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

Re: [xmca] activity (was concepts)

Anna, I disagree with a number of the points you make. Very briefly.

* Wittgenstein is nice, but I am interested in Vygotsky not LW. I think LSV is far deeper. Though of course others are more than welcome to use LW's concepts if they so desire. * I'd be interested in the source for your claim that "concept" was his unit of analysis for development. * The quotes you give seem to confirm for me that as a unit of an activity, "act" is exactly the right term for his use of "word meaning." * I'd be interested in your source for "word unit" being replaced by "word concept" as his "official" unit in his study of intellectual development and when "word unit" or "word concept" were the unit of anything. * I think most terms and concepts we use connote things rather than processes, activities or relations. Human beings are born realists. If we abandon the process- meaning of words we give up our whole method. * I think "discourse" cannot be a unit of analysis for anything because it is not a single, ie., unit but also history and development do not take place within discourse.

What do you think Anna. Have I understood your meaning correctly?
anna sfard wrote:
Hi Andy, Martin,

How about simply bypassing the word meaning, which reifies/objectifies and makes things difficult to handle and, instead, letting ourselves be inspired by Wittgenstein who famously said that "meaning is the use of word in the language" (Phil. Investigations, 1953/2003, p. 18) Except that I would substitute "language" with "discourse" (or "communication"), because judging from other things Wittgenstein is saying, he meant the activity of using language rather than language as such.
As to Vygotski, here is my exegesis of his position on concept, which was the basic unit of analysis in his developmental studies (T&S, 1987, p. 48). In spite of what Martin said, I do interpret Vygotski as equating concept with "word and its meaning". The passage quoted by Martin, dealing with the subtleties of meaning and sense, does not contradict this equation.  Here is what Vygotsky says about his unit of analysis in T&S:

“‘unit’ is a product of analysis that possesses all the basic characteristics of the whole” (p. 46).
Then he asks:

“Is word meaning speech or thought?” And he answers, ”It is both at the same time; it is a unit of verbal thinking” (p. 47). And he goes even further:
"..it may be appropriate to view word meaning not only as a unity of thinking and speech, but as a unity of generalization and social interaction, a unity of thinking and communication" (p. 49)

Later, the word unit is replaced with the word concept, Vygotsky's "official" unit in his study of intellectual development.

Of course, one can wonder whether concept, thus defined, does its job properly if used as a unit of analysis. I doubt it. It seems that the only way to save the term 'meaning' from leading us astray by its underlying metaphor of object, is to speak about it as the use of word in discourse (not just a single act, Andy; rather, a discursive activity with the word). And this idea, if followed, inevitably leads to the conclusion that discourse (understood as a specific type of communication) is what may usefully be taken as a unit of analysis in developmental (and, obviously, historical) studies.
It would be nice to hear what you and others think.
-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2011 7:51 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] activity (was concepts)

It always seemed to me that "word meaning" is an act, an act of thought and speech using a word.

Martin Packer wrote:
On Apr 20, 2011, at 3:47 PM, Martin Packer wrote:


I don't know, I think LSV makes it pretty clear that word-meaning is not the concept. He criticizes Ach, who:

"identifies concept and word meaning, and thus precludes any possibility of change and development in concepts" (T&S chapter 6, para 16).



I apologise for my curt message earlier today. As it happens I had been sitting in a cafe for a couple of hours musing over this very issue, and when I returned home to read your message I couldn't resist a quick reply.

It seems to me that one way of thinking about what LSV does in T&S is that he defines what word-meaning [Значение] is by explaining successively what it is not. That does seem a bit dialectical, doesn't it? And one of the things that word-meaing is not is concept (ch 7). It is also not sound (preface and ch 1). Is it not objective reference (ch 2).
And I think this clarifies some of the issues in reading the book. For example, when in chapter 5 LSV borrows Frege's & Husserl's distinction between 'sense' and 'reference,' Sinn and Bedeutung should translate as Смысле and Значение, but LSV has the *former* term as Значение. So Frege's distinction becomes 'meaning' and 'objective referent.' Why? Because LSV is using this distinction to make the point that the meaning is not the object the word refers to, which is a commonsense view and also that of several psychologists whose work he is critiquing.

In chapter 7, however, when LSV introduces Paulhan's distinction between 'sense' and 'signification' it is the *latter* term which he calls Значение, while the former is Смысле. Why? Because although LSV gives credit to Paulhan for introducing the distinction, he criticizes him for not solving the problem of the relationship between the two terms. And meaning, for LSV, is neither Paulhan's sense nor his signification.
Here is the paragraph in full:

Our research has been able to establish three fundamental characteristics which are linked amongst themselves and which constitute the originality of the semantic aspect of inner speech. The first fundamental characteristic is the predominance of the sense [смысла] of a word over its meaning [значением] in inner speech. Paulhan has rendered a great service to psychological analysis by introducing the difference between the sense of a word and its meaning. The sense of a word, as Paulhan has demonstrated, represents the ensemble of all of the psychological facts which appear in our consciousness thanks to a word. The sense of a word is in this way a dynamic, fluid, complex semantic formation which has several zones of different stability. The meaning is only one of the areas of sense that the word acquires in a given context, but it is the zone which is most stable, most unified, and most precise. As is well known, a word easily changes its sense in different contexts. The meaning, in contrast, is the immobile and immutable point which remains stable in diverse contexts. This change in sense in the word is what we have established as the fundamental fact in the semantic analysis of speech. The real meaning of a word is not constant. In one operation, the word has one meaning, and in another it takes on a different meaning. This dynamicity of meaning brings us to the problem of Paulhan, that is to say the relationship between meaning and sense. The word, taken by itself in the dictionary, has only one meaning. But this meaning is nothing other than the potential which is realized in living language; this meaning is only the foundation stone of sense.
LSV's word meaning is not signification because it is not a fixed, dictionary definition. But it is not Paulhan's sense either. Sense is an important phenomenon, especially for understanding inner speech and its relation to thought on the one hand and social speech on the other. But it is not word-meaning. For one thing, LSV points out that Paulhan shows that sense can actually be detached from the word.

So here too the emphasis is on what word-meaning is not. Not sense, not sound, not referent, not concept.

xmca mailing list

*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

xmca mailing list