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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Hi Martin,

I am thinking about what you wrote,

"On the contrary, it seems to me that much of LSV's writing can be read as pointing to the conclusion that *standards* of rationality will vary from one culture another. But I don't think he followed his own pointers, and, as I've said above, it is a pretty radical conclusion to come to."

I was first thinking about different standards of rationality as noted in the quote below, between formal and dialectical logic. Both are tied to "Western" countries, through dialectical thinking can also be tied to "Eastern" countries, so maybe the issue is one of "industrialized" countries?

"A child who has mastered the higher forms of thinking, a child who has mastered concepts, does not part with the more elementary forms of thinking. In quantitative terms, these more elementary forms continue to predominate in many domains of experience for a long time. As we noted earlier, even adults often fail to think in concepts. ? When applied to the domain of life experience, even the concepts of the adult and adolescent frequently fail to rise higher than the level of the pseudoconcept. They may possess all the features of the concepts from the perspective of formal logic, but from the perspective of dialectical logic they are nothing more than general representations, nothing more than complexes." (emphasis added, Vygotsky, 1987, p. 160)

But the issue in your quote has surfaced several times as well in my work with Indigenous students and scholars, and we have ended in the place noted in your quote above. Particular examples include the complexity and unity of some Indigenous cosmological systems, their symbolic representation through the medicine wheel, for example, and the narratives, signs, gestures, practices, writings that accompany these cosmological systems.

Can this be considered another cultural form of rationality (seems dialectical in a sense as well ...)?

I know this is different from the question you posed in the follow up email, but isn't "demonstrably weaker" a matter of cultural, historical, political, economic positioning ... assessed by a particular dominant group at a particular time on the basis of their own potentially culturally irrelevant assessments?

Is part of your question also asking for a standard that exists outside of culture?

Just thoughts here ... jen

Hi Peter,

I am glad to see you join in the discussion, since I know you've done interesting research on inner speech.

I am certainly willing to grant that patterns of social interaction will become patterns of self-regulation and thereby parts of patterns of individual thinking. It also makes sense to me, and in my opinion LSV clearly states the view, that the higher psychological processes are cultural processes. I think he goes so far as to say that reasoning is cultural.

But, importantly, that is not the same as saying that reasoning *varies* across cultures. We *all* live in culture, and one can say that reasoning is cultural and still maintain that reasoning is universal. Are we willing to take another step, and suggest that in specific cultures the ways that people reason will be different, because the specific conventions of each culture are involved? That is a big step to take, because the rules of logic, to pick what is usually taken to be one component of reasoning, are usually considered to hold regardless of local conventions.

One way to take this step, of course, is to say that people in cultures reason in different ways but then to add an evaluative dimension. Those people in that culture reason differently from the way we do, but that is because their reasoning is less adequate than ours. They are more childlike, more primitive. *This* move has often been made, and I can find many passages in LSV's texts where he seems to be saying basically this. That's not a move I find interesting or appealing, and it's not what I am proposing.

On the contrary, it seems to me that much of LSV's writing can be read as pointing to the conclusion that *standards* of rationality will vary from one culture another. But I don't think he followed his own pointers, and, as I've said above, it is a pretty radical conclusion to come to.


On Jun 27, 2012, at 9:33 AM, Peter Feigenbaum wrote:


If you grant that interpersonal speech communication is essentially a cultural invention, and that private and inner speech--as derivatives of interpersonal speech communication--are also cultural inventions, then Vygotsky's assertions about inner speech as a tool that adults use voluntarily to conduct and direct such crucial psychological activities as analyzing, reflecting, conceptualizing, regulating, monitoring, simulating, rehearsing (actually, some of these activities were not specifically asserted by Vygotsky, but instead have been discovered in experiments with private speech) would imply that these "higher mental processes" are themselves cultural products. Even if the *contents* of inner speech thinking happen to bear no discernible cultural imprint, the process of production nonetheless does.

Of course, you may not agree that interpersonal speech communication is a cultural invention. But if you do go along with the idea that every speech community follows (albeit implicitly) their own particular conventions or customs for: assigning specific speech sounds to specific meanings (i.e., inventing words); organizing words into sequences (i.e., inventing grammar--Chomsky's claims not withstanding); and sequencing utterances in conversation according to rules of appropriateness (i.e., inventing rules that regulate "what kinds of things to say, in what message forms, to what kinds of people, in what kinds of situations", according to the cross-cultural work of E. O. Frake), then reasoning based on the use of speech must be cultural as well.

My guess is that you are looking for evidence that cultures reason differently. While there may be evidence for such a claim, I only want to point out that the tools for reasoning are themselves manufactured by human culture.


 Peter Feigenbaum, Ph.D.
 Associate Director of Institutional Research
 Fordham University
 Thebaud Hall-202
 Bronx, NY 10458

 Phone: (718) 817-2243
 Fax: (718) 817-3203
 e-mail: pfeigenbaum@fordham.edu

 From:        Martin Packer <packer@duq.edu>
 To:        "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
 Date:        06/26/2012 05:06 PM
 Subject:        [xmca] Culture & Rationality
 Sent by:        xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu

Thank you for the suggestions that people have made about evidence that supports the claim that culture is constitutive of psychological functions. Keep sending them in, please! Now I want to introduce a new, but related, thread. A few days ago I gave Peter a hard time because he wrote that "higher mental processes are those specific to a culture, and thus those that embody cultural concepts so that they guide activity."

I responded that I don't think that LSV ever wrote this - his view seems to me to have been that it is scientific concepts that make possible the higher psychological functions (through at time he seems to suggest the opposite).

 My questions now are these:

1. Am I wrong? Did LSV suggest that higher mental processes are specific to a culture and based on cultural concepts?

 2. If LSV didn't suggest this, who has? Not counting Peter!  :)

3. Do we have empirical evidence to support such a suggestion? It seems to me to boil down, or add up, to the claim that human rationality, human reasoning, varies culturally. (Except who knows what rationality is? - it turns out that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy does not have an entry for Rationality; apparently they are still making up their minds.)

 that's all, folks


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Jennifer A. Vadeboncoeur, Ph.D.
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