[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [xmca] The strange situation

On Apr 15, 2010, at 8:02 AM, Larry Purss wrote:

> My question, and I have no answer,  is when concepts are forming [latitude and longitude coordinates] and  with higher mental functions include an "expanding metaphorical globe" [horizon of understanding] how is the person-in-the-world doing the co-ordinating. 


I think this is a very interesting question. As you know, in the two chapters I sent around I drew a distinction between two approaches to constitution. One maintains that each individual constitutes their own reality, in the form of a mental model, a cognitive representation of the world around them. The second maintains that both people and artifacts (and our knowledge of them) are constituted in social practices. The first is by far the most common, runs through most of cognitive science, and is the standard Piagetian view (I would say, a propos of another thread, that both constructivism and constructionism (in both individual and social forms) fall into this second category, since they both focus on the construction of representations of reality, though they differ on whether these representations are in the mind or in language.) The biggest problem with the first approach is that there is no way of knowing if a mental model is accurate or not.

Of course I would like to locate LSV in the second approach, and much of what he writes suggests that he is. But chapter 6 of T&L strains this way of reading him more than any other of his texts that I have encountered. He seems to be writing about systems of representation, and their changing organization over ontogenesis. Where are these systems? I asked my students and the most interesting suggestion was that they are in the social consciousness. But LSV himself writes that they are "in the child," or even (in some translations) "in the head"!

I have been trying to trace the origins of LSV's claim that there are two elements to every concept (here he uses the term concept to mean any kind of representation, whether it is formed and used in syncretic heaps, in complexes, or in concepts), namely the act of thought and the grasp of reality. I suggested in an earlier message that they resembled Husserl's 'noema' and 'noesis.' It turns out that one of the few Russians who wrote about Husserl was Gustav Shpet, who was teaching at the University of Moscow while LSV was a student there from 1914-1917. (Shpet and Chelpanov, director of the Moscow Institute of Psychology, taught seminars on Husserl which were attended by Alexie Losev, who graduated in 1915, two years before LSV. I've not been able to find documentation that LSV attended these seminars, but would be hard to believe he didn't).

In 1914 Shpet published Appearance & Sense (Iavlenie i smysl), which was based on Husserl's writing and a year (1912-1913) he spent studying with Husserl in Gottingen. He emphasized the distinction that Husserl had drawn between *acts of consciousness* and the *object of consciousness.* 

But Shpet interpreted Husserl's phenomenology as an *ontological* investigation, when Husserl himself was increasingly claiming that it was the study of the constitutive activity of consciousness (the "sense-bestowing" character of consciousness). Apparently a number of Husserl's students in Gottingen were reluctant to follow this move in his thinking, and they developed instead an ontologically realist interpretation of phenomenology. Shpet was among those who did not adopt Husserl's "transcendental idealism." He seems to have criticized both Husserl and Kant for simply taking for granted that humans have cognition about the world, and not asking how this is possible, or what other kinds of relatedness this cognitive faculty is based on. (In other words, as I put it in my chapters, he asked "What more?") Cognition should be seen, he argued, as a mode of being, one which makes contact with other modes of being (objects, cultural signs). The character of this contact is what needs to be explored. 

To try to put this in simpler terms, while Husserl was trying to study the way objects are constructed and given sense *by* consciousness, Shpet believed that phenomenology could study how human consciousness grasps the sense that is *in* objects, intrinsically. Husserl would have hated this approach and surely would have rejected it as psychologism. But it's importance for understanding T&L is that LSV was probably exposed to a treatment of noema and noesis, that is to say, the object of consciousness and the act of consciousness of an object, in the context of a project to study how people know *real* objects. Importantly, the latter included, as far as Shpet was concerned, words and other signs. Shpet argued that Husserl had neglected these kinds of object, and that to study the character of our consciousness of signs a study of "hermeneutic acts" would be necessary. He went on to write a book titled "The Internal Form of the Word" (and he must have been working on this text while LSV was a student at the University of Moscow). 

All this does not yet provide a way of reading LSV that shows that in chapter 6 he was (still?) indeed concerned with constitution in the sense of a mutual formation of  culture and person. But it does suggest that just because he (apparently) was drawing on the Husserlian concepts of noema and noesis does not mean he was following the first approach to constitution, where the world is only known as a mental model. More work needs to be done here, for sure. 

xmca mailing list