[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and pseudoconcepts

Andy is not the only one lagging behind in sorting out these difficult issues. I have been taking to heart Mike's repeated call for clarification of what we all mean by "concept". And usefully starting with what we take LSV to have meant.

I've not yet gone through the Davydov and Andy's account of it, but maybe this weekend.

Meanwhile, not having the famous chapter 6 of Speech and Thought to hand (the online LSV archive has only one bit of it, transcribed by Andy in fact) and my library still in storage as I've just moved to San Diego, I went to some other sources: the 1934 Tool & Symbol in Child Development by LSV and Luria, and from the van der Veer & Valsiner Vygotsky Reader, the Development of Thinking and Concept Formation in Adolescence, which is the main source on pseudo-concepts, etc.

I happened on the first of these somewhat by accident, but it colored by reading of the rest. LSV and Luria in this piece are not focused on the relationship between thought and speech as such, but rather on the relationship between speech and action. In fact my reading is that the overall point is that concepts emerge from and as the coordination of verbal speech (outward or inward) and practical action. Indeed that is what they are and all that they are. It doesn't get more anti-idealist than that. And a long way from any notion of general abstract ideas.

The logic of the method of double stimulation is thus to study changing relationships between means and ends, where means are always symbolic mediators, and ends are solutions to tasks and problems. And the argument is that this is also what is going on in everyday life, if more slowly and circuitously. So indeed there is acting-with- concepts in everyday life and "scientific" concepts does not mean just those in formal scientific categorial reasoning. Indeed thinking-in- concepts, or to avoid the Cartesian baggage, acting-with-concepts is a broader notion than that of "scientific concepts". I am not sure, and it may differ in different texts, whether "true concepts" and "scientific concepts" always mean the same thing.

This get us into the detailed arguments in the Adolescence paper, where I am mainly interested in what the various distinctions have to say about the meaning of the notion of "concept". As Andy and other note, the distinctions from pseudo-concepts is the most germane, but also the most difficult to articulate. Functionally almost the same in terms of outcomes and uses, but logically and analytically very different in terms of how the use of language is integrated into the action of problem-solving activity. So it is not just that verbal signs are mediating the solving activity, but how. So a true concept, or true acting-with-concepts depends on using language (or other mediating signs) in particular ways in our activity.

Evidently the observable key to this only comes from having seen/heard a lot of kids and adolescents or adults at different ages doing different things in the categorization (blocks, double stimulation) tasks, and seeing a Gestalt, a pattern and its changes. Even from verbal reports and explanations or interviews it is probably not possible to directly see the differences in how verbal signs are working at different stages. In fact, one of the key criteria, that for complexes or pseudo-concepts the kinds of semantic connections made are heterogeneous (more like Wittgenstein's family resemblances) while for true concepts they are homogeneous (like formal logical category systems), is likely correct developmentally, but we then discover that such true concept systems are also limited in their functional uses and we need to allow heterogeneity back in (as with Wittgenstein, or with Latour's networks). Of course it is functionally different now, because it builds on top of the homogeneous base concepts.

The ways that true concepts and second-order complexes (Wittgenstein- Latour complexes) get mixed may also tell us a lot about cultural differences in thinking and the relationships between mythic-symbolic thinking (cf. Levi-Straus) and scientific thinking. As usual, I think it would be wrong to identify non-Western, or even everyday thinking, that mixes different modes with the pre-adolescent developmental stage. My assumption is that all adults (except maybe for those with some brain disorders) use some true concepts, maybe a lot. They also mix this with something else, but that something else is not the same, though it may share key features, with developmentally early complexes. There is also a historical issue here, as Foucault raises it, regarding pre-scientific "associative" thinking (e.g. medieval systems of correspondences). Just because a ways of acting with symbolic mediation is heterogeneous in its ways of connecting, does not mean it is an unchanged survival of developmentally early modes.

In fact I think there may be a lot to be learned by trying to understand more carefully the relationships between the developmentally earlier modes, the historically earlier modes, the more everyday modes, and the culturally alternative modes to Western, adult, modernist, true-concept-only "scientific" acting-with-semiotic- mediation.


PS. Thanks to Etienne Pelaprat for some offline dialogue that helped with the Levi-Straussian connection.

PPS. Despite the convenience of the word "thinking", it's theoretically misleading. Please replace it everywhere with the more cumbersome but accurate "acting-with-symbolic-mediation-to-get- something-done".

Jay Lemke
Professor (Adjunct)
Educational Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

On Sep 11, 2009, at 5:51 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

I have prepared a response to Davydov's book, but it is 4,000 words, so I have attached it in a Word document. But here is a synopsis.

Davydov claims that in his analysis of the Sakharov experiments, Vygotsky fails to demonstrate any real distinction between a true concept and an abstract general notion (what is usually and mistakenly taken for a concept in non-Marxist thought).

I claim that he has a point, but Vygotsky is guilty only of some unclarity and inconsistency in his language, and makes the distinction very clear. And Davydov should pay more attention to what Vygotsky says about the relationship.

Davydov works with a mistaken contrast between scientific concepts and the general notions derived from everyday life. Scientific concepts are by no means the only type of true concepts and everyday life is full of concepts.

Nonetheless, Davydov has a point. It is evident that Sakharov, the author of the orignal, oft-cited report evidently is guilty exactly as charged by Davydov. And no-one seems to have noticed!

Although Paula and Carol are consistent and correct in everything they say in their paper, they err on one occasion only when they cite Kozulin citing Hanfmann. It is as if people equate logical use of generalized empirical notions with conceptual thought, never in their own words, but only by means of citing someone else's words.

I think this is the legacy of a lack of clarity in Vygotsky's brilliance.

4,000 words attached. And apologies for not entering the discussion of Paula and Carol's paper earlier, but I was not clear in my own mind on these problems, and Davydov helped me get clear. Better late than never!

Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media) Orders: http://www.erythrospress.com/store/main.html#books

<concept-really- concept.doc>_______________________________________________
xmca mailing list

xmca mailing list