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Re: [xmca] fetishism

Andy, when you say:

Steve, I think it is not so much what something is, still less what it is made of, but rather how it can be understood and how it is constituted.

... the difference you suggest here appears to be that you prioritize social consciousness **over** objective reality. Where you prefer to say "not so much" and "still less" I prefer to say "just as much" and "also," and where you prefer to say "rather," I prefer to say "and." I'd prefer to say something more like this: "it is just as much what something is, and also what it is made of, and how it can be understood." (I don't understand what you mean by the term "constituted" here - it could mean several different things - but I believe your meaning in the rest of your statement is clear.)

This philosophical difference in perspectives we seem to have regarding the relationship of social consciousness and objective reality can get masked somewhat by the terminology of activity theory, since practice by nature involves both social consciousness and objective reality. It is possible for people with a variety of views on this relationship to agree over similar statements involving the term "practice."

So we need to penetrate a little deeper to understand some of the differences between the various perspectives on this relationship. Let's consider some of Vygotsky's insights.

Vygotsky offers some thoughts on this question of prioritizing social consciousness over objective reality in his assessment of Piaget. In T&S Ch 2, Vygotsky was sharply critical of Piaget for taking this position.

However, in Piaget's case, it was not just a case of "prioritizing" social consciousness over reality. In Vygotsky's view, Piaget took an even stronger position: in regard to child development, Piaget **counterposed** the role of social consciousness, the interaction of "pure" consciousnesses, to reality.

These quotes capture Vygotsky's basic philosophical criticism of Piaget. Please allow me take a few moments to set up a couple longer quotes by LSV. These passages are all from from Vol 1, T&S, Ch 2, p 84-87.

Vygotsky makes this interesting point in Ch 2.7 (Vol 1 p 84):

"Piaget ... asserts that reality is much less real for the child than it is for us."

Next are some passages from the beginning of Ch 2.8 (Vol 1 p 85).

"Earlier, we attempted to show" that Piaget's conception of the socialization of the child "can be criticized from the perspective of developmental theory."

"A second feature" in Piaget's viewpoint "is basic" to his analysis of the process of socialization.

"In Piaget's view, socialization is the only source of the development of logical thinking."

Vygotsky quotes Piaget: "things are not sufficient in themselves to make the mind feel any need for verification, since things themselves have been made by my mind" (1928, p. 203)."

Vygotsky continues.

"To say this is to suggest that things (i.e. objective external reality) play no decisive role in the development of the child's thinking."

Vygotsky offers a longer quote by Piaget, which includes this sentence:

""The social need to share the thought of others and to communicate our own with success is at the root of our need for verification."" (quote was from Piaget, 1928, p. 204 )

Vygotsky comments, including a rare exclamation point:

"One could not more clearly express the concept that the need for logical thought, or the need for the knowledge of truth itself, emerges in the interaction between the consciousness of the child and the consciousness of others. Philosophically, this argument is reminiscent of the perspective of Durkheim and other sociologists who derive space, time and objective from the social life of man!"

LSV continues his critique of Piaget's perspective. Vygotsky compares Piaget's views to a form of subjective idealism:

"It is similar to A. A. Bogdanov's argument that objective, physical reality is shared-meaning, the argument that the objective nature of the physical entity that we encounter in our experience is, ultimately, established by mutual agreement or assessment in people's utterances. It is similar to the general concept that the physical world is a function of social agreement, that it is socially harmonious and socially organized experience."

Vygotsky begins Chapter 2.9 (Vol 1 p 87) with more on this point.

"In concluding, we must pose the question of what is central and basic to Piaget's overall conception one last time. We would suggest that the absence of two factors is fundamental to Piaget's conception. One senses the absence of these factors with Piaget's first discussion of the narrow issue of egocentric speech. What is missing, then, in Piaget's perspective is reality and the child's relationship to that reality. What is missing is the child's practical activity. This is fundamental."

LSV continues, emphasizing how Piaget counterposes (that is, does not just prioritize) the child's socialization to his or her encounters with reality.

"Even the socialization of the child's thinking is analyzed by Piaget outside the context of practice. It is isolated from reality and treated as the pure interaction or communication of minds. It is this kind of socialization which in Piaget's view leads to the development of thought."

I especially like Vygotsky's next point about the view that truth lies in accommodation. In Piaget's view:

"The apprehension of truth, and the logical forms that make this knowledge possible, arise not in the practical mastery of reality but in the accommodation of the ideas of one individual to those of another."

And an even more succinct summary statement:

"To a great extent, Piaget repeats Bogdanov's position that truth is socially organized experience ..."

Vygotsky concludes:

"This attempt to derive the child's logical thinking and his development from a pure interaction of consciousnesses -- an interaction that occurs in complete isolation from reality or any consideration of the child's social practice directed toward the mastery of reality -- is the central element of Piaget's entire construction."

- Steve

On Apr 23, 2011, at 2:07 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Steve, I think it is not so much what something is, still less what it is made of, but rather how it can be understood and how it is constituted.


Steve Gabosch wrote:
If I may insert myself into your conversation with Martin ... My answer to your question, Andy, is that up to a restricted point, you are correct in your implication, and so the answer is no, no social formation can be anything other than actions or activities. For exactly the same reason, however, it is equally true to say that no social formation can be anything other than matter and energy.

The problem with using the "activity" framework - or in my more absurd example, a framework based on physics - is that we can lose sight of the specific laws of motion and development relevant to psychological processes when we reduce these processes to the laws of motion and development of less complex and more general processes, such as activity.

This does not at all mean that the activity framework, activity theory, is not very useful. I see it as a potent way of grasping human biological, social and psychological processes in a given situation all at once by keeping track of external aspects of motives, subjects, objects, and contexts.

But activity theory and its units of analysis (for example, the act) are not necessarily adequate for studying specifically psychological processes. So statements like "concepts are acts," and "concepts are made from matter and energy" are technically true, but not necessarily adequate for trying to understand concepts psychologically.

At the same time, concepts, like everything else, do simultaneously exist on many levels of existence, and therefore must "obey" the various laws of motion and development specific to multiple realms of reality - such as matter and energy, neurobiology, human history and activity, and individual psychology. This is part of what makes psychology so complex - with its object of study being under the sway of so many levels of reality at once, it is, arguably, the most complex science in the known universe.

A great deal of debate that takes place among scientists, philosophers and theorists seems to pertain to examining the various sciences, disciplines, sub-disciplines and theories that investigate the many realms and sub-realms of reality - while **counterposing** them against one another.

The trick, in my view, is to see them all as necessary (at least at some point in history), and all having something to contribute - while remembering to keep track of their limitations. We need to learn how to coordinate all these perspectives like an orchestra - and not see them as a perpetual brawl or war zone.

Vygotsky, in my view was a genius at understanding this, which is one of the many things I get out of studying him.

- Steve

On Apr 23, 2011, at 12:16 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Marx says:

 "There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes,
 in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In
 order, therefore, to find an analogy, we must have recourse to the
 mist-enveloped regions of the religious world. In that world the
 productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed
 with life, and entering into relation both with one another and the
 human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products
 of men’s hands. This I call the Fetishism which attaches itself to
the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities."

It seems to me that if meaning is not an act carried out using an artefact such as a word or gesture, which is then "endowed" with meaning, then, like linguistists we must assume that the word "contains" or "has" meaning, just as a commodity "has" value. (Thanks to good old Moses Hess for this insight.) Then, to use Marx's phrase, we "make language into an independent realm."

In your book, Martin, you do a passably good job of explaining this. When you say that "Marx's method was to take a single but central unit of the society of his time, the commodity form. ..." you seem, like me, to be taking the "commodity form" as a /unit of a social formation/, not of a thing. Can a unit of any social formation be anything other than actions or activities?


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