Re: [xmca] Passages from Chapter 5 of LSV

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Sun Dec 21 2008 - 08:32:01 PST

Herodotus says that the Pharoah Psimmitachus caused children to be raised by deaf mutes and thus "demonstrated" that the original human language must have been Phrygian. James V, father of Mary Queen of Scots, was supposed to have used the same experiment to show that it was Hebrew. There are accounts of similar experiments by the Mughal Emperor Akhbar, but he must have been more careful about experimental control, because the poor subjects ended up without any language at all.
I'm reading a wonderful, horrible book called "The Resilience of Language" by Susan Goldin-Meadows in which she describes similar "experiments" by Chicago parents who raise deaf children without any access to language at all. Goldin-Meadows discovers that the gestures produced by the children, unlike responding gestures from the parents, have language like properties, including distal and even grammatical reference (e.g. past tense and hypotheticals). I'm not entirely convinced by this, since I know from data analysis that initiates have more "language like" properties than responses in general.
But one thing does strike me: this kind of "empirical philosophy" is in some ways similar to the kind of thing we are looking at in Chapter Five of Thinking and Speech. LSV is quite conscious of this: he admits, on p. 143, that in real life the child does NOT form concepts free of the language of others. So it is possible to read Chapter Six as an attempt to make up for the speculative nature of Chapter Five, the fact that it is founded on conditions (e.g. the functional equivalence of a task for children and adults) which cannot obtain in real life. On p. 229, LSV makes this quite explicit, and criticizes the preceding chapter for ignoring the linkedness of the different stages of concept formation and dwelling overmuch on their distinctness. He basically says that Chapter Five is a "synthetic-genetic" taxonomy and not a "causal-genetic" account, a criticism that he has already made of Ach and Rimat (pp. 122-127).
Why does LSV bother with a  empirical philosophy of a kind that is really just one step removed from the experiments of Pharoah Psimmatachus, Akhbar the Great and James V? Why doesn't he just start with Chapter Six and concentrate on real concepts developed in real situations by real children? I think the answer lies in the clear link between Hegel's "Science of Logic" and the categories which are "revealed" by Sakharov's experiment. Of course, LSV knew that the outcome of the experiment was in some sense predetermined by the categories used to analyze the child's solutions. But he also knew that exactly the same thing can be said about Ach's original work.
Bakhurst remarks in a long footnote in his book "Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet Philosophy" that LSV's experiments would probably not be regarded as experiments today, either because of their lack of controls (and therefore lack of internal validity) or because of their speculative nature (and therefore lack of external, generalizeable, validity). If they are not experiments, what are we to make of these forays into experimental philosophy? I think they are best understood as theoretical arguments lavishly and beautifully illustrated with data. That is, actually, how Chapter Five is presented by Paula.
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education



xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Dec 21 08:33:33 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue Jan 06 2009 - 13:39:39 PST