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Re: [xmca] Wolves and Ilyenkov: Ideality

David, all,

Below is an annotated (by me) version of Ilyenkov’s views on ideality, which he summarized in 12 paragraphs in a 1977 article. Of all of Ilyenkov's contributions to CHAT, this theory is regarded in CHAT circles as one of his most significant - and perhaps, most difficult. Chapter 8, "The Materialist Conception of Thought as the Subject Matter of Logic" in the book you are reading, Problems of Dialectical Logic, also deals in depth with the question of ideality.

I offer this because I think the topic of the ideal is a very good window for us, or anyone oriented to CHAT, to delve into Ilyenkov. Not that the questions you are raising aren't also very relevant.

As for some of your specific comments directed toward me, David, I wonder if we might be best off if we found specific, common readings and passages with which to discuss the topics you raise before we proceed too far.

For my part, I would not characterize thinking as merely "representing" objects (I would probably try to argue that thinking *transforms* human images of objects), I think the relationship between the abstract and concrete is more complex than the former just being an aspect of the latter (some of the problem here might be needing to sort out the ontological versus epistemological senses of these terms), and I am not in the least hostile to an historical understanding of Vygotsky's transition from Ch 5 to Ch 6 in T&S - quite the opposite. But without specific readings to discuss and measure our respective ideas against, there is the possibility of wandering about without an anchor, perhaps sometimes misunderstanding one another.


Anyway, since you are focusing on Ilyenkov, I thought I'd bring into the fray his concept of the ideal.

It was this concept or theory, probably more than any other, that won me over to CHAT. However, by no means is this theory equally agreed on throughout the CHAT community, including among its "strong" Marxist participants. For some, perhaps many, at least aspects of Ilyenkov's theory are controversial. If you happen to sense that Ilyenkov and you may be at odds on some significant questions, this question of ideality could help flush out some of your differences. On the other hand, perhaps you might find his concept of the ideal persuasive.

In my case, what really got me interested in this theory or concept was the way Ilyenkov explained how Marx's labor theory of value is a special case of Ilyenkov's activity-based concept of ideality. For me, this insight linked Marx's Capital to Vygotsky's call for a Capital of psychology in a fundamental way, and connected my understanding of Marxism to CHAT in ways that have greatly influenced my understanding of both. Although this particular argument about the labor theory of value is not covered in the 12 paragraphs I copy and annotate below, I mention it because it was what really turned the light on for me. (Or, perhaps, why I keep stumbling around in the dark! LOL)


So, below is an annotated version of Ilyenkov’s views on ideality. The piece below is about 2000 words, so it is really more of an article. The last 12 paragraphs of the essay The Concept of the Ideal, copied below, form a useful summary of his basic concept of the ideal.

This essay, published in the collection Philosophy in the USSR – Problems of Dialectical Materialism (Progress, 1977), is based on a groundbreaking article Ilyenkov wrote on this topic for a Soviet encyclopedia in 1962.

With the intention of helping the reader grasp Ilyenkov’s difficult ideas and sometimes opaque writing, I have interspersed an annotated quasi-translation (from English to English), or at least summary, of the sentences in these paragraphs. I know it at least helps me to write these annotations out. The numbers, 132 etc, correspond to the relevant paragraph in the 143-paragraph essay. I’ve broken these paragraphs into individual sentences, which I find to be a helpful way to study Ilyenkov. My annotations precede the material they are commenting on.

The Concept of the Ideal by Ilyenkov can be found online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/ilyenkov/works/ideal/ideal.htm
- Steve Gabosch, September 2009

from The Concept of the Ideal by EV Ilyenkov, 1977

[1. Ideality is a product of the cultural-historical activity of humankind. –sg]


Man acquires the “ideal” plane of life activity only through mastering the historically developed forms of social activity, only together with the *social* plane of existence, only together with *culture*.

“Ideality” is nothing but an aspect of culture, one of its dimensions, determining factors, properties.

[2. The objective existence of the ideal is the basis for both principled idealism and the fetishism of pseudo-materialism. –sg]

In relation to mental activity it [ideality –sg] is just as much an *objective* component as mountains and trees, the moon and the firmament, as the processes of metabolism in the individual’s organic body.

This is why people often confuse the “ideal” with the “material”, taking the one for the other.

This is why idealism is not the fruit of some misapprehension, but the legitimate and natural fruit of a world where things acquire human properties while people are reduced to the level of a material force, where things are endowed with “spirit”, while human beings are utterly deprived of it.

The objective reality of “ideal forms” is no mere invention of the idealists, as it seems to the pseudo-materialists who recognise, on one side, the “external world” and on the other, only the “conscious brain” (or “consciousness as a property and function of the brain”).

This pseudo-materialism, despite all its good intentions, has both feet firmly planted in the same mystical swamp of fetishism as its opponent — principled idealism.

This is also fetishism, only not that of the bronze idol or the “Logos”, but a fetishism of a nervous tissue, a fetishism of neurons, axons and DNAS, which in fact possess as little of the “ideal” as any pebble lying on the road. Just as little as the “value” of the diamond that has not yet been discovered, no matter how huge and heavy it might be.

[3. Ideality is the socio-historically generated plane of relationships between man and nature. And ideality is indeed connected to individual consciousness and will. However, in the direct sense, individual consciousness and will are manifestations of ideality, and not the other way around. –sg]


“Ideality” is, indeed, necessarily connected with consciousness and will, but not at all in the way that the old, pre-Marxist materialism describes this connection.

It is not ideality that is an “aspect”, or “form of manifestation” of the conscious-will sphere but, on the contrary, the conscious-will character of the human mentality is a form of manifestation, an “aspect” or mental manifestation of the *ideal* (i.e., socio- historically generated) *plane of relationships between man and nature*.

[4. Ideality is a product of labor, not nature.  –sg]


Ideality is a characteristic of *things*, not as they are determined by nature but as they are determined by *labour*, the transforming and form-creating activity of social man, his *purposeful*, sensuously objective activity.

[5. On one hand, the ideal form of things is that which is **created** by human labor. –sg]


The ideal form is the form of a thing created by social human labour.

[6. On the other hand, the ideal form is that in which humankind **places** (realizes, alienates, embodies) its labour. –sg]

[6a. Note: this distinction between “creating” and “placing” corresponds to something Ilyenkov will explain in a moment, that ideality takes two forms – things (artifacts) and activity. –sg]

Or, conversely, the form of labour realised in the substance of nature, “embodied” in it, “alienated” in it, “realised” in it and, therefore, presenting itself to man the creator as *the form of a thing* or a relationship between things in which man, his labour, has placed them.

[7. Human bodies, like all forms of nature that humans use in their laboring activities, are also transformed in the labor process. For this reason, humankind tends to see its aims as “embodied” in nature. – sg]


In the process of labour man, while remaining a natural being, transforms both external things and (in doing so) his own “natural” body, shapes natural matter (including the matter of his own nervous system and the brain, which is its centre), converting it into a “means” and “organ” of his purposeful life activity. This is why he looks upon “nature” (matter) from the very first as material in which his aims are “embodied”, and as the “means” of their realisation. This is why he *sees* in nature primarily what is suitable for this role, what plays or may play the part of a means towards his ends, in other words, what he has already drawn into the process of his purposeful activity.

[8. Humankind tends to view the materials and processes of nature in terms of human activities. But this leads to an inherent contradiction. The properties and regularities of the materials and processes of nature must be reckoned with as objective components of **human activity** even though these are **independent** of human will and consciousness. –sg]


Thus at first he directs his gaze at the stars exclusively as a natural clock, calendar and compass, as *instruments* of his life activity. He observes their “natural” properties and regularities only insofar as they are properties and regularities of the material in *which his activity is being performed*, and with these “natural” features he must, therefore, reckon as a completely objective *component of his activity* which is in no way dependent on his will and consciousness.

[9. This is the reason that humankind tends to view its **activities** as the forms and relations of **things as they are**. – sg]


But it is for this very reason that he takes the results of his transforming activity (the forms and relations of things given by himself) as the forms and relations of things as they are.

[10. This gives rise to idealism and other forms of fetishism. Idealism in particular tends to regard the ideal form of things, that is, the things human activity has transformed, as eternal and primordial. –sg]

This gives rise to fetishism of every kind and shade, one of the varieties of which was and still is *philosophical idealism*, the doctrine which regards the ideal forms of things (i.e., the forms of human activity embodied in things) as the eternal, primordial and “absolute” forms of the universe,

[11. Furthermore, idealism tends to only attempt to account for those aspects of reality that have been transformed (or observed) through human activity - that is, it only attempts to account for the ideal. – sg]

and [idealism -sg] takes into account all the rest only insofar as this “all the rest”, that is to say, all the actual diversity of the world has already been drawn into the process of labour, already been made the means, instrument and material of realisation of purposeful activity, already been refracted through the grandiose prism of “ideal forms” (forms of human activity), is already presented (*represented*) in these forms, already shaped by them.

[12. The ideal, however, exists only within the actual realm of humankind. Outside of humankind, ideality does not exist. –sg]


For this reason the “ideal” exists *only in man*. Outside man and beyond him there can be nothing “ideal”.

[13. Ideality is the not product of the human individual, but of the collective, active human, of humankind. Humankind is the aggregate of humans in their social relations. Human social relations, in the last analysis, revolve around one common task: the social production of human life. –sg]

Man, however, is to be understood not as one individual with a brain, but as a real aggregate of real people collectively realising their specifically human life activity, as the “aggregate of all social relations” arising between people around one common task, around the process of the social production of their life.

[14. Ideality exists in the socially produced artifacts which mediate social human life. –sg]

It is “inside” man *thus understood* that the ideal exists, because “inside” *man thus understood are all the things* that “mediate” the individuals that are socially producing their life: *words, books, statues, churches, community centres, television towers*, and (above all!) *the instruments of labour*, from the stone axe and the bone needle to the modern automated factory and the computer.

[15. The ideal exists as the dynamic life activity of humankind within these artifacts. –sg]

It is in these “things” that the ideal exists as the “subjective”, purposeful form-creating life activity of social man, embodied in the material of nature.

[16. It is also true that ideality exists apart from these artifacts as something else, as the goals and needs of humankind, which themselves are also forms of human life activity. –sg]


The ideal form is a form of a thing, but a form that is outside the thing, and is to be found in man as a form of his dynamic life activity, *as goals and needs*.

[17. In other words, ideality exists both in the form of humankind’s socially produced artifacts **and** in the form of human activity, which includes the social goals and needs of humans. –sg]

Or conversely, it is a form of man’s life activity, but outside man, in the form of the thing he creates.

[18. In fact, the relationship between these two forms and ideality is even more complex. Ideality, in actuality, does not coincide with either form **taken separately**. Ideality, as such, exists only in the constant **succession** and **replacement** of these two forms of external embodiment. –sg]

“Ideality” as such exists only in the constant succession and replacement of these two forms of its “external embodiment” and does not coincide with either of them taken separately.

[19. Ideality, as it turns out, exists only in the unceasing process of the transformation of these two forms – from forms of activity to forms of things - and back again. –sg]

It [ideality -sg] exists only through the unceasing process of the transformation of the form *of activity — into the form of a thing and back — the form of a thing into the form of activity* (of social man, of course).

[20. Any attempt to identify ideality with one or the other form alone will lose sight of the ideal. If one chooses “things” (artifacts) alone, then by themselves these forms will only appear as material entities and their properties. If one chooses “activity” (which includes goals and needs) alone, then by themselves these forms will only appear as body and brain processes. The example of uttering a word out of any social context illustrates this. –sg]


Try to identify the “ideal” with any one of these two forms of its immediate existence — and it no longer exists.

All you have left is the “substantial”, entirely material body and its bodily functioning.

The “form of activity” as such turns out to be bodily encoded in the nervous system, in intricate neuro-dynamic stereotypes and “cerebral mechanisms” by the pattern of the external action of the material human organism, of the individual’s body. And you will discover nothing “ideal” in that body.

The form of the thing created by man, taken out of the process of social life activity, out of the process of man-nature metabolism, also turns out to be simply the material form of the thing, the physical shape of an external body and nothing more.

A *word*, taken out of the organism of human intercourse, turns out to be nothing more than an acoustic or optical phenomenon. “In itself” it is no more “ideal” than the human brain.

21. Our reasoning allows us to draw two fundamental conclusions. First, it is only in the reciprocating movement of the two opposing forms, the forms of activity and the forms of things, that the ideal actually exists.


And only in the reciprocating movement of the two opposing “metamorphoses” — forms of activity and forms of things in their dialectically contradictory mutual transformations — DOES THE IDEAL EXIST.

22.  Second, dialectical materialism rocks.


Therefore, it was only DIALECTICAL materialism that was able to solve the problem of the ideality of things.

                                                       \\\ end ///

 - Steve Gabosch

On Sep 10, 2009, at 4:16 PM, David Kellogg wrote:

Martin, Andy, Steve:

No, I think I noticed the word "seem". What I CERTAINLY noticed is that this passage comes at the very beginning of a long essay called the history of dialectics, and that part of the point of this essay is to make a clear distinction between the living fossil of pre- scientific philosophy (that is, philosophy which is in some sense meta-science, and therefore without any empirical or experimental method) and philosophy which is an integral part of science just as mathematics (also a pre-scientific discipline) is part of physics, and thus part of the empirical and experimental methodology of physics.

I think that is how I understood Hegel. The problem is that I am NOT sure if Ilyenkov understands him that way. If I say "the world SEEMS to be flat" and Ilyenkov answers me "That is very aptly put" it's not at all clear to me that it is "seems" and not "flat" that is aptly put . I need more data before I decide what he means.

Here's some more data, from later on in the same essay:

p. 61: "...(D)ifference is not identity, or is non-identity, while cause is not effect (is non-effect). True, both cause and effect are subsumed purely formally under one and the same category of interaction, but that only means that a higher category embracing both of them is itself subordinated to the law of identity, i.e. ignores the difference between them."

And why the law of identity (A = A) and not the law of difference (A does not equal B)? As we know from Claparede and Piaget and Carol and Paula, difference is in fact prior to identity in human will and consciousness? Well, because we are talking about something that is to be treated as independent of will and human consciousness. (Of course, we are left with the problem of asking whether the law of identity was really independent of Aristotle's will and consciousness.)

Now, this entirely independent something-or-other may well be in the conciousness of Kant only and not in that of Ilyenkov. It may well be that Ilyenkov is just giving us an entertaining intellectual history of all the fool's errands that certain German philosophers ran in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

But since this essay is called a history of dialectics and not a history of Western thinking, wouldn't it really be far more accurate to discuss, say, Buddhist doctrine or Taoism or even medieval Christianity (with its doctrine of the trinity)? Wouldn't any or all of these ideas be more relevant to real dialectics than this fatuous notion that we can have "cause" without "effect" or "randomness" without "probability" quite independently of the analytical (IMAGINATIVE) power of human consciousness and will?

A few pages later (p. 67), we've got this:

"Fichte sought and found the fundamental inconsistency in the Kantian doctrine on thought in the initial concept that Kant consciously proposed as the basis of all hiscontructions, in the concept of 'thing-in-itself'. Already, in this concept and not in categorial predicates that might be ascribed to things, there was a flagrant contradiction: the supreme fundamental principle of all analytical statements was violated, the principle of contradiction in determinations. This concept was thus inconsistent in a logically developed system-theory. In fact, in the concept"of a a thing as it exists before and outside any possible experience' there was included a bit of nonsense not noted by Kant: to say that the Ego was conscious of a thing outside consciousness was the same as to saythat there was money in one's pocket outside one's pocket."

That's ONLY true if we consider the Ego to exist independently of any one human consciousness and any single person's will. Otherwise, it's not true. I can be perfectly conscious that someone else is conscious of something without being conscious of it myself. (That is precisely how I feel about Martin, Andy, and Steve, actually.)

Even if I stick to my OWN (socially derived and therefore multifarious) consciousness, I find it quite easy to be conscious about something without actually being conscious of it, or to remember about something without actually being able to remember it, or to think about something without actually being able to think it.

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am voluminous; I contain worlds. Of course, a moment's thought will show you that this feeling of knowing about something without actually knowing it is derived from SOCIAL experience; it is not something that Avicenna's "suspended man" every could have felt.

David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education

Steve, I've got a few more problems with what you wrote, and then I really will follow Martin's lead and rush off to class:

a) I think that your theory of thinking as REPRESENTATIONS of objects does not differentiate sufficiently between perception and thought. One is a lower psychological function, and the other a higher one; we know it is higher because it has the ability to remake perception in its own image (verbal perception, the microgenesis of which is essentially what Paula and Carol's paper is about).

b) I think that the key insight Vygotsky got from Marx (and NOT Hegel) was that the abstract is to be seen as an aspect of the concrete, not the other way around. That means that concepts are an emergent aspect of complexes, in much the same way that complexes are emegent aspects of heaps. So I think that moments really are "aha" moments, and not limited to the noticing of objective connections.

c) I know that you are hostile to a HISTORICAL appreciation of the relationship of Chapter Five to Chapter Six, and you think that the texts should be treated as existing outside human will and human consciousness, like the flying man. But I STILL think that one possible way of understanding how they are articulated, how they represent different moments in a nonlinear emergence is rather gritty and grim and dark and dim.

In 1931, under the pressure of the dissolution of Krupskaya's Narkompros, under RKP(B)'s sudden and arbitrary volte face against pedology in general and complexive thinking in particular, Vygotsky was forced to retrench. He began to write of the possiblity of direct INFLUENCE on the growth of complexes into concepts, that is, the direct influence of abstract thinking on concrete thinking. It was this obligatory concession to a manifestly Stakhanovite policy in education that eventually become the "next zone of development" (that is, the zoped).

That doesn't make it wrong, of course; but it does explain why the zone of proximal development sometimes seems to be a bit of a leap in the dark, a bridge too far, a flying man. It was more of an emergency than a gradual emergence.


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