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Re: [xmca] Consciousness
I've been trying to understand Lenin better by reading Althusser's
commentary (perhaps not the smartest strategy!), and like you
Althusser says that Lenin was drawing a distinction between
philosophical categories and scientific concepts. The concepts
scientists form about matter will change - and as you said, at the
time that Lenin wrote MEC that was indeed the case, I assume with the
discovery of electromagnetic radiation. The philosophical categories,
such as matter and Cs, will not change.
So this is Lenin's position, apparently. To me it seems to draw a
strange line between science and philosophy, and treat the latter as
though it were timeless. This might please Hegel, who considered
philosophical thinking to have reached its zenith, after which it
would no longer change. It might please Kant, who considered all
reason, including that of the philosopher, to be universal and
timeless. It seems to me (no philosopher!) simply false.
Philosophical categories can and do change, in part influenced by
I don't think of myself as arguing from a God's eye viewpoint. I think
of myself as arguing on the basis of years of research by many
scientists, research which has established beyond doubt (mine, at
least) a general description of the formation of stars, planets, early
forms of life, and the evolution of hominids. In this evidence-based
description the material world existed prior to Cs. As a solitary
individual I can be sure of very little. As a participant in a
scientific community I can be sure of this, at least. Of course the
concept of matter has changed greatly and will continue to do so.
Matter in the C19 sense *did* cease to exist in the early C20. Indeed,
we *need* a concept of matter that is rich enough to allow Cs as a
possible material phenomenon.
My original point was simply that although Lenin's statement may have
served a helpful function at the time it was made, considered
performatively I don't think it is a very useful starting point today.
And one plug for Foucault (just to give you a sleepless night!): he
(and Bourdieu and others) have increased my recognition that embodied
Cs is important, and neglected. The kind of Cs that I am depending on
when I ride a bicycle is often ignored by cognitive science yet it is
essential to our daily lives, and it is surely a material kind of Cs.
On Sep 21, 2009, at 11:33 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
Apologies for my time zone, Martin, aggravated by lots of domestics
this morning. Usually those in Europe and America are blissfully
unaware of the roundness of the world, so believe me, I appreciate
You know, I would never quote Engels or Lenin unless I had to. As it
happens Lenin is completely right on this point, even if he did
boringly spin it out to sledgehammer weight. It was not without
reason that Ilyenkov devoted a whole book to defending MEC in the
1970s, and had great difficulty getting it published inside or
outside of the USSR.
It is most important to recognize that what Lenin is talking about
is consciousness as a *philosophical category*. Note that *matter*
is simultaneously defined in the same way, and whatismore matter is
defined as a category *derivative* of "consciousness"! How about
that for philosophical materialism! Consciousness is what we are
given immediately, and the idea of "matter" is derived from that,
i.e., the conviction that something else exists. So we can't turn to
Hegel for an answer to this question, because for Hegel *it is all
thought*! "Being," for example, the starting point of the
Encyclopedia, is a category of thought. Again, Hegel derives matter
as a subcategory of Spirit, but only through the Matter/Form
dialectic, not the Matter/Thought dichotomy.
Nonetheless, it is absolutely ruled out that you can derive a
"science of matter" or a "science of consciousness" (i.e. natural
science or psychology) from these philosophical categories. Hegel on
the other hand, tried to derive natural science from the concept of
space, and he was wrong in that. Likewise in 1908, a lot of
scientists and Bolsheviks were concluding that "natural science had
proved that matter does not exist," and a whole lot of other rubbish
which was causing havoc inside the Bolshevik Party suffering at the
time from a period or repression and reaction.
If you want a deconstructionist response to the question, then ask
M. Derrida or M. Foucault exactly what exists "beyond the text" ...
Lenin had not read Hegel or Kant in 1908, but he had been trained by
Plekhanov who had read everything. Plekhanov was his teacher in
philosophy. (BTW, Plekhanov was also one of LSV's teachers in
philosophy I suspect)
You say that LSV's claim that "consciousness is material"
contradicts the claim that matter as a philosophical category is
"that which exists independently of consciousness." The only way
that I can interpret your meaning here is that you insist on
interpreting the conceptual claim in "substantialist" terms. If you
want to insist on concepts as names for things, then obviously
clarity can never be achieved here. See Davydov.
If I make a distinction been marble and statue, does that really
prevent me from claiming that Michelangelo's David is marble? or a
million such examples. A categorical distinction does not divide the
universe into two groups of stuff or things.
You are now claiming that Cs is material. OK, so my thought of the
dollar in my pocket has no categorical difference from the dollar
that may actually be in my pocket? Consult your Kant. Lenin was
perfectly aware of the symmetry between his claim and Kant's and
says that the difference, however, is that the thing-in-itself is
continuously passing into appearance, rather than there being an
impenetrable barrier between appearance and thing-in-itself (not the
categories of course, but the content). Arguing here exactly along
Hegelian lines, though it is certainly possible to argue with
Lenin's philosophy on this as well as other points in the book.
You say: "to write that material reality is what exists
independently of Cs is really misleading." (NB, not "material
reality, but matter - not the same at all) And OF COURSE we add that
"Cs does not exist independent of material reality." This is Lenin,
the philosophical materialist remember. But you kow, you can't argue
this from God's eye view, looking down on human life from the
heavens. Descartes had a point: how does he (Descartes) know that
the material world exists? Only by means of consciousness. Now, you
can start from a truth and argue your way into falsehood, but if you
start from a falsehood - that you know (??) that the material world
exists even without consciousness - then you cannot argue your way
It is a difficult question, and one known to often lead to acrimony!!
Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
Ilyenkov $20 ea
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