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Re: [xmca] Types of Generalization: concepts and pseudoconcepts
Two very quick comments on your message, Andy, and then a question on
Davydov's interpretation of Vygotsky on complexive thinking, where I
am wondering if Davydov is getting Vygotsky right.
First - calling the **scientific** concept a **microcosm** of the
concept as a whole is an interesting idea, Andy. Is this a Vygotsky
formulation? Could you point me to it? Or what Vygotsky says that
leads you to believe he was thinking along these lines?
Second, my reference to rationality the other day was to Davydov (not
Vygotsky). Davydov, interestingly, characterizes both empirical and
scientific concepts as rational. Clearly, Vygotsky would not limit
rational thinking to just science per se, either. But here is where
it gets very interesting.
Davydov seems to be dividing rational thinking into **two** divisions,
or genera: empirical and scientific (general conceptualizations and
theoretical concepts). Vygotsky, for his part, apparently maintained
the existence of only **one** genus of rational conceptualization
(true concepts), to which he counterposed its developmental precedent
- spontaneous (everyday) child thinking. In turn, as we know,
Vygotsky subdivided spontaneous child thinking into syncretic
formations and complexive thinking. (He never discussed or researched
in very much detail how these categories psychologically apply to
adults, unfortunately ...)
As for what Vygotsky said and might have thought about the question of
various **species** of concepts, I'd be very interested in that. Any
references come to mind?
Now to my question about an interesting passage in the Davydov Types
of Generalization, Ch 6, in the section "The Problem of Generalization
in the Works of L. S. Vygotskii". You quote from this passage in your
I might briefly mention the critical stance from where I am coming
from: I am really liking Davydov a **lot** - his grasp of sign
mediation theory (Vygotsky), activity theory (Leontiev), and the
concept of the ideal (llyenkov), for example, is very enlightening for
me, and very useful. But so far, I am stumbling a bit over his theory
of concepts in general, as well as his theory of concept formation in
psychology - and in particular, how he fits in, or perhaps doesn't fit
in, Vygotsky's concept of complexive thinking into his system.
The passage below **seems** to me to be interpreting Vygotsky's
concept of the complex to mean the **opposite** of what Vygotsky means
- which is **very** uncharacteristic of Davydov. Am I reading the
Davydov and the Vygotsky correctly? If this is the case, it might
shed some light on how Davydov understands what Vygotsky calls
complexive thinking, and perhaps his role in the history of that
concept, which seems to have been set aside somewhat (and one of the
reasons Paula's efforts are so welcome).
"Thus, having previously established the identical nature of
pseudoconcepts and concepts in their object attribution, Vygotskii
then indicates the objective basis for this phenomenon – ****a
generalization of a single type underlies both of them**** [emphasis
added by sg] . It is obtained in different ways (different
intellectual operations), takes on a different form (merging with the
real object in the complex, and an abstracted nature in the concept),
but, in principle, reflects the same content." (Types of
Generalization in Instruction, pg 87 - in Chapter 6, The Problem of
Generalization in the Works of L.S. Vygotskii).
[Vygotsky next seems to be saying just the opposite. See what you
"A complex, like a concept, is a generalization or blend of various
real heterogeneous themes. But the association with whose help this
generalization is formed, can be of many different types. Any
association can result in the inclusion in the complex of a certain
element, as long as it is available, and this is the most
characteristic feature of the complex building process. Whilst
associations of a single type which are logically identical to one
another form the foundation of concepts, the ones found at the root of
complexes include many varied factual associations, which frequently
have nothing at all to do with one another. ****In a concept, the
objects are generalized according to one feature, but in a complex
they are based on various factual grounds.**** [emphasis added by sg]
Therefore, material and uniform associations and affiliations between
objects are reflected in concepts, whilst complexes present factual,
random and concrete ones."
p 220, Thinking and Concept Formation in Adolescents, (originally from
Ch 10 Pedology of the Adolescent (Russian) published 1930), in The
Vygotsky Reader (1994)
Comment by Steve: Davydov seems to be saying that Vygotsky's complex
and concept indeed generalize objects in "different ways" and in
different forms - but do so, in Vygotsky's theory, with only one
"single type" of generalization. So, consequently, according to
Davydov, Vygotsky's complex and concept reflect the same **content**.
Vygotsky, however, seems to explain just the opposite - that the forms
of generalizations of the complex and concept - **and** their
**contents** - are vastly different between the complex and the concept.
Am I reading something wrong? (It certainly wouldn't be the first
On Sep 13, 2009, at 5:34 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
Steve, I think Vygotsky is neither clear nor consistent, but making
all due allowances, he was right; Davydov is clear and consistent,
but he is wrong on occasions. Pity Vyvogotsky did not live longer.
But it means we have to put a consistent and tenable understanding
Firstly I believe Vygtosky took the "scientific concept" only as a
microcosm of the concept, and recognised that the everyday life of
an adult is full of concepts (i.e. proper concepts). He gives "dog"
as an example. In general concepts originate out of "expert systems"
of some kind, i.e., institutions, but not necessarily science: e.g.
sport, the Church, literature, ... This will not be the first
occasion that LSV's use of a micrcosm has caused people to think
that he thinks the micrcosm is the whole.
So Vygotsky reognizes many types of concept, and I don't think
Vygotsky limited "rationality" to science. He began life as a
literary critic after all.
On how individuals acquire knowledge, you are right of course, that
whatever form a child's knowledge takes, it is acquired through
artefact-mediated collaboration with adults, at least until the age
of ~7 when interaction with peers starts to rival interaction with
One of LSV's strentghs v-a-v Davydov is that LSV really concerns
himself with the transition - this is where wolves in sheeps
clothing comes from. But Davydov simply regards everyday non-
conceptual thinking as a barrier to learning scientific conceptual
thought. He doesn't really see a transition at all.
Steve Gabosch wrote:
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
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.
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
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"
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
Does that help?
http://www.erythrospress.com/ Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel,
Leontyev, Meshcheryakov, Ilyenkov $20 ea
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Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
Ilyenkov $20 ea
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