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Re: [xmca] Culture & Rationality

Huw, I think the scope for using formal logic is very limited in the case of true concepts. Basically, you are limited to chains of inferences from true propositions. But as I see it, pseudoconcepts, like the concepts of Set Theory, are native to Formal Logic. The type of logic and the type of concept are, as you point out, two different things, but I think there is a definite and strong connection between defining a concept as a set and the applicability of syllogistic logic.


Huw Lloyd wrote:
On 29 June 2012 11:50, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

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.

I think you'll find its the types used that are pseudoconceptual, rather
than the 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 <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> <packer@duq.edu>
 To:        "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu> <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.
 Associate Professor
 The University of British Columbia
 Faculty of Education
 2125 Main Mall
 Library Block 272B
 Vancouver BC V6T-1Z4

 phone: 1.604.822.9099
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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/concepts

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