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

It seems as though Vygotsky's theory recognized only one kind of adult, rational concept, which he called at various times the "true concept," the "scientific concept," etc. In Ch 6 of T&S Vygotsky contrasted his theory of the true concept with the "spontaneous" or "everyday" concept, which he seems to have associated with various forms of complexive thinking, including the pseudoconcept, the potential concept, the preconcept, etc.

On the other hand, Davydov's theory, appreciative of the accomplishments and critical of the shortcomings of Vygotsky's work on concept formation, recognizes not just one but **two** kinds of rational concepts, which he calls the empirical concept (more precisely, the "general conceptualization") and the theoretical concept (the "content-based generalization"). I find his general arguments for this persuasive, and consistent with a philosophical book I have found influential on my thinking about concepts - as did Davydov - Ilyenkov's The Dialectics of the Abstract and the Concrete in Marx's Capital (1960).

However, so far as I can tell, while Davydov discusses Vygotsky's work on complexes, he did not fully incorporate this work into his theory. Why not? Or has he? More on this below.


Andy, in speaking of an "absolutely non-empirical social factor" in human activity I take it you are affirming the CHAT principle that cultural knowledge is, for a large part, derived by the individual **indirectly** through the words, artifacts and actions of other people, through **cultural** interaction, and not just **directly** through individual **sensory** experience. Is this what you mean?

Also, Andy, you suggest that for you or me, a 'rook' is a concept, but for a child, it is probably a potential concept (or might be, may I add, a pre-concept, or a pseudo-concept). How is that different from suggesting that for concept-trained adults, cev, bik, mur and lag are concepts, even though for a child they might be a pseudo-concepts? Not quite understanding your argument ...


The problem may lie in whether we are using the term "concept" in the one-rational-concept-system theory of Vygotsky or the two-rational- concept-system theory of Davydov. I was using Vygotsky's system. One reason I am having trouble easily jumping from LSV's system to VVD's is some confusion I am having over terminology, along with Davydov's (for me, so far) unsatisfying account of complexive thinking.

Interestingly, Davydov seems to only employ the term "true concept" twice in Types of Generalizations. Once as part of a quote from Bruner et al, and once in the section in Chapter 6 on Vygotsky's work on concept formation, nearby some of the quotes you cite. Here is what Davydov says about true concepts:

"From the standpoint of dialectical logic, concepts, as they are encountered in our everyday speech, are not concepts in the proper sense of the word. They are, rather, general conceptions of things. But it is indisputable that they are a transitional stage from complexes and pseudo-concepts to true concepts in the dialectical sense of the word [65, pp. 196-197]."

In a sense, this may be the same problem that you point to in your essay, Andy, where Vygotsky was using the generic term "concept" to refer to both all concept formations at all developmental levels as well as to their most highly developed forms. Davydov, and perhaps you, may sometimes be doing something similar - "concepts," "true concepts," "concepts in the proper sense of the word," etc. Maybe a clearer taxonomic nomenclature is needed. Or maybe there is something I am not yet quite getting.

Davydov's suggestion that general conceptualizations are **transitional** between "everyday" speech, that is, "complexes and pseudo-concepts," seems very important to me. Is there a place where he specifically develops this idea, or perhaps, where someone else does? Understanding how to fully incorporate what we know about complexive thinking into a general theory of concept formation might help me to make the leap from Vygotsky to Davydov.

- Steve

On Sep 12, 2009, at 8:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Steve Gabosch wrote:
One, what do you mean by "an absolutely non-empirical social factor"

One. When I say "absolutely non-empirical" I do not try to deny that all knowledge begins from the senses. For example, if I drive on the left because the law requires me to, I still have to be able to read signs, understand speech etc. to know and obey that law. But you wouldn't call that "empirical" would you? Concepts come to us through using artefacts in joint actions with other people, i.e., activity, not passive contemplation. See "Theses on Feuerbach." Conceptual knowledge presupposes all the senses, but is not thereby "empirical."

any game. In chess, for example, rooks and pawns are "concepts" - yes?

Two. I thought about exactly this one as well. So if playing a good game of chess, knowing the moves for Kings and Knights etc., and how to play a good strategy, implies *conceptual* thought, then all the primary school children who participate in chess championships are alredy masters of true concepts. And it doesn't stop there, does it? The implication is that *logical thinking* is ipso facto, conceptual thought. But primary school kids in general use logical argument, apply strategies in games, learn arithmetic and grammatical rules, etc, etc.

So why is LSV so insistent that conceptual thought is possible only for adolescents? I couldn't find the reference, maybe someone can, but I am sure LSV believes that logical thinking and argument by giving reasons "belongs" to the 7-11 age group, not 15+ - like with LSV's example of a "dog", "rook" may be a concept for you, but for a child "rook" is a potential concept.

The point is that "machine-like" logical thought is not conceptual thought. It relies on pre-concepts, or what Davydov calls (charitably in my view) "empirical concepts" or on one occasion "general notions."

Does that help?

Andy Blunden
http://www.erythrospress.com/ Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov $20 ea

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