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Re: [xmca] The strange situation
David, thanks again for these extremely useful files of your
translations of T&S from Meccaci, Seve, Prout, and your Korean team.
I am in awe of the work you did, and are still doing.
I thought where we got stuck last year was on that pesky creature from
Ch 5, the 'potential concept,' not the clearer concept,
'pseudoconcept'. I think Vygotsky leaves no doubt that the
pseudoconcept is a complex. I am still struggling with precisely what
a potential concept is.
Both complicated concepts, potential concept and pseudoconcept, seem
to be subsumed into the Ch 6 term 'preconcept'. That move gives us a
simpler term, but leaves many questions unanswered. It leaves us
little choice but to investigate concept formation ourselves.
Martin, I would be most interested, when you have the time, if you
took your recent very excellent questions and reframed them, or more
precisely, sharpened them, in light of Ch 6. I think some important
work can be done analyzing Ch 5 in terms of Ch 6 - and looking at Ch
6, especially section 6, in terms of Ch 5.
Apparently about 3, 4 or 5 years did separate the main writing of
these two chapters, as you and Paula suggest. On one hand, there is
an explosion of ideas in Ch 6 sect 6 that are barely touched on or
anticipated in Ch 5. On the other hand, the rich, specific ideas in
Ch 5 are insufficiently dealt in light of the new, general ideas in Ch
6 sect 6. Vygotsky left that challenge to us as well.
On Mar 24, 2010, at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
Last night I showed a picture of an iguana to my graduate seminar
and asked what it was. Everybody said it was an ALLIGATOR. This is
strange, because the word "iguana" exists as a loan word from
English in Korean, and in fact everybody confirmed that they knew
the word, but the word "alligator" does not exist in Korean and
instead we use a Chinese loan word (literally, "evil fish").
What this means is that my grads have the WORD but not the CONCEPT
of Iguana--it is an example of a concept for others but not for
myself. This is not the only situation where that is true, of
course. For example, the words "Miss" and "Mister" also exist in
Korean as loan words, but they are quite impolite and used to refer
to social inferiors (bar girls, prostitutes, secretaries or waiters
or male underlings of one kind or another). Here too the concept of
the English polite form of address exists as a word but not as a
Last year I suggested to Steve that in Chapter Six Vygotsky uses the
word "preconcept" to refer to this situation, and that therefore the
word "preconcept" is used in preference to "pseudoconcept" in
Chapter Six. Steve objected that Chapter Five clearly says that a
pseudoconcept is not a concept at all, but a complex, while Chapter
Six says that it is indeed a concept, although not a concept for
I'm still unconvinced. As Steve says there really IS a shift of
opinion on a number of issues in Chapter Six (the carry over from
one structure of generalization to another, for example, and also
the issue of whether concepts can be taught to pre-adolescents). The
word "pseudoconcept", which is so misleading that it even confuses
LSV himself sometimes, is not LSV's coinage; he took it from the
Sterns,who took it from somebody else.
So it seems to me that "pseudoconcept" in Chapter Five is a concept
for others (for the Sterns), and it only becomes a concept for LSV
himself in Chapter Six!
Seoul National University of Education
Attached is OUR re-reading of Chapter Six, here in Seoul.Sorry about
--- On Wed, 3/24/10, Martin Packer <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 12:57 PM
I've been putting off re-reading chapter 6, but I have to bite the
bullet soon. I was thinking that trying to figure out what LSV had
come up with and written about in chap 5 (and Paula has pointed out
that he seems to have had this figured out by 1930) would itself be
valuable. But you make a cogent argument.
On Mar 24, 2010, at 1:39 PM, Steve Gabosch wrote:
These are really, really good questions, Martin. All worth very
My take on Chapter 5, after doing some study of it, and Chapter 6,
last year with David Ke. and Paula T., and some discussion here on
xmca, is that Ch 5 might be best understood in terms of Chapter 6,
especially section 6 starting on pg 224 of Vol 1. Here Vygotsky
gets to his major theoretical discussion of systems of concepts,
and critiques the limitations of the block experiments on page 228
He explains that the block experiment "ignored the fact that **each
new stage in the development of generalization depends on the
generalizations found in the preceding stages.**" pg 229. He was
critical of the block experiment not revealing connections or
transitions between the stages of concept development. He felt he
was able to reveal these connections with the experiments described
in Chapter 6.
It is important to emphasize that he does not at all **reject** the
work described in Chapter 5 - the syncretic heap, complexes, and
what he now calls preconcepts (was pseudoconcepts), and true
concepts, are still intact - but he **adds** a whole new level of
theorizing that he saw as crucial - suggestions for solutions to
"the central problem" of his research in Chapter 6, involving
systems and relationships of generality, the law of concept
equivalence (any concept can be represented through other concepts
in an infinite number of ways), measures of generality, systems of
concepts, etc. Vygotsky's most advanced thinking about concept
formation is here in this section. And some of your very good
questions are addressed.
This is why I think that Chapter 5 needs to be seen as something of
a building block toward section 6 in Chapter 6, and that it might
be easier to read Chapter 6 sect 6 first and work backwards, or
work them together as one study. And don't forget that Vygotsky's
publisher or maybe even Vygotsky himself got longitude and latitude
backwards in the globe metaphor when he explains the law of concept
equivalence! (pg 226) LOL
Chapter 6 as a whole, of course, has much material on everyday vs
scientific concepts, as well as the oft-quoted passages on the zone
of proximal development, so that difficult section 6 in Ch 6 kind
of gets overshadowed, and maybe a little disconnected from Chapter
5. The two need to be dialectically joined, I believe, to really
grasp what Vygotsky was trying to do in both chapters. And there
is also some discussion on pg 189 in section 2 in Chapter 6, and
maybe a few other places in that chapter, about complexes and so
forth, that may also shed some helpful light on some specifics in
On Mar 23, 2010, at 1:25 PM, Martin Packer wrote:
I am taking the liberty of recycling this subject heading, after
having spent some time re-reading the posts over the weekend. I
seem to have played a large part in hijacking this thread some
time last year, with my obsession over the meaning of the term
So this message is partly penance, but it also me trying to make
sense of LSV's block task and what it tells us about his views of
concepts, and their development. I find myself with the following
1. It seems to be the case that in chapter 5 LSV doesn't mention
the distinction between everyday concepts and scientific concepts.
Is it at all possible that what in chapter 6 he calls "everyday
concepts" are what he refers to in chapter 5 as complexes? I
suspect not, but the question seems worth asking.
2. LSV seems to offer not one but two explanations of how the
child (or rather the adolescent) forms concepts. The first
explanation is that concepts arise from the advanced application
of the processes of generalization and abstraction, specifically
that the word is now used functionally for voluntary control of
attention, permitting a mastery of these processes. The second
explanation is based on the phenotypical identity and functional
similarity of concepts and pseudoconcepts. The latter are actually
complexes, but they look like concepts and so when child and adult
interact the adult takes them to be concepts. The child is in a
sense then using concepts without knowing it, and LSV appeals to
the familiar Hegelian process of in-itself, for-others, for-self,
to explain how this "internal contradiction"is the "basic genetic
prerequisite" for the rise of true concepts.
I'm not suggesting that these two explanations are incompatible or
mutually exclusive. But LSV does not seem to try to bring them
3. In other words, this second explanation is another case of
"internalization," and the application of the general genetic law
of cultural development. But LSV adds that this "peculiar genetic
situation" in the move from pseudoconcepts to concepts should be
considered the general rule rather than the exception in
children's intellectual development. Does this not suggest that
this same kind of process occurs as the child moves from heaps to
4. Generalization and abstraction are the two "channels" in the
development of concepts - LSV refers to them also as "complexing"
and "segregating." The first is very familiar by the time we get
to chapter 5: he has been writing about the way a word is a
generalization since the start (this is where as David has pointed
out we find the quotation from Sapir.) But abstraction seems to
appear out of nowhere. Is there a treatment of abstraction/
segregating elsewhere in the book that I have missed?
5. LSV seems to get to the end of chapter 5 without ever telling
us exactly what a concept it. He suggests that it involves
hierarchy, and connections that are abstract, essential, and
homogeneous. He proposes that particular and general are linked.
He adds that "most important" is "the unity of form and content,"
for this is what makes thinking in concepts a "real revolution."
Can anyone pull these somewhat diverse (complexive?)
characteristics together for me? Do they harmonize with the
treatment of concepts (of both kinds) in chapter 6?
6. Finally, less a question than an observation. LSV writes at the
close of chapter 5 of the way that “Concept thinking is a new form
of intellectual activity, a new mode of conduct, a new
intellectual mechanism. The intellect is able to find a new and
unprecedented modus operandi in this particular activity and a new
function becomes available within the system of intellectual
functions which is distinctive both in its composition and
structure as well as in the way it functions.” I take this as a
clear indication that for LSV a concept is not simply a new kind
of mental representation. It is, as Rosch proposes, a new way of
relating to the world.
Any guidance through this thicket will be gratefully accepted!
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