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Re: [xmca] Humans are signs/ideal

Excuse me ! adding ...
We didn't have it deep in our souls or by birth or through Heavens , etc. 

--- On Sat, 9/26/09, Vera Steiner <vygotsky@unm.edu> wrote:

From: Vera Steiner <vygotsky@unm.edu>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Humans are signs/ideal
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Date: Saturday, September 26, 2009, 10:54 PM

I understand that you guys are ready to close the discussion on consciousness,
it has been a long thread. But I am still baffled by the notion of " Cs being given to us." Given by what, by whom?
By evolution? by our profound interconnectedness as homo sapiens which requires joint action and effective forms of communication? Did I miss something?
I am also having some trouble in the formulation of humans as signs/ideal.But I have a long way to go with Ilyenkov, thanks for the notes, Martin. Representational systems are obviously material and differentially supported by differing cultures. This issue may resonate more widely than the elusive and fascinating search for what is consciousness?
----- Original Message ----- From: "Martin Packer" <packer@duq.edu>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Saturday, September 26, 2009 3:31 PM
Subject: [xmca] Humans are signs/ideal


OK, then let's wade in! I'm posting below my notes on Ilyenkov's The
Concept of The Ideal (there are some italics so I've made it rich
text; let me know if this causes problems), and starting a new thread
topic. The first section of these notes makes some general points,
then I get serious and try to summarize the argument. I've left my
bracketed expressions of confusion, questions, etc. in the notes. I
don't think it's an easy read, but it's easier than the original!

If I remember correctly, in our previous discussion of this text Andy
and Steve argued that Ilyenkov considers only obviously symbolic
objects, such as statues and coats of arms, to ideal. I argued that
Ilyenkov says that every material aspect of social life is ideal. I
still stand by this reading (though as I said before, this text is
somewhat unclear on this point). After all, Ilyenkov's central example
of a material object that is at the same time ideal is the commodity.
While a commodity may be a symbol (I can buy an American flag at the
grocery store, for example), there are obviously many commodities that
are not symbols of this kind (a pork chop). Something is ideal when
its existence represents the form of something else.

One part of this text that we didn't get to discuss before is where
Ilyenkov makes the case that a child has to become ideal (as Ilyenkov
defines this) to be a member of society. My notes on this are towards
the end, after skipping over some sections, chiefly for lack of time.
This is where he seems to be moving in the direction that Pierce was
going in when he suggested that a human is a sign.

You'll see the principal argument is that the child needs to impose
forms on their ow activity, and regard themselves as another person
would regard them, as representing or standing for the 'general
another.' In doing so, the child must distinguish himself from his own
body. The child's existence comes to represent the general form of
human being (in their particular culture, I presume).  That's to say,
the child becomes ideal. It's a very interesting analysis.


On Sep 26, 2009, at 1:45 PM, Tony Whitson wrote:

> On Sat, 26 Sep 2009, Martin Packer wrote:
>> To forge a link to Tony's post from Pierce, I think also proposes  that humans are ideal, or to be more precise become ideal in  ontogenesis. Rather like saying a human is a sign. But that's a big  topic.
> It is a big topic, but it happens to be what I am working on right  now, and it is intimately involved with understanding consciousness.

The Concept of the Ideal.

EI argues that the ideal is to be found in the material things of a
human culture (form of life). Things have a form that “represents”
something else - no, I think it’s that things have an existence that
represents the form of something else. So the coat represents
(embodies, expresses) the value-form of the cloth from which it was
made. But it is actually the form of human activity, epecially labor,
that gives existence to these (social) things.
So, EI writes, Plato and Hegel were partially right to think that a
world of ideal forms exists independently of the individual mind. For
this plane of ideality is the product of *collective* human activity.
As such it confronts the individual as something  external and
objective, which must be assimilated, adapted too. More than this, it
is in adapting to this plane of cultural objects that human
consciousness and will are formed. They are effects of this realm of
ideality, not its origin. (This is where Kant went wrong, along with
common sense.)
Ideality, the ideal, exists only in the continual movement between the
form of activity and the form of a thing. This is why a *dialectical*
explanation is necessary. Take a thing out of a form of activiy, and
it no longer exists, it is merely a dead material object. A word,
taken out of “the organism of human intercourse” is no more than a
mere acoustic phenomenon.
Why does consciousness come from assimilating this cultural plane? I
proposes that this human form of life requires looking at oneself as
though as at another. Looking at oneself as another might look.
Considering oneself as a “representative” of the human species (or at
least the society). The individual needs to become “a special object”
to participate in this ideal objectivity, to make its rules and
patterns the “rules and patterns of the life activity of his own body.”
There  are passages that sound very like Foucault:
“The individual is compelled to control his own organic body in answer
not to the organic (natural) demands of this body but to demands
presented from outside, by the ‘rules’ accepted in the society in
which he was born. It is only in these conditions that the individual
is compelled to distinguish himself from his own organic body.”
And WILL is, first of all, “the ability to forcibly subordinate one’s
own inclinations and urges to a certain law, a certain demand dictated
not by the individual organics of one’s own body, but by the
organisation of the ‘collective body’, the collective, that has formed
around a certain common task.”
We generally are unable to see the distinction between the natural
properties of things and the properties they have as embodied social
labor. We see, for example, the stars first as a “natural clock,
calendar, and compass.” That’s to say, our human activities are taken
to be objective proprties of the natural world.
[MP: I think EI runs into a problem here. How can we humans ever draw
a distinction between the natural and social properties? Science will
always assimilate objects to its social and instrumental concerns. At
times EI seems to see and accept this, at other times he seems to want
to be able to draw the line, and at one point defines this as the task
of philosophy.]
There’s an account of reflection in all this. He seems to equate
reflection with “the relationship to oneself as ‘another’” [MP: though
he may be attributing this definition only to Fichte and to Hegel]. He
explicitly brings up the mirror, quoting Marx. But the point of the
quote is that man doesn’t have a mirror in which to see himself, so
his reflection must take the form of recognition in (and so as)
another. (As, because the other sees me as an other to them.)
This is reflection in the sense of thinking about, becoming aware of,
- but there’s the implication that this requires an ‘other’ to be
accomplished. One becmes aware of self this way. Does one become aware
of anything the same way? Marx writes that the ideal is the material
world reflected by the human mind. (By, not in).
Ideas and images are ideal only when they have become separated from
individual mental activity. 8. An “image” is “objectified” in words,
but also (“and even more directly”) in “in sculptural, graphic and
plastic forms and in the form of the routine-ritual ways of dealing
with things and people, so that it is expressed not only in words, in
speech and language, but also in drawings, models and such symbolic
objects as  coats of arms, banners, dress, utensils, or as money,
including gold coins and paper money, IOUs, bonds or credit notes.”

EI begins by distinguishing the concept from the terms. That is, the
“range of phenomena” must be defined before turning to the essence of
the phenomena. That makes sense - until you’ve decided what phenomena
the term is to be applied to, one cannot start to analyse the phenomena.
EI notes that this task isn’t so easy, because there’s a circularity:
the terms are used based on an understanding of the essence. He notes
that this is a common problem, and debate dissolves into ‘the meaning
of the term.’
The term ‘ideal’ is used today mainly as ‘conceivable,’ ‘immanent in
Cs.’ This implies that what is outside Cs is material. This seems ‘at
first sight’ reasonable - but it’s not!
Certainly we can’t talk about anything ideal when there are no people
involved. The ideal is ‘inseparably linked’ to notions of culture,
purposeful activity, the brain. Marx seems to have recognized this
when he wrote that the ideal is ‘the material world reflected by the
human mind…’
But it doesn’t follow that ‘ideal’ = ‘in Cs.’ For example, Marx in
Capital defines the value form as ’purely ideal’ even though it isn’t
‘in Cs.’ The value form (price, money) is ideal because it is distinct
from the material form of the commodity in which it is found. Here
something ‘ideal’ is outside and separate from human Cs.
This will seem puzzling. The suggestion that the ideal can exist
outside Cs may make it seem imaginary, or that Marx is flirting with
Plato’s and Hegel’s ‘objective idealism’ of ‘incorporeal entities.’
But it’s not that simple. Marx’s use of the term is closer to Hegel’s,
and far more meaningful than the popular use. Dialectical idealism is
“far nearer the truth” [sic] than vulgar materialism. Hegel grasped
the fact of the ‘dialectical transformaton’ of the ideal into the
material and vice versa. Marx recognized this, though he also saw that
Hegel had inverted the relation of mind to nature, of ideal to material.
Let’s consider the history of the term ideal from Kant to Hegel.
Kant adopted the ‘popular’ interpretation of the concepts of the ideal
and real, and so fell into a pit. He doesn’t define ideality, but
simply uses it as a synonym for Cs as such. Materiality is acheved in
cognition via the senses. Kant made “a perfectly popular distinction.”
The ideal is everything we know about the world except its existence.
The latter is non-ideal, and so innaccesible to Cs and knowledge.
Kant’s example of the talers is important. Imaginary coins, he argues,
doesn’t exist. The fact that we can imagine god doesn’t mean that God
Want Kant doesn’t notice is that even real coins will not be real in
another country with a different currency. As Marx pointed out, Kant’s
example actually shows how diferent things are ‘real’ in different
forms of life - in “the general or rather common imagination of man.”
Kant’s definition of ideal and real cannot draw distinctions that are
important for us to make.
In fact, belief in the ‘reality’ of coins is no different from
simple belief in the reality of gods. Both are examples of festishism:
attributing  immediately perceptible properties to an object which it
does not in fact have, and which “have nothing in common with its
sensuous percetible external appearence.” This is taking a symbol
literally. When people come to recgnize that an idol is only a symbol
of god, and a coin a symbol of value, “then man’s consciousness takes
a step forward on the path to understanding the essence of things.”
Hegel agreed with Kant that Protestantism was a higher stage of Cs
than festishistic Catholicism. Hegelians criticiced Kant for lapsing
into idolatry with his talers example. They were “only symbols,” “only
representatives,” in their essence entirely ideal, although material
in their existence. And of course they were outside individual Cs.
This was to define ideal and real in a very different way. It was
associated with alienation, reification. What people take to be real
has a real existence. If I believe I have money in the bank I will
take on debts.
This point of view recognizes that there is a “Social Cs” that isn’t
just multiplied individual Cs, but “a historically formed and
historically developing system of ‘objective notions.’” It contains
“structural forms of patterns of social Cs” [MP: lots of examples
given here] that make demands and impose restrictions that, from
childhood, the individual must reckon with, more so than mere
external’things’ or even the organic desires of his body. These
patterns must be “assimilated” by the individual through experience
and education.
And so Hegel sees value in Platos’s notion that the individual must
come to terms with a “world of ideas” that is distinct from the “world
of things.” Plato, he reasoned, had in effect recognized the role of
“the state” - that’s to say, culture.
Plato began a line of thought in which “the world of ideas” has been
viewed as “stable and internally organized,” an “objective reality”
that is distinct from and even opposed to the individual, and dictates
how the individual should act.
Of course this was still a “semi-mystical” way of thinking. But it
recognized that the activity of an individual depends on  a prior
system of culture, in which the individual life “begins and runs its
For Plato, the relation of the ideal to the material was formulated in
terms of the relation of stable forms of culture to the world of
‘individual things,’ which included the physical body. This meant
Plato had to clearly distinguish between ideality and psyche, which
previously had been equated (by Democritus, for example). Ideality
came for the first time to define a certain class of phenomena, a
reflection of objective reality in mental (human & social) activity,
rather than Cs in general.
Rubinstein [this is a bit confusing]: ideality is when an idea or
image is objectified in words, or in “sculptural, graphic and plastic
forms and in the form of the ritual-routine ways of dealing with
things are people” [8].
That’s to say, “‘Ideality’ in general… [is] a characteristic of the
materially established (objectivised, materialised, reified) images of
human social culture.” That’s to say, a “special object” that is often
(mistakenly?) identified with material reality. It is “comparable”
with material reality, but it is a “special ‘supernatural’ objective
reality.” [MP: Is this EI’s view, or his summary of another position?]
Individual mental states, in contrast, are determined by numerous
diverse factors, and on the plane of culture are “purely accidental.”
This is why Kant doesn’t consider Cs of weight, for example, to be
ideal. For Kant, the ideal is universal, impersonal and complusive. He
doesn’t stick consistently to this terminology (as the talers example
shows), but even here we start to see the objective character of the
forms. But Kant was unable to get past the view of the social as
simply the multipled individual.
Hegel stated the problem differently. Culture is not an abstraction
that expresses universality among individuals, but the crystalized
result of individual wills which is not contained in any of them
separately. Culture is not built from parts which are identical. The
patterns that Kant viewed as innate and universal to all individuals,
Hegel viewed as cultural patterns which the individual must assimilate
from without to become social.
A culture opposes the individual (the individual physical body) as “in
itself and for itself,” something ideal within which things have
meaning and role that are different from what they have “as
themselves” outside culture. For Hegel, the ‘ideal’ definition of a
thing coincides with its role and meaning in culture, not in the
indiviual Cs.
This view is broader and more profound than Kant’s, or the popular
notion. The ideal and material are not ‘opposites,’ in ‘different
worlds,’ but merely ‘different.’
Hegel starts with the obvious fact that for the individual Cs,
material culture is what is at first real, even material. It is the
thought of prior generations ‘reified’ or ‘objectified’ in matter.
These are material in their ‘present being,’ but in their oigin they
are ‘ideal’ because they embody the collective thinking of a people.
Like Plato and Popper and Berkeley, Hegel here treats culture as the
only object that an individual must deal with. The world outside
culture is removed from view. The ‘real world’ is an “already
‘idealized’ world.”  This “secret of idealism” shows up in Hegel’s
treatment of nature, which he describes using the language of physics
of his time. Like the logical positivists, he identifies ‘nature’ with
the language people use to talk about nature.
[But] The main problem of philosophy is to distinguish the world of
culture from “the real world as it exists outside and apart from its
expression in these socially legitimated forms of ‘experience.’” 12
Here is where the distinction between ideal and real (material) has a
scientific meaning. Objective reality is what is revealed by
scientific research.
… Words are material. It is temping to think that their subjective
image is what is ‘ideal.’ But Hegel shows us that a name, like a gold
coin, is a general representation. The representation has nothing in
common with what it represents. Like a diplomat representing his
country, the verbal symbol or sign (or syntactical combination of
these ) represents not itself but ‘another.’ Representation is a
relationship in which one thing performs the function of [being]
representative of another - of, in fact, the universal nature of that
other thing. This relationship is what is called ideality in the
Hegelian tradition.
Marx uses the term in this way, although in his writing the range of
phenomena is “dialectically opposed” to the Hegelian usage. The
meaning of the term is the same, but the concept is different. Marx’s
understanding of the essence of the phenomenon was different. When he
analyzed money, what Marx described as ideal was the value-form of
labor in general. Certainly this didn’t mean that value exists only in
Cs. The form of value is ideal because the palpable form of the thing
(a coat) is “only a form of expression” of another thing (linen). The
form of the coat represents (embodies, expresses) the value of the
linen. The form of the coat is the ideal form, the represented form,
of the value of the linen. The linen (as value) “now has the
appearance of a coat.” As value, the two are equal. “The body of
commodity B acts as a mirror to the value of commodity A” (Capital, p.
59). Value is the ‘substance’ that is embodied here and there.
[MP: But the linen is turned into the coat. What is preserved in this
transformation is the value?]
The form of value is ideal. The form of the thing represented is
different, and is not ideal. This “difference” is not Cs or will. What
is represented as a thing is the the form of people’s activity. [MP:
This moved very quickly! I need to reread Capital]
Here is the answer to the riddle of ideality. “Ideality, according to
Marx is nothing else but the form of social human activity represented
in the thing. Or, conversely, the form of human activity represented
as a thing, as an object” 15
Ideality is like a stamp on the substance of nature. All things
acquire a new ‘form of existence’ that is not included in their
physical nature - their ideal form. Ideality has a social character
and origin. It is the form of a thing, but outside the thing. Or the
form of an activity, but outside that activity. It is the form of an
activity. It is the form of a thing. It cannot be fixed as one or the
[MP: I really dislike this. It presumes the physical nature is
knowable, without explaining how. It seems to detach social meaning
from material properties. The stamp metaphor makes things seem like
passive recipients of an imposed form.]
Ideality exists only when people are working collectively. Individual
Cs and will depend on the ideality of things, comprehended and so
conscious. Both Marx and Hegel offered a theory of ideality which took
into account the emergence of human self-Cs. Hegel recognized that
self-examination requires self-opposition - of Geist in the form of
objects. First “embodied” in the word, then in the “inorganic body of
man,” that’s to say culture, civilization.
For Hegel, ideality exists only as objects which are reified activity.
Ideality, for him [MP: but not for EI and Marx?] “took in the whole
range of phenomena within which the ideal,’ understood as the
corporeally embodied form of the activity of social man, really
exists” 17
This is why the comodity can do what it can do. It is ideal through
and through. Things “whose category quite unambiguously includes
words, the units of language, and many other ‘things’” 17. [MP: But if
the ideal includes “many other things” then it doesn’t include “all”
things!]  …this “category of ‘things’” [here again it is not all
things but just one category]
Here EI returns to Marx and the commodity, to emphasize that there is
nothing in common substantially between the ideal and what it
represents. And to emphasize that the relationship of ideality is
established outside the head, behind the back, in the practices. This
means that trying to reflect on the relationship doesn’t get one very
far. The objectivity of the ideal is a fact, and ‘idealism’ is not a
schoolboy’s mistake but a sober statement of this objectivity without,
however, explaining it. Idealists appeal to an incorporial form that
controls things, and determines whether they will be a form or not,
but that cannot be located.
Materialism explains the objectivity of the ideal.  Marx’s analysis of
value is “a typical and characteristic case of ideality in general.”
Where classical philsophy [Hegel] appealed to “pure
activity” [Geist?], political economists recognized the centrality of
labor, and saw value as embodied labor. But they couldn’t see the form
of value. Marx “gained the theoretical key” from Hegel, and saw the
form of value as the reified form of labor - “a form of human life
[MP: But what does it mean to speak of the form of activity? If I make
a coat from linen, does the coat actually have the form of my
activity? What did Marx say about this?]
Since human activity is purposeful, it is easy to misunderstand this
form as the product of (individual) Cs and self-Cs. (And then
criticize Hegel for projecting subjective mental activity into the
‘external’ world.) But Marx recognized that logical thinking stems
from the universal forms of existence of objective reality. [MP:
Culture, or nature? This is confused.]
[some sections skipped over here]
[MP: The following paragraph is directly copied]  “Ideality exists
only when people are working collectively. Individual Cs and will
depend on the ideality of things, comprehended and so conscious. Both
Marx and Hegel offered a theory of ideality which took into account
the emergence of human self-Cs. Hegel recognized that self-examination
requires self-opposition - of Geist in the form of objects. First
‘embodied’ in the word, then in the ‘inorganic body of man,’ that’s to
say culture, civilization.”
Marx “by no means accidently uses the comparison of the mirror.” Man
is born without a mirror, and first sees and recognizes himself in
other men. Peter compares himself with Paul, as the type of human
being. Human activity involves “reflection,” which for classical
German philosphy meant “self-consciousness,” but for Marx meant “the
relationship to oneself as to ‘another.’” Marx didn’t believe that
humans differ from animals in having Cs and will and so have culture.
Rather, he believed that because humans (collectvely) have culture,
they come individually to have Cs and will. Man, unlike the animals,
has to master purely social forms of life activity. Where an animal is
born with inborn forms of activity, the human child is born confronted
by the complex system of culture which includes modes of activity
which he has to assimilate, even though they may be very different
from the biological reactions of his body.
Even the satisfaction of biological needs requires that the child
adopt conventional modes of activity. Eating with a spoon, sitting at
a table. These are external, social forms which the child has to
“convert into the forms of his individual life activity.” This
external objectivity is not nature, but culture, nature transformed,
given new form, by the labor of previous generations.  These social
forms are the objectivity to which the child is compelled to adapt all
the functions of his organic body.
To do this, the child must distinguish himself from his own body. He
has to develop a new relationship to himself, “as to a single
representative of ‘another.’” The child has to become “a special
object” in order to impose the rules and patterns (the forms) of
culture on the life activity of his body. In mastering these forms,
the child becomes  a “representative” of the human race. The
individual’s organic body “changes into a representative of the race.”
It is this specific relationship that brings about the specific human
forms of mental activity of consciousness and will. Consciousness
arises because the individual must view himself as if with the eyes
not only of another person, but with the eyes of all other people. The
child must “correlate” his actions with those of others, and this
calls for will: the ability to subordinate one’s organic inclinations
and urges to the social demands of a common task. In the process of
labour man transforms  material things, including his own body, his
own nervous system and brain. These become means for his purposeful
activity. Will and Cs are products, effects.
[MP: Notice that EI is saying here that the child becomes ideal, on
his own definition of ideality. The child becomes a representation of
something else - the human race. He does this by imposing form on his
own activity. ]

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