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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

I wasn't talking about examples so much as archetypes of "scientific concepts", and for archetypes he uses exploitation, class struggle, exploitation, or the Paris Commune (T&S Ch 5 and 6).

The system of nature does of course provide ample material for talking about the difference between taxonomy and true concepts. So for example:

"In its external characteristics, the pseudoconcept is as similar to true concept as the whale is to the fish. However, if we turn to the 'origin of the species' of intellectual and animate forms, it becomes apparent that the pseudoconcept is related to complexive thinking and the whale to the mammals [ie true concepts]." [T&S ch 5]
which allows LSV to show how sorting by contingent attributes (rather than according to essential relations within a system) corresponds to pseudoconcepts and formal logic.

True, he does not confine himself to the concepts of Marxist social science. He uses different sets of concepts for different purposes. The reasons for falling off your bicycle (somethign within a child's experience) at one point; kulaks from prerevolutionary days at another point (outside a child's experience), at another. I was just saying that he takes scientific conepts as the purest form of true concept and the concepts of marxist social science as the purest type of scientific concept.

Peter Smagorinsky wrote:
And yet, most of LSV's own examples are biological, no?

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Thursday, June 28, 2012 10:54 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Oh, and also, when Vygotsky uses "scientific concepts" as the archetype for a true concept, remember that he *does not* use the concepts of
*natural* science, as Piaget did, but the concepts of Marxist social theory. So, when we are considering Vygotsky's ideas about "scientific concepts" it is probably useful to *not* have in mind concepts like those of physics which Piaget, not Vygotsky, took as ideal types.


Andy Blunden wrote:
Stephen Toulmin, in "The Philosophy of Science. An Introduction" 
(1953) I thought definitively proved that the method of reasoning of 
science is not formal logic, or what Toulmin called "syllogistic" 
inference. For example, on p.33: "Certainly none of the substantial 
inferences that one comes across in the phsyical sciences is of a 
syllogistic type. This is because, in the physical sciences, we are 
not seriously interested in enumerating the common properties of sets 
of objects." In other words, the concepts of the physical sciences are 
not pseudoconcepts, therefore we can't use formal logic to makes 
inferences about them. Brandom uses the idea of "formal" and 
"material" inference to make the distinction.

So scientific, and in fact all true, concepts imply going past formal 
logic, which only works with pseudoconcepts.


Jennifer Vadeboncoeur wrote:
Yes, exactly Martin, this work is consistent. I do think Vygotsky 
privileges dialectical logic over formal logic; by definition, it 
subsumes formal logic and moves beyond it. From my cultural position, 
growing up comfortably with formal logic and having to practice 
thinking dialectically, the above statement doesn't bother me. But I 
would take a different position relative to an Indigenous 
perspective, and be much more circumspect about saying that 
dialectical logic can or should be privileged there. The difference 
in the two positions is one of power. In the first, it seems that a 
marginalized position (Marx's in North America) works to challenge a 
privileged position (formal logic in North America). In the second, 
privileging a dialectical perspective seems like another act of 

If we look equally across these three positions, which is problematic 
because the is no single homogenous Indigenous perspective, but let's 
say for this one exercise, then it seems like we are comparing three 
different cultural, historical perspectives on reasoning, right and 
logical, or rational,behavior.

The question remains to the effects of these different ways of 
thinking, but for the people thinking within these systems, what is 
the evidence to show that they cannot think at the adult level of 
their cultural form of rationality? Yikes, now that I've written 
this, I'm not even sure it's the question. Is the issue when we try 
to compare the standards of one cultural group to another?

I'll jump to Peter's post, because I totally appreciate what he has 
written there as well. I appreciate the idea of separating dialogical 
thinking from scientific ... but I also think of Vera John-Steiner's 
cognitive pluralism, and want to reaffirm all the other ways of 
thinking and experiencing the world through image, sound, diagram. 
These are sometimes more obvious to draw on in some Indigenous 
cultures, but the move also shifts the discussion from speech to 
writing, whether we are writing lines, or diagrams, or words.

I was looking back over my sad copy of Luria & Vygotsky (1992), the 
bottom of page 41 through pages 61 are interesting to this topic 
because they show how much Vygotsky struggled with the necessity of 
using the work of others and at the same time trying not to be bound 
by it. He relies on the work of Levy-Bruhl and takes up his language 
"so-called 'primitive peoples'" and then tries to problematize this a 
bit. "Primitive man, in the true sense of the term, does not exist 
anywhere at the present time," but then of course he continues to use 
this language. He argues against any biological type, discusses 
"objectively logical thinking" in relation to nature, and goes on to 
say .... hm, hm, okay, page 59, the focus is on the development of 
writing, and the transition from natural to cultural memory, and 
later the historical development of human memory. The ability of sign 
systems to enable an external form of memory, an external storage of 

What is different about people with access to the accumulation of 
cultural knowledge of any particular culture and people of that same 
culture who do not have access to this accumulated knowledge? In some 
cultures this may be scientific concepts, as defined by Vygotsky, in 
other cultures it may be ....?

But I keep returning to my post a bit ago, the quote there makes it 
clear that Vygotsky realizes that even after formal schooling, many 
people do not think with scientific concepts, and adults do not think 
with scientific concepts across all domains ... this has been 
supported by contemporary work, from Panofsky, John-Steiner, & 
Blackwell (1990) to Howard Gardner's work with Project Zero.

Vygotsky's goal of thinking in scientific concepts is actually not 
accessible to many people within our own cultures ....

Okay, have I completely gone overboard? :)

Hi Jennifer,

Yes, there has been interesting work recently proposing that 
indigenous cultures are using a distinct kind of reasoning. These guys:

Berkes, F., & Berkes, M. K. (2009). Ecological complexity, fuzzy 
logic, and holism in indigenous knowledge. Futures, 41(1), 6-12. 

...suggest that indigenous peoples have learned to deal with 
complexity, and to manage natural environments rather than master 
them; that what has been dismissed as animism is actually a 
sophisticated non-dualistic ontology; and that a holistic systems 
thinking is being used. I like several aspects of their analysis, 
not least that it explains the "simple number system" - one, two, 
many - that has been found in many indigenous cultures, as due to an 
approach in which people read and interpret signals from the 
environment rather than counting and measuring it.

And I agree with you that judgments of rationality are often violent 
impositions; all the judgments of people as 'primitive' are 
presumably of this kind. Presumably what we need are non-violent 
ways to look at difference.

As for dialectical logic, it take it that LSV believed that this was 
the form of rationality he was employing, and the ontogenesis of 
which he was describing. And that he considered it superior to 
formal logic, not an alternative.


On Jun 27, 2012, at 2:04 PM, Jennifer Vadeboncoeur wrote:

 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. S 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 

 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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