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Re: [xmca] Generality Is Not Abstraction
Yes, I agree. The globe is NOT monotonic. It also has the advantage of being, as Vygotsky points out, not linear, so that a given conceptual area one degree square which is near the pole is infinitely small and the same conceptual area one degree square near the equator is vast.
I admit, you appear to have Vygotsky on your side. He does say this:
"If we represent, conventionally, all concepts as all the points on the surface of the earth between the North and South Poles, to a certain degree of longitude between the pole of immediate, sensory, concrete apprehension of the object and that of the concept at its maximum of generalization, the limit of its abstraction, we may then designate as the longitude (sic) of the given concept the position that it occupies between the pole of thinking (mysl) about the object which is the most concrete and that of abstract thinking."
That "maximum of generalization" and "limit of abstraction" clearly suggests that generalization and abstraction are one and the same thing.
But elsewhere he says, equally clearly, that they are different. For example, in Chapter Five, "generalized representations" are counterposed to "abstract concepts". On p. 157 (of your Minick) he says that analysis is partitioning, siolation analysis, abstraction and that this is completely new to the child; it has nothing in common with the previously described process of generalization and commonality. On p. 159 (of your Minick) we are told that abstraction of features is one of two processes in concept formation, the other of which is generalized representation.
He also makes a distinction between "rising to the concrete" through abstraction and "raising to a level of commonality" when he's talking about the water molecule and the method of analysis into units in Chapter One and again in Chapter Seven.
"This analysis of the subject matter actually before psychology is also converted into its opposite; instead of leading us to an explanation of the concrete and specific properties of the studied whole, it raises this whole to the level of more general commonality, to the level of that which is capable of explaining to us only something relating to speech and thinking in their entirety, in their abstract universality, outside the possibility of understanding the concrete regularities which interest us."
In English, generality and abstraction are hopelessly confused. Morphologically, we use the plural to express the ideal concept of an object (e.g. "I like apples"). Lexically, we use non-objects to express both generality and abstraction (e.g. "flower" or "furniture" or "animal"). Syntactically, we use conditionals to express both generality and abstraction.
But it seems to me that they are different, and that the difference is the key to understanding why Vygotsky considers only analysis into units to be abstraction; analysis into elements is nothing but raising something to a level of generality.
I agree with you (and with Vygotsky) that abstraction has something to do with the denial of one content at the expense of other content. In the case of number, it is quality and eventually quantity which is denied. In "furniture", what happens is that the specific content of chairness is denied, in the same way as I deny my brother when I say that my brother has a brother too.
But it seems to me that generality has to do with inclusiveness. That is, "flower" is more inclusive than "rose", and "furniture" is more inclusive than "chair". It is not true to say (for example) that "furniture" has less content than "chair" simply because that content is not so easy to draw or paint. And a conditional sentence like "The student who has the most cards will win the game" is just at least as rich in content as "I win", because it includes it.
That's why (it seems to me) complexive thinking is based on generality and not on abstraction. Only conceptual thinking is based on both. English is an essentially COMPLEXIVE language; the abstract universal is always just thought of as a whole lotta stuff and not as an ideal universal.
Seoul National University of Education
--- On Tue, 6/8/10, Martin Packer <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
From: Martin Packer <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Generality Is Not Abstraction
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tuesday, June 8, 2010, 10:34 AM
I don't think one can say that generalization is "somewhere in the middle." LSV proposes that as we ascend from the concrete to the abstract, from the "concrete idea" to the "abstract idea," at each point we have a unity of abstract and concrete which amounts to a kind (and degree) of generalization. But this has the character not of a monotonic increase, but a curve that LSV tries to convey through the shape of the sphere. That is to say, at first the unity is richer, but after reaching a maximum it begins to decrease in richness. The most concrete of ideas can be expressed in only one way, so there are no relations of generality. The most abstract of ideas (LSV's example is number) can be expressed in an infinite variety of ways, but here too there are no relations of generality, because all these expressions grasp the world in the same way. But at all points there is generalization, not just in the middle. As he says, the (North) pole is the "very
maximum of generalization,... the limit of abstraction."
On Jun 7, 2010, at 8:40 PM, David Kellogg wrote:
> And where is generality? Ah, that is lies somewhere in the middle, where words are used to include the most variegated objects and their ideal representations and actions and processes, all of which are expressible in a myriad but not an infinity of different ways. And out of this chaos, Mozart, and Mendelssohn and later Beethoven, who were after all musicians of Kant's and Hegel's historical moment, can precipitate precise oppositions and concepts.
> David Kellogg
> Seoul National University of Education
> xmca mailing list
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