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Re: [xmca] concepts

I'd like to mount a defence of continuing to use "concept" in my work, for its own value, rather than to maintain links with people still trapped in the use of "old language." Following Steve, I will include lots of quotes from LSV because I think people like to have original quotes to refer to, even when the interlocurtor is talking nonsense, as may be the case here.

Part of my motivation is expressed well by Marx when he said:

   "One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to
   descend from the world of thought to the actual world. /Language /is
   the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given
   thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make
   language into an independent realm" (German Ideology, ch 3).

I can see the problem linguists have in incorporating "concepts" into their system of concepts (or "into their language"), because as I see it, "concept" is not a concept of linguistics, but rather is a unit of an entire social formation. As such, they are acquired by thinking and expressed in language, but fundamentally, "concept" is a concept which belongs to the unity of thinking and activity, not linguistics.

When Jay gave us (on my request) a Linguistics 101 list of the "concepts" of linguistics, he explained that each of the distinctions reflected the resolution of disputes which had arisen in the past within the formation. Of course. Which nicely illustrates what Vygotsky calls a concept (in its true rather than embryonic sense).

   "Concepts are always formed during a process of finding a solution
   to some problem facing the adolescent’s thinking process. The
   creation of the concept is dependent on a solution to this problem
   being found" (Vygotsky Reader p. 257-8).

   "The concept is formed only with the emergence of a need that can be
   satisfied in the concept, only in the process of some meaningful
   goal-oriented activity directed on the attainment of a particular
   goal or the resolution of a definite task" (Vol. 1, p 127).

   "The /functional conditions of the concept’s origins /are ... in
   connection with a particular task or need that arises in thinking,
   in connection with understanding or communication and with the
   fulfillment of a task or instruction that cannot be carried out
   without the formation of the concept"  (Vol. 1, p. 123).

   "the concept exists only within a general structure of judgments,
   that it exists only as an inseparable part of that structure" (Vol.
   1, p. 164).

Thinking and speech do not coincide and nor do language-use and activity.

   “The word is comparable to the living cell in that it is a unit of
   sound and meaning that contains – in simple form – all the
   characteristics of the integral development of verbal thinking” (T&S 1)

    “The units of thought and speech do not coincide. The two processes
   manifest a unity but not an identity. ... thought does not
   immediately coincide with verbal expression ...What is contained
   simultaneously in thought unfolds sequentially in speech ...
   Therefore, thought is never the direct equivalent of word meanings”
   (T&S 7).

   "all the higher mental functions are mediated processes. A central
   and basic aspect of their structure is the use of the sign as a
   means of directing and mastering mental processes. In the problem of
   interest to us, the problem of concept formation, this sign is the
   word. The word functions as the means for the formation of the
   concept. Later, it becomes its symbol. (Vol, 1, Ch 5)

So, while I can see that it is not possible to transform "concept" into the language of linguistics, "concept" is one of the things that people talk about and orient their activity towards, and therefore concepts make their appearance in language. I think it is in the dissonant unity of words and other symbols and artefacts, activity, including speech-use and thinking, that concept exist.

What do you think?

Jay Lemke wrote:
I agree that there is  both a rhetorical-political dimension to the issue of "concepts" and a theoretical one. If you're talking to people who don't have any other way to make sense of some things except with a notion of "concepts", then you have to create some hybrid third-space or translation bridge or common pool in which to swim communicatively. ...

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