important here? Because when we read Vygotsky we are
entering a different approach to these important questions, one which Hegel
made an important contribution to (though not the final word, in several
respects, in my view). This approach sees individuals as always located in
communities that constitute the objects which can be known. And it sees
knowledge as based in practical activity rather than reflection.

This too could be called a kind of constructivism, but it is an
*ontological* constructivism in which both the objects and subjects of a
form of life are constructed, in practical, material activities. This is the
constructivism of Marx, Merleau-Ponty, Garfinkel, Foucault and others.


On 10/26/08 1:31 AM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:

> I honed in on what you said about Kant, David, only because
> what you said about Hegel seemed spot on. It was your
> phrase: "Kantian reflections of unknowable 'things in
> themselves'" which I objected to.
> Once you're on top of Marx or Hegel, especially if you know
> about 20th century science, it is easy to trash Kant, but if
> you take account of what was not know in 1800 (in the light
> of what is known in 2000), then Kant has to be given some
> credit. The idea of a thing-in-itself which is unknowable,
> is commensurate with the subject which is also a "nothing"
> simply the subject to which thoughts and actions are
> predicated. This opens the way for a constructivist theory
> of knowledge and science. In a sense Kant can be criticised
> for not going far enough, because there were some things
> which in 1800 they *thought* they knew, which in fact they
> didn't, notably Euclidean geometry.
> Andy
> David Kellogg wrote:
>> I'm COMPLETELY lost here. My post had nothing to do with the word
>> "reflect" or "mirror" or with any particular word. It didn't have very
>> much to do with Kant, either.
>> I was trying to see to what extent the categories we find in Chapter
>> Five of Thinking and Speech could be seen as coming directly from
>> Hegel's Logic. That's all.
>> As I see it, the real target in Chapter Five and especially in Chapter
>> Two is not Kant but Piaget. And as I see it, the real connection between
>> Kant and Piaget is not the word "mirror" or the word "reflect" or even
>> the word "schema" (though Kant DOES use all of these words). It's not
>> any particular word at all, but rather an idea.
>> To make a short story long, the idea is this one:
>> "For we have there seen that conceptions are quite impossible, and
>> utterly without signification, unless either to them, or at least to the
>> elements of which they consist, an object be given; and that,
>> consequently, they cannot possibly apply to objects as things in
>> themselves without regard to the question whether and how these may be
>> given to us; and, further, that the only manner in which objects can be
>> given to us is by means of the modification of our sensibility; and,
>> finally, that pure /a priori/ conceptions, in addition to the function
>> of the understanding in the category, must contain /a priori/ formal
>> conditions of sensibility (of the internal sense, namely), which again
>> contain the general condition under which alone the category can be
>> applied to any object. This formal and pure condition of sensibility, to
>> which the conception oand f the understanding is restricted in its
>> employment, we shall name the schema of the conception of the he
>> schunderstanding, and the procedure of the understanding with these
>> schemata we shall call tematism of the pure understanding."
>> I don't think even Andy would argue that this was never expressed by
>> Kant. Who but Kant can give us such a tenuous grasp of the obvious?
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education

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