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Re: [xmca] Word Meaning and Action

Nice point, Denise. Funnily enough, as your message came through just as I was reading a passage in Thomas Kuhn's "Scientific Revolutions" in which he talked about "translating" from one system to the other, and I was sitting here wondering what that would entail in this particular dispute. So, your point is right on the spot for me.

But I think the point is that this question of whether thought is an entity existing in the head, or an activity in which people engage, is just one of a million questions in which we can either take something as an entity and ask questions about where it is and what are its properties, its relations to other things, and so on, OR we can take it as an activity and a different set of questions flow. For example, we can divide the world into a subjective world and an objective world and still say all the same things we can say with a vocabulary of activities, but ... and this is the point ... history has proved (as I see it) that viewing the world as made up of entities, which are either objective or subjective, leads to problems, for example, how to correlate the things on one side of the subject-object divide with the things on the other. Are they the same? If so, in what way? Surely this is what Michael was referring to?

Now that view of the world, as subject-things and object-things, continues, and we still manage to live, communicate and do science together. But I am of a view that we could do all these things much more satisfactorily with a view of the world as formed by human activities which are subjective-objective. I accept that there are different views, and different legitimate readings of Vygotsky. At this point though I think we should at least aim for mutual understanding (if not conversion) rather than settling for dismissing the differences as "a nice story".

But at the moment I am being asked to prove that my reading of Vygotsky is legitimate.


Denise Newnham wrote:
I hope that you don't mind me butting in. I wanted to write several times
but had some urgent work to attend to. I think that the main lines of this
argument split hairs and Michael  I tend to agree with you. Mike Cole
mentioned awhile back that he thought that word meaning was a tool to form
concepts (hope I remember correctly) Andy spoke of action and to be quite
honest I defy someone to be able to show when these two notions can be
empirically revealed. If they cannot then it is just a nice story. What do
you think?




From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On
Behalf Of Michael Glassman
Sent: jeudi 16 juin 2011 12:31
To: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: [xmca] Word Meaning and Action


Hi Andy,


This strikes me more an argument about epistemology than word meaning per
se.  Does knowledge or emerge from action (word meaning being part of our
knowledge) or is it a property of the object.  It reminds me very much of
the debate between Dewey and Russell.  But if you really don't have a
defined epistemology and/or it just really isn't that important to your
general scheme, you might tend to go back and forth between the two, without
even realizing it (I know a lot of people do).  My sense has always been
that Vygotsky didn't have a dog in this fight, and the combination of
different perspectives he seemed to embrace, including materialist,
psychological, revolutionary, may have even made it more likely he goes back
and forth.





From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of Andy Blunden
Sent: Thu 6/16/2011 12:44 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [xmca] Word Meaning and Action

Apologies! On further reflection, I can now see that what you want me to
clarify, Martin, is the claim that by "word meaning," Vygotsky means an
"artefact-mediated action," rather than a property (be it psychological
or linguistic) of an artefact.

I will get busy on that,

Andy Blunden wrote:
Martin, before I devote another day to "cherry picking" for this one,
can I try to clarify what I am gathering textual evidence for, please?

You say "It is very clear to me that LSV viewed word-meaning as
objective." This is of course true, but it is equally true that
Vygotsky regarded word meaning as something subjective; word meaning
develops, it has an inner and an outer aspect. So, am I right that I
need to gather quotes which evidence that Vygotsky distinguished
between what Tony called the "potentiality" of a word, and its inner,
or pshycological form?

Is that right?

Martin Packer wrote:

I don't disagree with any of what you have proposed in this message
or the preceding ones. I think it's a very plausible account of sign
use. And I think it is very helpful to introduce such an account. But
there seem to me to be two threads here that are mingling, and it
would be helpful to keep them distinct. I have been trying to figure
out what 'word meaning' meant to Vygotsky. It seems to me we have to
understand what he wrote (that it, achieve a coherent and consistent
interpretation of his texts) before we can critique it. You and
others, on the other hand, are proposing an account of meaning that
you find convincing. Both of these are valuable enterprises, for
sure. The confusion comes when a Peircean account of meaning, for
instance, is attributed to Vygotsky. It is very clear to me that LSV
viewed word-meaning as objective. I could turn out to be mistaken, of
course. But if anyone here wants to offer a different interpretation
of LSV's notion of word meaning, it needs to be based on textual
evidence, not on plausibility. I have never said that I find LSV's
treatment of word meaning to be plausible, because I've not yet fully
figured it out! Perhaps we will eventually decide that his account of
words and concepts doesn't make sense. But we shouldn't turn this
process around and try to decide first what is a plausible account of
concepts and words, and then attribute this to Vygotsky. I'm not
saying that this is what you are doing, Tony. But somewhere in the
gaps between messages this seems to me to be what has been happening.


On Jun 15, 2011, at 10:52 AM, Tony Whitson wrote:

Put most briefly, for anybody who is interested:

Signs potentiate interpretation. That is what signs do. That's what
semiosis (the activity of signs) is. This is the _semiosic_ activity
of triadic sign relations. The meaning of a word consists of the
interpretation that the word (qua sign) potentiates.

Weights resist the muscular activity of lifting. This is dynamic
physical action (not tradic semiosic activity). In this capacity,
the weight is just a thing, and not a sign.

Of course weights, beyond just in their dynamic resistance, can also
participate in sign activity (as apparently they did in Congressman
Weiner's weight-lifting in the Gongressional gym).

On Wed, 15 Jun 2011, Huw Lloyd wrote:

On 15 June 2011 14:53, Tony Whitson <twhitson@udel.edu> wrote:

The OED reflects the existing usage of words.

Semiotics explores and attempts to account for the nature of signs
and sign
activity, including the nature of the meaning that signs do, and
how signs
do their meaning.

Semiotics is not about deference to common usage, any more than is

Which is why distinct terms are used.

If by "The meaning of a word is something the word does", you mean the
active system of mental representations in which the word meaning
(a set of
relations) inheres and participates with other word meaning in
contexts, then we need to dig into this system to identify which
relate to the defined word, and which relate to the system in which it
participates.  Care must be taken not to confuse the defined thing
with the
system it participates in.  Words (like the weights of weight
lifter) don't
(on their own) do anything, the system they participate in does the

This is simply my opinion.  It's fairly self-evident to me, and
it's not
something I'm deeply interested in pursing, relative to other
So, hopefully, I've answered the question put to me, and can let
you get on
with your ruminations.

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Tony Whitson
UD School of Education
NEWARK  DE  19716


"those who fail to reread
are obliged to read the same story everywhere"
                 -- Roland Barthes, S/Z (1970)
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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA:
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227
<http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857> &pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org <http://www.marxists.org/> 

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