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Re: [xmca] Re: Word Meaning and Action: What' Plausible branch?

No, not contradicting yourself really Martin. I just meant that by demonstrating that lots of things are activity and lots of things mediate, and that the question is always /what kind of /mediating object, etc., you are taking a step into activity theory. If everything is activity and all activity is mediated, then /of course /these are just the questions to ask. No mediating object, no activity.

This is the "What's Plausible" thread, yes?

I do use the word "Activity" in a special sense, but this sense is not different from how it is used normally. I keep bringing Herder and Fichte into it to emphasise that the word "activity" was introduced/ into philosophy /to serve a specific purpose, i.e. overcome Kantian dichotomies. So if you don't use it that way, it loses all value as a philosophical or scientific concept. (Personally, I think it is abundantly clear that this is Vygotsky's ontology.)

You say: "*If the sleeper speaks in my language their words can have meaning for me*." Here you are talking about the potentialities of the sign, realised in your consciousness as a result of my utterance. The psychology of listening is, we presume, tied up with the psychology of speaking. Listening to the word in context evokes certain feelings and ideas in you. OK, and linguists and psychologists can get busy studying the complex relation between your understood meaning and the word, in this case without consulting the sleeper. Anything can have meaning for you. For example, a full moon, can have meaning for you. But how was this meaning invested in the image of a full moon (or my somnabulistic speech)? Through past speech activity, I suspect.

You ask: "*What is it about the word, as a kind of artifact, that enables it to "carry my meaning," as you put it?*" The answer is appropriately complicated. But mainly it is the use of the word in the course of various projects, in various contexts. LOL! Vygotsky talks about the etymology of words sometimes, and the way specific sound forms migrate through history, but I think this is not the essential question. Communication by means of a word generally means that both parties have participated in situations and projects where the word has been used in the way it is used in the immediate situation. This vests the word with meaning, "constitutes" it /as a word/. There is really nothing in the physical properties of the word that does anything more than smooth the path of meaning-making. There is no chemical formula for meaning. :)


Martin Packer wrote:
I don't think I'm contradicting myself, Andy. We'e trying to figure out the statements LSV made about language; about speech and its relationships to thought. Speaking and thinking are both activities (I'm not sure if you're using the term in some special sense), but they are clearly not identical activities. Words are artifacts, obviously, and they are constituted in activity, obviously. The point is to figure out the character of the particular kind of artifact that is the word. If you want to adopt an ontology in which activity is fundamental, I won't try to dissuade you! I just don't see any evidence that this was LSV's ontology. And I don't think it is sufficient to stop there.

Let's consider some of your examples:

A person who utters a word in their sleep, or reads out the text of
  a document in a foreign language, for example, is not meaning
  anything by what they utter. There is a word, but no meaning. A
  meaningful word is always essentially an active constituent of a
  social relation (including to a social relation to oneself). When I
  say "stop please!" to [sic] you, then as an English-speaker you know
  that I mean I want and command you to stop.

I think you are confusing meaning with intention. If the sleeper speaks in my language their words can have meaning for me. If others listen to me reading a text in a foreign language my words can have meaning for them. But more importantly the task is to explain *how* it is that a word can be taken as meaningful, and on some occasions but not on others. What is it about the word, as a kind of artifact, that enables it to "carry my meaning," as you put it? Can a spade carry meaning? Can a 1000 peso bill carry meaning? It can carry value. Is the meaning that a word carries truly "my" meaning, or "yours"?
On Jun 17, 2011, at 9:06 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:

Martin, you are arguing against yourself. The idea of talking speech as as artifact-mediated activity is *not* that this is a special property of the spoken word or speech, and nor is it so that we can make analogies with other domains of activity. It is a fundamental view of the world. Not matter and mind. Not the four elements. Not subject and object. Not God. *Activity*. Activity always uses artefacts, but the nature of the artefact is constituted in activity. Activity is social.

By defining "subjective/objective" solely in terms of indivual consciousness you are using an ontology of mind and matter to prove that an ontology of activity is wrong. Of course, that makes sense. If your world is made up of individuals with their individual consciousness sending messages to each other, then Acitivity Theory is a big mistake. But the claim is that activity is THE fundamental category, from which concepts like mind, matter, space, time, meaning, value, etc., etc., are derived.


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*Andy Blunden*
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