Take a look at these. The translations are my own but the page numbers
suggest the corresponding bits in your Minick translation.
“We have first of all succeeded in discovering that /generality
/(differences in generality) /does not coincide with the structure of
generalization and its different stages /such as we found them in our
experimental study on the formation of concepts: syncretic images,
complexes, preconcepts, and concepts. (roughly, p. 225 in your Minick)”
You can see from this that "preconcepts" is NOT a general term including
syncretisms, complexes any more than "rose" is a general term including
daisies and daffodils.
“In the first place, concepts of different generality are possible in a
same generalization structure. For example, in the structure of concepts
by complexes it is possible for concepts of different levels of
generality to exist: flower, and rose. In truth, we must state a
reservation from the very outset, that is to say that the relationship
of generalization ”flower-rose” will be different in each structure of
generalization, for example, different in the structure of complexes
from in the structure of preconcepts.” (225)
We can see from this that LSV does NOT consider a preconcept to be a
“Thanks to the analysis of the real concepts of the child, we have been
able to study some less well-known properties of syncretic formations,
complexes, and preconcepts and to establish what in each of these
spheres of thinking is shown to be different in the relationship with
the object as well as the apprehension of the object by thought, that is
to say, how the two fundamental elements which characterize concepts are
revealed to be different from one stage to another.” (228)
Once again, "preconcepts" are not the preconceptual functional
equivalents of concepts (that is, they are not a hypernym for syncretic
heaps and complexes). But here Vygotsky suggests that there are two
processes and not one at work in concept formation.
One is indeed a form of activity: it's a relationship with the object,
e.g. ostension, indication, and naming. But the other is "the
apprehension of the object by thought", the way in which the object is
represented (reflected/refracted/semiotically reproduced) by the mind.
“What we have managed to establish here with respect to the passage
from the preconcepts of the schoolchild to the concepts of the
adolescent is the same thing that we managed to establish in the
preceding study with respect to the passage of generalized perceptions
to general representations, that is to say syncretic formations and
This appears to be a direct reference to Chapter Five. In 1931, LSV
considered this to be a study of concept formation in ADOLESCENTS. But
now he appears to have changed his mind: the previous chapter is
concerned with the passage from generalized perceptions to general
representations, and is thus a matter of preschoolers. This is quite
consistent with what Paula did with three year olds to eight year olds.
“Just as in that case it turned out that a new stage in the development
of generalizations can only be attained by the transformation, not the
annulment, of the preceding stage, by the generalization of the objects
already generalized, not by proceeding anew from the generalization of
single objects, in the same way here the study has shown that the
transition from preconcepts (of which the typical example is the
arithmetical concept of the school child) to the true concepts of the
adolescent (of which the typical example is the algebraic concept)
happens through the generalization of objects which have already been
And here we see why! The generalized perception is the PRECONDITION of
the general representation. And the general representation is the
precondition of the concept. The example he gives us is numbers.
Of course, at the very lowest level, numbers really are the result of
the activity of the perceptible and perceptual activity of counting. But
take away the objects, and the number remains as a generalized
representation. And when we take away the number, and deal only with the
realtion of number, the concept remains.
"The preconcept is the abstraction of the number, detached from the
object and, founded on this abstraction, the generalization of the
numerical properties of the object. The concept is the abstraction
detached from the number and, founded on it, the generalization of any
relation between numbers. But the abstraction and generalization of
ideas differs fundamentally from the abstraction and the generalization
of things. It is not a pursuit of movement in the same direction or its
culmination, it is the beginning of a movement in a new direction, a
transition to a new and higher plane of thinking. (230)"
This of course returns us to a point that Vygotsky made in the very
first chapter and returns again to in the very last: the "dialectical
leap" is not simply from inanimate to animate, but from perception to
There is a qualitative difference between the abstraction and
generalization of perceptions and the abstraction and generalization of
thoughts; they are distinct processes, and the word "activity" applies
much more accurately to the former than the latter.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On *Wed, 3/24/10, Andy Blunden /<email@example.com>/* wrote:
From: Andy Blunden <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 9:30 PM
Steve, briefly and without references, my take was:
* *preconcepts* are a family name for all the thought-forms prior to
true concepts and so includes potential concepts, pseduoconcepts,
* *potential concepts* are, as far as I can, see the highest type of
pseudoconcept, marked by its "transferability" to different sensory
fields. Here the attributes have been completely isolated from their
* *complex* is a family name for a whole group of forms including
both pseudo- and potential concepts.
Steve Gabosch wrote:
> 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.
> - Steve
> On Mar 24, 2010, at 5:35 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
>> Martin, Steve:
>> 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 myself.
>> 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!
>> David Kellogg
>> Seoul National University of Education
>> Attached is OUR re-reading of Chapter Six, here in Seoul.Sorry
about the Korean!
>> --- On Wed, 3/24/10, Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org
>> From: Martin Packer <email@example.com
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] The strange situation
>> To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org
>> Date: Wednesday, March 24, 2010, 12:57 PM
>> Thanks, Steve,
>> 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 serious exploration.
>>> 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 and 229.
>>> 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
>>> - Steve
>>> 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 together.
>>>> 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 complexes?
>>>> 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
>>>> Any guidance through this thicket will be gratefully accepted!
>>>> xmca mailing list
>>> xmca mailing list
>> xmca mailing list
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Andy Blunden http://www.erythrospress.com/
Classics in Activity Theory: Hegel, Leontyev, Meshcheryakov,
Ilyenkov $20 ea
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