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Re: [xmca] Discussion of T&S

Hi Steve,

Good questions, and I won't claim to have all the answers.

> One question to ask: What is Vygotsky's distinction between the meanings of the terms "unit" and "unity"?

Somewhere in his excellent triangulated translation, David K notes LSV using two distinct words for unit and unity, if I remember correctly. I'll look for that passage.

> A second question:  In these various descriptions of the unity-pairs that compose word meaning, was it Vygotsky's intention to suggest that they are essentially synonymous, that is, are they referring to essentially the same processes?

My reply to this question will not, I think, surprise you. My interpretation continues to be that LSV refers to a unity where two phenomena (often processes) come together to form something new which has properties different from both of them. To return to the familiar analogy, hydrogen and oxygen form a unity in water, which is a liquid when they are both gases. So no, the two terms are not synonymous. 

Or perhaps your question is whether each *pair* of processes is synonymous with each other pair? If that is the question, then I would say, not necessarily. The claim that word-meaning is a unity of thinking and speaking is not the same claim as saying it is a unity of generalization and communication. I think it varies from case to case.

> A third question: This one relates to the discussion of the "psychological aspects" of word meaning.  In each of these unities, there appears to be both a material and ideal aspect, or more roughly, both an external and internal aspect, or put still another way, both a social and a psychological aspect.  Was this Vygotsky's intention?
I find this third question the most interesting. My reading is that in writing of word-meaning LSV was focusing our attention on a material artifact - spoken language - and arguing that it carries a form, an ideal aspect. I suspect that this is the implication of his use of the notion of word-meaning that is so disorienting. There is a Platonic tradition, continued by Kantianism and cognitive science, that can only understand form, the ideal, as something imposed on matter by mind; as the shape given to objectivity by subjectivity. This is Husserl's meaning-constitutive act of consciousness, for instance. But you remember our discussion of Ilyenkov's text, "The concept of the ideal"? I'll permit myself one brief quotation:

"Of course, it would be absurd and quite inadmissible from the standpoint of any type of materialism to talk about anything “ideal” where no thinking individual (“thinking” in the sense of “mental” or “brain” activity) is involved. ... It does not follow from this, however, that in the language of modern materialism the term “ideal” equals “existing in the consciousness”, that it is the name reserved for phenomena located in the head, in the brain tissue, where, according to the ideas of modern science, “consciousness” is realised."

In borrowing (for it's clear he didn't invent it) the notion of word-meaning as the inner form of the word, LSV is, it seems to me, proposing that there is an ideal side to language that is in noone's head (or mind; or consciousness). The child has to develop in order to be able to grasp this external ideal.

That means that ideal/material doesn't map neatly onto external/internal, or social/psychological. Word-meaning is 'internal' to the word, but is social and objective - or at least intersubjective - and so external to the child. At least at first. It is also why word-meaning is not concept, because for LSV at least (as I read him) concept is an element of the individual thinking that the child slowly becomes capable of. Perhaps this is why Anna, who wants to locate thinking in social, communicative activity, if I understand her correctly, does not see a distinction between the two (word-meaning and concept). But I'm pretty sure that LSV does. 


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