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Re: [xmca] Consciousness: Ilyenkov Epistemology Quiz

In an earlier message I mentioned the fact that I have some problems with the terminology Ilyenkov uses to explain the phenomena he is interested in. It seems to me that by using the term 'ideality' of material objects he (1) is just plain confusing: in what sense can something *both* ideal and material? (2) risks reintroducing a dualism, not the mind/world kind, but some kind of duality to every object in the world, (3) invites us to imagine that this ideality must exist in *some* kind of consciousness - so there must be a *social* consciousness. Like Victor, I have grave doubts about the idea of a social consciousness. I think consciousness is a social process, but when consciousness has itself as an object, it is as an evidently *individual* phenomenon. We use the term "self-consciouness" in two ways, I think, somewhat confusingly but they both make sense. Self- consciouness is consciousness aware of itself; but it is also consciousness of 'self' as the center (or locus) of consciousness. Consciousness is in each case 'mine.' So 'social consciousness' is a contradictory term.

(If it seems weird to say that Cs is social even though it is in each case mine, consider this. We each have first-person familiarity with the biological processes we call life. I have no access to another person's digestion, respiration, and so on. But we have leaned to see that it makes sense to think of life as a distributed phenomenon, of which each organism is merely a participant.)

What terminology would be better? One that avoids suggesting that the ideality of objects (of materiality in general, to be more precise) is an *epistemological* matter. The way Ilyenkov writes, it is very easy to interpret him as saying, on one hand there is a spade (materiality), and on the other hand there is what the spade means (ideality). Closer inspection doesn't support this way of reading him, but it's very tempting. What he actually means, in my reading, is that *being* a spade is possible only given the practices of a particular social group. (Or if you prefer trains to spades, *being* the 8:15 to Paris.) He's making an *ontological* claim, not an epistemological one. His ontology is one in which there is not just one way to be (substance), let alone two (substance; mind). He has a social ontology, in which cultures define the multiple ways that things (people, events, artifacts) can be.

That's not to say issues of meaning (significance) don't arise. They do, but they're not primary. It may be the case that one particular 8:15 to Paris has special significance to some people (or even just one person) because, for example, it was the one on which Lenin travelled to a conference with the Mensheviks. But that depends on it already being the 8:15 to Paris. Its meaning doesn't define its being.

Now (finally!) we can understand why Mike can talk to his students about unicorns. In our culture, being fictional is one way to be. We all know, without thinking about it, that we will never see a fictional character such as a unicorn, but we know, equally, that they are good. Unicorns don't actually exist, but they don't actually not exist, either. Their ontological status differs from both these alternatives.

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