Feliks Mikhailov
The Riddle of the Self

5. The Substance of History

A vast number of diverse sciences are today engaged in studying man and his life-activity. It is hoped that a summing up of the knowledge gathered by these sciences will yield an integral picture. The general scheme of the argument runs something like this. Physiology will help us to establish the vital functions of the organism and its separate organs, genetics will tell us the laws by which they are passed on from generation to generation, medicine will explain the main causes of disease and the inevitability of death, psychology, the general features and peculiarities of the mind, sociology, the established relationships forming the social conditions of human life, political economy, the prerequisites, means and modes of production and distribution of goods, and philosophy, the pathways to knowledge of the most general laws of nature, society and thought. Linguistics, logic, aesthetics, ethics, pedagogics and many other sciences will in their turn, and each in its own way, show us how the human consciousness is shaped. And after that we shall probably be able to choose from the whole ensemble of information certain fundamental facts whose enumeration will provide us with a definition of human essence.

This approach to the human being as the target of overall cognition may look very promising. Man will be represented as a whole set of problems that can be solved by gathering a corresponding set of objective information about his life-activity. Naturally we must proceed from the notion that human life is built up out of different, relatively independent processes. For example, the organic life of the body is part of the set. In order to live, a human being must breathe, so like all other mammals he must have lungs. He must eat and drink, so again he must have the corresponding organs and mechanisms. Every organic function of the body implies its own set of organs. And the sum total of all these functions should constitute the actual process of human life.

Besides all this, a human being must with other human beings produce the material conditions for living: food, clothing, a place to live, and so on. Joint activity and the forms of intercourse are not bodily inherent in him and cannot therefore be studied by physiology. So in the sort of processes comprising human life there is yet another, relatively independent process – that of the development of the forms of human intercourse. The mental functions, oral communication, thought, morality, aesthetics, the pedagogical process, technology of production and so on can be singled out and studied as special subjects ad infinitum. These subjects themselves can be further broken down (for instance, the physiology of nutrition, the psychology of perception, folk art or language, the art of education, language learning, etc.). Human life is thus presented still as a vast mass of diverse and – with every fresh attempt at research – increasingly diversified processes. How then is one to select from the sum of all these researches the main inferences and definitions that determine the very essence of man? How can one coordinate medical recommendations with discoveries in linguistics, physiological descriptions of the functioning of the organism with the theory of surplus value, the theory of free will with genetic determination of types of higher nervous system, and so on?

In short, how is one to put together the chaotic whole that emerges in the processes of research?

To do this, one must find (or have) a base. The base could be, for example, the belief that the human being is a highly developed animal, who in the process of his biological adaptation (and according to its laws) has “built up” the animal’s inherent capacity for signalling other animals to the point of articulate speech, the animal’s inherent ability to deal with natural objects to the point of producing tools, and its orienting, tracking, “searching” ability to the ability of creative thought, of goal-setting (reason).

In that case our belief becomes the basis for uniting all the results of the specific studies into a complete and integral set of knowledge about man. Then, for example, we shall explain human creative abilities as a developed “creative instinct” or as sublimation of the sexual attraction. Intellectual genius will be due to mutation, the class struggle will follow the laws of the struggle between species for survival, and so on. The general theory of man built on this foundation will in its own way be consistent and free of internal contradictions. But the trouble is that each of the specific lines of research (even the physiological, not to mention the general biological) could claim the right to become the foundation for uniting all the others.

The linguistics expert who actually uses the data of physiology (e.g., to explain certain features of pronunciation by the anatomical and physiological structure of the human articulatory apparatus) will nevertheless regard speech communication from the standpoint of the “symbol system” and its laws as the essence he seeks, in which case he may interpret physiological processes as necessary and subordinate mechanisms controlling the whole life of man. Man, he will say, lives according to the laws of speech communication and wholly depends on its internal laws, expressed in the structure of language. The economic structure of society, the class differences and antagonisms, political forms and functions will all be given their “semantic” explanation. And on this foundation internally non-contradictory conceptions of the essential nature of man can be and actually have been built.

The same may be said of cybernetics, which arrived a little late on the scene but immediately moved up front thanks to the very general nature of the categories of “information”, “code”, “bit”, “feedback”, “control”, and so on.

So which of the specialised lines of research into the various processes that comprise the whole process of human life-activity is one to choose as the basic? They nearly all claim this role. But can anyone of them provide the key, the foundation for all the other specific manifestations of human life-activity? Or perhaps the answer lies in generalising the basic conclusions from all these specific studies?

The trouble is, however, that each of these conclusions must in its turn be the ultimate generalisation of all the data gathered in that particular field regarding the independent processes of human life-activity. These summary conclusions, detached from their detailed basis as a result of maximum generalisation, are bound to be abstract. And this means that we are forced to adopt definitions such as “man is an animal living and acting only in intercourse with its own kind, producing tools, possessing speech and the ability to think, moral consciousness, aesthetic perception”, and so on.

Having started from these simple and abstract notions of man, we then proceed to generalise the results of the specialised studies of each of the relatively independent processes “responsible” for each of the above-mentioned qualities and once again arrive at the same (at best amended, made more specific) simple and abstract notions. Admittedly, when we can at any moment refer to the data of specialised studies, they do look fairly well grounded. And for this reason, following Marx, we call them not merely initial notions but elementary definitions.

So the method of generalising specialised, independent studies of the specific features of human life-activity that are necessarily recurrent in every human being may be logically expressed as follows: from the chaotically presented whole that we see before us – the sensuously concrete community of actual, living individuals acting together – we begin, on the basis of the available set of most general, initial empirical notions of society itself, of the organisms of individuals, of their consciousness, etc., to study the separate processes that condition the qualities noted in the initial notion. This is the first stage of the method. Then comes the generalisation of conclusions based on these studies. And thus we arrive at a set or ensemble of abstract, elementary definitions.

This method of research is usually known as the path from the sensuously concrete (chaotically presented to us) to its abstract, simplest definitions.

But we still shall not find either in the elementary definitions, or in their simple sum total, the one foundation (essence) that would unite them all as specific manifestations of itself.

Having analysed this path in detail, Marx considered the right scientific approach to be the movement of cognition from the abstract to the concrete, from the abstract universal definition of the one foundation to the developed concept of the integral process of development and formation of the object as a whole in all its concrete diversity.

Concrete knowledge is, in fact, knowledge of an object as unity of diversity. This is possible if the object studied is presented theoretically not only in space (as structure), but also, and mainly, in time (as a process). In this sense “man as a complex problem” means not the sum of information about man, no matter how outwardly well trimmed this sum may appear to be, how well all the different bits of information have been dovetailed. “Man as a complex problem” is knowledge of man’s essential nature that holds good for his whole history and generates all the innumerable and diverse manifestations of human activity.

Such is the second path, the path of discovering the essence. So the path from the abstract to the concrete, the correct path from the scientific point of view, lies in the logical reconstruction of the process that leads to the given result. Here we are confronted with the process itself, understood as the way of solving the initial contradictions, as a process of self-development of an integral organic system.

In abstraction from the universal nature of the laws of development of social forms (forms of intercourse in activity or, to be more exact, forms of activity realised in intercourse), both nature and man are presented as “abstract objects”, as ensembles of things taken readymade, without reference to their own history and entirely determined by the present, given corporeal organisation.

In this case there is no alternative but to describe the available facts of the interaction between the organic “structure” of the human body and the “external environment”, whose definitions include society itself as a pure abstraction opposed to the individual.

And the individual consciousness, considered in isolation from the actual history of the shaping of the forms of human intercourse, turns out to be only a “function” of the human organism and can be examined only as the ensemble of the mental abilities inherent in the organism: thought, will, emotions, sensory perception, and so on.

So when we ask how can the human consciousness be developed into a comprehensively developed personality, the answer naturally seems to lie in plain extrapolation of the professionally limited notions of man in general that have emerged from studies of his abstractly considered abilities.

For example, if a geneticist abstracts himself “professionally” from the real process of objective human activity, which is always structured in the historical forms of intercourse (and the human individual can develop only in the latter), he can give us only a purely abstract projection of the ideal man, and propose “scientific” methods of eugenics for its realisation. What else? Here the logic is unshakeable.

We already know that judgements concerning the essential forces of human life-activity that crown such studies quite unexpectedly and with enviable precision repeat the original chaotic notion of the whole or, at best, the initial empirical sorting out of materials – the scanty abstractions, as Marx called them.

Let us assume further that someone is studying the “mechanisms” of the understanding of human speech. Here the experimental field consists, on the one hand, of the human brain with its “information sensors” (sense organs) and, on the other, living speech, its separate semantic elements. One can use the methods and apparatus of the latest most sophisticated kind: microelectrodes planted in the brain, electro-encephalographs, and so on. But what is actually being studied by such apparatus has already been identified, pinpointed, targeted not by the apparatus, but by the initial belief that language itself, man’s means of speaking and thinking, carries in itself certain adequate and necessary information (meaning of words and other elements of speech), and that the human brain as such is capable of coding, storing, collating and decoding, in other words, understanding the given information. This somewhat “chaotic notion” is, as we know, generated by the empiricist principle that science studies ready-made objects in their interaction by establishing the invariants of the latter, by throwing out everything that is accidental, non-repetitive, unalgorithmic. The limitations of these principles were brilliantly exposed by Hegel, who qualified such “interaction” of ready-made objects in isolation from their history, their genesis by the precise and absolutely justified term “mechanism”, and regarded this as a way of characterising interacting objects that was external and indifferent to their essence. Marx fully agreed with the criticism of the empirical way of studying “objects” isolated from the process of their development and thus turned into abstractions. And for the same reason Engels held that the natural scientist who wanted to come to grips with concrete reality should study the history of theoretical thought.

The research scientist’s spontaneously empirical orientation, his isolation from the history of theoretical thought and hence the isolation of his object and its process of development, all these forms of abstraction are simply specific forms of the universal “abstraction” – the social division of labour, the fragmentariness of people’s modes of activity under this system.

The result is that in our example, too, just as in Marx’s example of the economists of the 17th century, the scientist seems to begin his experiment from a “living whole”, from a human being with microelectrodes planted in his brain, with living conversational speech and its shades of meaning. But strange though it may seem at first glance, the natural result is the emergence, as Marx writes, of “scanty abstractions”, of certain “abstract universal relations”, that is, the same old “coding”, “decoding”, “collating of the perceived verbal information with what is stored in the memory”, and so on. Moreover, some of these “scanty abstractions” (of the “word in the brain” kind) turn out to be meaningless precisely because of their uncritical, hasty association, which is always possible owing to the indifference to the essence of the object that was pointed out by Hegel.

What can our hypothetical researcher tell us about the person of the future, about his consciousness, about the ways and means of shaping his communist consciousness?

Well, he may say, for example, that this person will be somewhat cleverer if the processes by which his brain decodes the growing flood of information are intensified, optimised and so on. And, of course, genetics and eugenics most lend a hand in his training and education.

We must trace this argument to its logical conclusion. Since this ominously growing flood of information is itself always professionally oriented and requires increasing initial preparation of the brain, the brain itself must become professionally oriented (and thus limited in its abilities). Genetics will help (pedagogics is already helping) to breed professionally oriented populations, and eugenics will perfect its work by artificial selection of the fittest. Fittest to occupy, we must add, the place assigned to the given individual before birth in the profoundly specialised mechanism of the socium, the “surrogate collectivity”. But how little this individual resembles the comprehensively developed personality!

This is how “pure”, objectively specific research, free of any orientation on the logic of social development and stripped of any terms or other means of “contacting” social concepts, historical activity, may and quite frequently does turn out to be a social theory in the original sense of the word, that is, a theory proposing a model of a future society and the means of achieving it. This is yet another paradox of the narrow professionalism of human activity in the conditions of the social division of labour.

Definition and generalisation of the constant functions of the crystallised “ready-made” person in isolation from the whole process of historical formation inevitably makes him a rank-and-file participant in the spatial interconnections of natural bodies. The human being is merely an element in the mechanical picture of the world, and to educate him, to achieve any goal-oriented change in him must mean one of two things: either changing his external “environment” with which he interacts, or changing his internal structure and thus, the mode of his interaction with the environment.

In both cases the trainee is viewed as a programmable “machine”. In the capitalist system of social division of labour, which sharply contrasts activity with material objects (bodies) to actually productive, creative intellectual production, the method of analysis of mechanical systems has become the dominant method of theorising. This method was born along with machine production as a method classifying purely “objective” knowledge, in other words, natural science. It produced the mechanical picture of the world in which the human being appears to us not as the result of his history, but as its ready-made and eternally given premise (Marx). He could only fit into the mechanical picture of the world as a body participating in certain interaction with other bodies. And it was in this mechanical sense that man was defined by Descartes as a living mechanism, whose principles of existence were the laws of mechanics (see above). And to this day in natural science with its own restricted “objective” methods of research man continues to remain an object essentially summed up by all his constant interactions with other objects (natural and social) permitted by his internal “structure”. Even today some natural scientists are either still hoping to find answers to the problem of man in the spatial bodily functions of the human organism or else they realise the futility of their efforts and adopt idealist religious moral positions. Such is the outcome of the mechanical purview.

The prevalence of empirical methods of scientific research and thought produced a stereotype definition of the terms “individual”, “individuality” and “personality”. The empirical generalisation is based on abstraction from the particulars offered by single phenomena and therefore establishes only the general, that is, the repetitive in phenomena, classifying them according to species, genus, class, and so on. The definition of genus precludes so-called “peculiarities of species”, the definition of “class” precludes genus characteristics. Such a “logical construction” ignores the genetic (and hence causal) link between genus and species, which lies in the fact that the initial “species” that later generates a whole genus of its own varieties (species) does not stand side by side with them but represents the initial cell of a species-forming process, a cell that carries all the determinants of its genus.

Such logic began to reveal its weakness in the biological classifications. But it is still used, strangely enough, in some psychological and pedagogical studies.

It also appears in “definitions” of the individual of the human race. For example, human individuality is defined in the Soviet Pedagogical Encyclopaedia as follows: “Individuality is the sum total of attributes inherent in a separate organism and characteristically distinguishing it from other organisms belonging to the same species. Unlike the concept “personality”, the concept of “individuality” refers not only to human beings. Individuality may manifest itself in any structural or functional, congenital or acquired feature of an organism .... When one speaks of a person’s striking individuality one usually has in mind the essential originality of his intellectual or moral qualities, unusual will power, or other features that distinguish him from other people.” This “essential originality” is then stated to be dependent on the individual construction of the organism. This shows once again that the logic of empirical generalisation is compelled to “infer” all general and special functions directly from the structure of the “individuals” in question or, to be more exact, to reduce the human essence to the elementary spatial relations of the organs of his body.

So we have a list of attributes of the genus, we have the peculiarities of the species and finally, we have the inimitable originality of those same attributes in separate individuals. Any fostering of individuality, thus defined, involves planned influencing of the emotional (separately!), intellectual (separately!), moral (separately!), and volitional (separately!) “spheres” of the person in question. There is no system-building, integrating principle. Here we have only a conglomerate of abstractly defined “qualities”.

So the general name given to the recurrent “attributes”, “functions”, “properties”, etc. of individuals denotes species attributes, while the individual is defined as an empirically given separate being possessing these attributes, whose individuality is summed up by stating the peculiar way in which they are combined or manifested. To put it more simply, all individuals of a given species would be exactly similar if their similar properties did not in some way differ. The causes of these differences for their geniis and species essence are external and accidental.

It is according to this logic that the human individual is said to possess a whole range of organs, functions and properties that are standard for “man in general”. The list includes: specific organisation of the body (upright gait, developed larynx, and other organs needed for articulate speech such as ear lobes), reason, will power, emotions, moral consciousness and a more or less stable set of physical needs and abilities. We are speaking of individuality when we note that a certain individual’s nose is longer than the average, his brain quicker, his head balder, his will weaker, and so on. How characteristic, is that expressive comparative “er”, denoting only a quantitative change of the same quality!

The essence of empirical generalisation lies precisely in the fact that actual development – the process of the forming of a new quality remains outside its frame of reference. So the cause of development, change, isolation, individualisation is for this logic always accidental and to be found outside the process itself. In genetic logic the generating system-building factor – the initial contradiction – turns out to be the integral foundation of the whole process. Taking place in time and space, endlessly varying its forms, identifying the different, and setting the similar poles apart, this process remains itself in all its forms until the initial contradiction is resolved, while the basis of all its creations survives. The given basis is in fact the genetic (literally birth-giving) essence of all the individual manifestations of the process. So the universal here is not a general term denoting only similar properties characteristic of all the units of the given set. Incidentally, they are similar only if one abstracts from peculiarities! But peculiarities are steps in development, stages in fundamental qualitative change, historical variants of the ways of resolving the initial contradiction! [Marx proved that the method of empirical generalisation or the abstracting from a set (conglomerate) of individuals their recurrent “qualities” is merely an uncritical “transformation” of the available one-sided facts of historical development into a general name.] Here the universal is the root, the initial definition, the original conflict containing in itself as its own future the fundamental inevitability of its solution. And every creation of the universal is its own motion in space and time, is its new place, its new “geometry”, its particular individual realisation. And now the initial contradiction lies wholly in the process of its own resolution, knowing no other existence but the medium of its unique, peculiar individual realisations.

In order to be, to become unique one therefore has to travel the whole path of individualisation, one’s own particular path, the path of transformation of the particular into the unique, where the particular develops into the inimitably unique realisation of the universal.

The relationship between the individual, individuality and the human personality is built objectively on the genetic principle of the unity and integrality of human life-activity. And this means that only in society, in a community and with the help of historically evolved cultural media can man become an individual. Even to exist as a given unique individual body, as an individual “human being”, he must be individualised by his own, personal biography in living, minute-to-minute relations with other people. A relationship is mediation and the mediating factor in human relationship is their common historical biography – the history of the development of culture. Therefore in definitions of man, the individual and individuality are in a special relationship of “inter-transition”.

Human individuality is the inimitable originality of each individual Homo sapiens, realising his life-activity as a subject of socio-historical development. The inimitability, the uniqueness of the individual is determined by the organic unity and integrality of the process of development of his needs and abilities, which are formed in active intercourse with living, inimitable bearers of social culture. The essential media of this intercourse are the objective forms, ways and means of culture: the instruments and products of all forms of socio-historical activity (labour), language, knowledge, skills, abilities, and so on.

Living, active intercourse realised through socially significant (universal) media and therefore goal-oriented, shaping a person’s needs and abilities, has determined in philogenesis and determines in ontogenesis for example, the formation of the cerebral structures that continues up to the age of 10 to 11 in the life of a child, the somatic and functional organs of these needs. The natural premise of human philogenesis (or, to be more exact, anthropo-sociogenesis) is the biological organisation of the life-activity of man’s animal ancestor. whereas the premise of the ontogenetic development of the human being’s needs and abilities (including their unique features) is the genetically determined somatic organisation (organism) and its uterine development. But oven in this latter case one must bear in mind that the premise itself is at the same time the result of anthropo-sociogenesis, which comprises additionally the somatic forms of inheritance of the experience of human intercourse realised in previous generations. In other words, the morphological unity of the organism characteristic of the species Home sapiens is the premise of its being only because it is a result of historical development of the forms and modes of human activity. Marx wrote that even “the forming of the five senses is a labour of the entire history of the world down to the present.” [Karl Marx, Private Property & Communism] So the definition of human individuality is fundamentally different from that of the individual in biology. The biological individual belonging to a certain population is only an “instrument” (medium) for the adaptation of the species. The programme of activity specific to the species – its needs and “abilities”, along with all the basic means of its realisation – are determined by philogenesis and fully represented by the specific features of its organism. (The “external” means are also conditioned by the inherited programme of the life-activity of the species). The individual (inherent in the given organism) particulars of this programme do not go beyond the frame of the species. Individual departures from the genetic basis of the species programme are a departure from the framework of the species, which may in certain circumstances originate another species.

The medium between man and nature is not so much the morpho-physiological particulars of the organism as the objective forms of civilisation, above all the instruments of labour. Man finds his basic “programme” (life goals) and all the means of its realisation not in the “structure” of his organism, not in his organic functions and structures as such, but in the objective forms of culture, in the ways and means of intercourse that he encounters at birth. Only in the process of his own life-activity taking place in intercourse, does he realise all the functions of his own organic body transformed and reformed by the history of society.

Of course, what is born is not a “body in general” but a baby boy or a baby girl, each with its own innate qualities. They thus have the potential for intercourse with other people, becoming individuals of the species Homo sapiens and further developing their individuality. Outside the historically shaped forms of intercourse they do not usually survive. The rare exceptions (“fostering” of children by animals) only confirm the rule and the brief life of such a child least of all resembles that of a human being. It is the same with pathology which makes the organism incapable of intercourse and thus of individualisation, condemning the very existence of such an organism (incidentally, always artificially supported by other people) to purely physiological functioning. Such an organism can be described as an “individual” only in formal terms, i.e., only on account of its having certain physio-morphological features that are essential but not sufficient for real human development.

From this comes the important conclusion that each individualised Home sapiens is an individuality only insofar as the process of individualisation itself is the goal-oriented realisation of his social relations, his own unique biography created by him – the history of his life. The individual of the species Home sapiens either develops as an individuality or does not exist even as an individual.

Now let us go back to the definition from the Pedagogical Encyclopaedia. In point of fact it obscures a problem of great importance in pedagogics and psychology, the problem of genesis arising in the activity of the developed individuality (and hence in the means of education adequate to the process). “The essential originality of his intellectual or moral qualities”, “unusual will power”, and so on. Where do they come from? The implied answer is that he was born like it or certain fortunate circumstances brought them about. And to turn each person into a striking individuality one must go in for genetic engineering or take a chance amid countless “accidental” circumstances, recommending the “favourable” ones and regretting that the recommendations are hindered by the unfavourable, the ineffectiveness of pedagogical means in both cases being due to the way in which people’s “distinctive features” are understood.

The link between pedagogics and the genetic theory of social development also arms pedagogical theory with the concept that only by changing circumstances purposively can man himself be changed, that the fostering of individuality lies in serious and vivid (i.e. creative) activity together with the pupil, activity in which the pupil is not “the object of the pedagogical process” but an equal subject of it. But to achieve this the activity itself must be understood in real historical definitions. And in this latter case it turns out that in the historically developed system of the social division of labour, which has relegated most of humanity to machine-like reproductive functions and artificially restricted the range of their intercourse, thus depriving them of direct and varied contact with the history of culture, in this system of “alienation of the human essence from man himself”, people’s individuality is considerably restricted in its development.

But in this same system of the division of labour social privileges arise that allow other individuals to rise above the average social-cultural largely standardised level and oppose themselves to it as “striking personalities”.

These circumstances are graphically demonstrated in The German Ideology. On the one hand,

“...the individual as such, regarded by himself, is subordinated to division of labour, which makes him one-sided, cripples and determines him”;

and on the other,

“Even that which constitutes the advantage of an individual as such over other individuals, is in our day at the same time a product of society and in its realisation is bound to assert itself as privilege ...”

So the question as to whether the newborn human organism that is genetically capable of intercourse and activity is to be or not to be an individual of the species Homo sapiens is answered not by his (organism’s) morpho-physiological “structure” but by a quite different substance. The real human being is a historical being. And his birth is a historical fact. In this very fact, in its fortuity lies the further realisation of the life of preceding generations, which transmit to the newborn the system-organising mode of his life-activity, the mode (and thus the ability) of purposeful interaction. Analogy will help to explain this idea. In seeking the initial causes and vital forces of the organism developing as yet in its mother’s womb it is impossible to isolate oneself from the fact that its vital forces and the causes of its development are nothing else but the life-activity of the maternal organism. Similarly it is impossible to speak of the initial “system-forming” powers of the newborn child in abstraction from the modes of life (and their history) of the people around him. Even after birth the child lives in the “maternal lap” of the living history of human relations.

But to understand the basis of his existence one must discover the “motor springs” of human activity spread out in historical time, and not only in the lifetime of those who directly surround the infant. Outside the organic link with the life of preceding generations there is no finding even its own initial vital forces. And the “organic nature” of its connection with human history bears a direct relation oven to its individualised organism, which carries in itself the “recorded image” of the human life activity of its ancestors.

Human life-activity spread out in historical time in all the specific wealth of its most diverse forms, modes and manifestations is above all the process of man’s birth by his labour. Only the “narrowest” specialists studying certain particular manifestations of human life-activity as separate and entirely independent disciplines can abstract themselves from this fact. Such treatment is sometimes accorded even to morality in studies that build up their own terminological arsenal (their “language”) consisting of verbally defined abstracts regarded as inherent in the individual: conscience, behaviour, motives, moral ideal, good, evil, principles of morality, and so on. “Systems analysis”, mathematical logic, cybernetics and any other formalised meta-theory can all be marshalled to give the manipulations with these abstractions an appearance of deductive harmony. But with all the force of natural law the researcher who abstracts himself from the universal essence of human life ultimately arrives at the same abstract definitions from which he started. Another “discipline” that may be accorded such treatment is the natural form of human life itself. In this case, after much clever systemic and meta-systemic manipulations with initial abstract definitions such as the “social” and “biological” the researchers end up with one of the usual passages of refined rhetoric about the mutual determination of the biological and the social. ...

In Capital, Marx repeatedly and in almost the same words defines the simple abstract elements of labour, which he regards not as the eternal natural condition of human life independent of any of the forms of this life but, on the contrary, as equally general for all its social forms. These elements, to quote Marx, are: the object of labour, the means of labour and purposeful activity (or labour itself). [Capital, Vol. I, chap. 1 s. 7.] Purposeful activity for creating consumer values, in the process of which natural phenomena (nature itself!) become an object and means of labour that changes, develops and transforms man’s natural needs and abilities – such are the simple abstract elements of labour as the universal, eternal condition of human life.

The fact that Marx includes purposeful activity in these elements is of special importance to us. Purposeful activity can be performed only by an individual capable of distinguishing himself from his own activity. Otherwise activity cannot be treated as a guided process, a process directed towards some aim. What is more, the setting of the aim is a function of the individual’s ability to view his activity from the side.

Activity directed towards an aim. The image of what should appear as a result of activity, but which is not yet and without this activity never will be, hovers in the mental vision of the acting individual. And it is this goal-oriented activity that Marx includes among the universal (simple and abstract from all their real historical social forms) elements of labour.

Man-creating labour includes among its own initial definitions purposefulness! And at the same time the actual ability to direct one’s actions to the achievement of a goal appears and develops in activity, in labour. At this point rationalist thought breaks down. For rationalism this is an “insoluble” contradiction: labour creates a person capable of setting goals, but labour is only labour when it is purposeful, goal-oriented activity. But what for rationalist thought becomes an insoluble logical antinomy unfolds historically into a situation whose internal contradiction is solved in real events and actions which change that situation. And so it is in our case.

Reasoning man (capable of setting goals) is not a premise of history but always its result. The “situation” in which his history began is characterised by the formation of the non-biological type of inheritance of the modes of life-activity of his animal ancestor. The contradiction clearly enough defining this situation consists in the fact that on the one hand our animal ancestors could survive only thanks to their specific mode of “instrumental” [5] interaction, while on the other hand this interaction could not be inherited somatically (genetically) and thus become peculiar to and definitive of the species. For the biological activity of the species such a situation turns out to be extremely unpromising, if not a dead end. The preservation and transmission from generation to generation of the modes of common action, common use of the supplementary natural means is possible in one and only one case: if these situationally particularised means turn out to be also means of communication, means that preserve in their own way (form, “structure”) the mode of common action and communication of individuals when the biologically important functions within the herd are naturally divided according to sex or age.

In this case, as a way out of an impossible situation, as a way of resolving its contradiction, a new non-biological mode of inheriting life-activity develops. And in this prehistoric “step” of evolution of the hominids, a “step” away from the biologically regular inheritance of functions, one can see also the first step of history, whose further development is known as anthropogenesis, that is, the process of the birth of man by emerging labour or the process of the birth of labour by the emerging man.

So from our point of view, anthropogenesis is the incipient history of humankind, whose result (not premise!) will be man with his inherent modes of purposeful activity-labour. The point is that in the new mode of inheriting “life-activity peculiar to the species”, there began to appear, in embryo, precisely the universal definition of labour in its simplest abstract elements. This is the not yet “begun”, not fully “emergent” but already exerting its systemising (and transforming the elements of the old system) effect of the “tripartite” relation of individuals to nature and to one another. Only instead of “the object of labour” (material for creating consumer values purposefully singled out from nature) there is the appropriated “product of nature”; instead of the means of labour there is also the appropriated product of nature”, but already performing the “instrumental” function of strengthening the natural organs, and also the function of communicating “sign” of this or that mode of action; and, finally, there is this action itself instead of the purposeful activity of labour.

However, it is in this action that individuals – man’s ancestors – enter into communication, which in its turn determines their activity and their needs. And it is this action in communication that constantly reproduces a special, new (non-biological) interrelation of individuals and their relation to nature mediated by communication. But because of this, action turns out to be in accordance, if not with an aim, [Since this action is still far from being conscious an goal-oriented in the specifically human sense that presupposes awareness of a goal as an ideal image of the future result of action] then at least to be a visible “pattern” of the mode (image) of its common realisation, enshrined (objectified) in the form of the very means (instrument) of action. The further preservation and “extended reproduction” of this non-biological inheritance of “species-specific” life-activity of man’s ancestors could not fail to culminate in the development of objective means of their action, their intercourse, and thus, their needs and abilities, and this was what was “objectified” in the modifications of their morpho-physiological organisation. And it is this latter that is most often described as the content of anthropogenesis.

The main thing in the way of resolving the initial contradiction is for us that it is not the non-biological species-specific predetermination of genetic heredity, but intercourse (its forms and means) that becomes the actual substance of incipient history. And only in intercourse does the individual become capable of realising and realises the actuality of his natural life-activity.

Here, in order to avoid any misunderstanding I must quote a fairly long passage from Marx and Engels’s The German Ideology: “Individuals have always and in all circumstances ‘proceeded from themselves’, but, since they were not unique in the sense of not needing any connections with one another, and since their needs, consequently their nature, and the method of satisfying their needs, connected them with one another (relations between the sexes, exchange, division of labour), they had to enter into relations with one another. Moreover, since they entered into intercourse with one another not as pure egos, but as individuals at a definite stage of development of their productive forces and requirements, and since this intercourse, in its turn, determined production and needs, it was, therefore, precisely the personal, individual behaviour of individuals, their behaviour to one another as individuals, that created the existing relations and daily reproduces thein anew. . . .” (Note that it is the personal relations between individuals that by determining production and needs create, and daily reproduce, the existing relations, that is to say, society as such. There is no need to prove specifically that personal relations themselves are the relations between individuals that have reached a certain stage of the development of their productive forces and needs, and not just any abstract individuals of the species Home sapiens.) “... Hence it certainly follows that the development of an individual is determined by the development of all the others with whom he is directly or indirectly associated, and that the different generations of individuals entering into relation with one another are connected with one another, that the physical existence of the later generations is determined by that of the predecessors, and that these later generations inherit the productive forces and forms of intercourse accumulated by their predecessors, their own mutual relations being determined thereby. In short it is clear that development takes place and that the history of a single individual cannot possibly be separated from the history of preceding or contemporary individuals, but is determined by their history.” [German Ideology]

After so precise and exhaustive a definition of the individual as an individuality, reproducing and realising both the history of the interrelations of preceding individuals and his own interrelations with his contemporaries, and only because of this acting “from himself” and acting purposefully, we need draw attention only to the psychological side of this “action-from-oneself”. But identification of the “psychological” aspect of the problem of consciousness (becoming conscious of being, purposeful “action-from-oneself”) derives from the premises considered above, which may now be formulated quite briefly:

1. The individual of the species Home sapiens presents itself to us, first, as the result of history and, second, as a result that implies (realises in its life-activity) historically developed modes and means of intercourse with other individuals, modes and means of their common action.

2. The substance of history is not “society” standing above the individual and opposed to it, is not its or the people’s, the epoch’s, etc., culture, spirit, genius, and so on. This illusion evoked by the social division of labour and the phenomenon of “alienation” to which it gave rise, was most fully developed by Hegel. On the other hand, nor is the substance of history the physical continuity of the human race, conditioned by the natural bodily organisation of man’s specific needs and abilities. This illusion, generated by the same causes, was most rationally and fully expressed in philosophy by Feuerbach, and is today exploited in caricature forms, in forms of non-reflexive consciousness by a whole flock of biologisers.

In reality the substance of history is the personal relation of individualities to one another, their intercourse, interrelations creating and daily reproducing and also developing all the particular forms of purposeful activity or, in other words, their activity itself.

This definition of the substance of history as consciousness realising itself (causa sui) in space and time, far from being identical with, is directly opposed to definitions in which the subject [6] of history is also its substance. This is understandable. The substance of history and its subject (the individual) cannot be one and the same thing if only because the subject of history is itself the historical individual. Individuals making history are not only the “starting point” of historical movement, but also (and always!) its result. Thus Marx, having taken individuals producing in society as the natural starting point of his analysis of the substance of history, immediately adds, “and consequently the socially defined production of individuals”. The production of the individuals themselves (as makers of history) is in fact their own activity in common and above all their material production. Consequently, the substance of history is the objective activity of individuals, above all their material production, creating and shaping human individuality as the subject of history, as the “history-making” individual.

3. Since the being of the human individual is a particular (having travelled its own road of individualisation) realisation of the universal foundation of human history and therefore the inimitably unique being of individuality, and since the universal foundation of history is the identity of activity, intercourse and goal-setting (thought), it will be understood why the necessity of comprehending, becoming aware of his life-activity is included in the definition of man’s individuality. We must emphasise once again that the life-activity of the individual of the species Home sapiens can become human only as life-activity of which he has become conscious.

What is meant by “being a personality”? The question is once again answered by any number of different voices depending on the different methods of theorising. But there is no need for us to go into the fact that according to the logic of empirical generalisation the personality is either a new, “higher” quantitative gradation of general human merits (the individual of the masses, the individual with certain developed features, the individuality, the striking individuality, and finally, the personality) or yet another general name for man: all of us, so to speak, have a face (admittedly, it may also have a mask), so in this sense we are all personalities.... The latter usage is perhaps the most common. But as we hope to show, it is this usage that finds in genetic logic its new and quite unexpected substantiation, true, one that categorically excludes the “nominalist taint” of the magic power of the general name that lingers here subconsciously.

We must note once again that the initial (and universal essence of the human mode of life-activity is the objective activity with tools performed only in intercourse. My relation to the object of my life-activity and to nature itself is mediated by the historically developed mode of our interaction. I can relate to myself as my Self, be aware of my own Self because I relate to myself, to my activity as to something that is common to us and depends not only on me and my abilities and skills. Man separates himself from his activity insofar as it is simultaneously also the activity of another, that is, insofar as it is activity performed together, intercourse. In this way a person looks upon his own action with the eyes of another and this is why he himself (as if seeing himself from the side) can check, correct, and guide his actions – guide them in accordance with a general plan, a joint plan, a goal.

This essential initial definition of man’s relation to the world embraces from the start, like an embryo, the identity of opposites: the general and one’s own. The process of active intercourse (intercourse in activity, it makes no difference) is the way of resolving the given contradiction, the dialogue between the general and the particular. In the real space and time of intercourse this contradiction becomes a dialogue of two representatives of the particular or, if you will., two particular representatives of the general:

either in the correlation (combination, “adjustment”, contest, conflict) of two different modes of action, the difference between them being determined by the difference in the individualities representing them;

or in the correlation (in the same sense) also of two different modes of action but represented by one person: internal dialogue, thought. Here the difference between the presupposed, projected or practically selected actions is determined by the individual’s ability of reflection, that is, his ability to distinguish himself from the sum total of his actions, from his behaviour, to make his activity the particular object of his activity (correction, assessment, etc.).

Thus the need for free expression of the will is part of man’s initial, universal essence. One-sided determinism with its predetermination (decision given by preceding and accompanying circumstances) turns man into a machine, to whom it can only seem that he is doing something himself, and then only because he has insufficient information about all the causes and circumstances predetermining his decision. The way out is to find that which is not contained in either one or the other solution to the problem, to see the problem “from the side”, to rethink the very way it is posited. Activity that is truly free of predetermination thus co prises a free-ranging search for a more general point of view, a search for different modes of action, rejection of one’s own abilities and skills, criticism of “indisputable” beliefs and at the same time reliance on integrally developed human culture, which although it does not contain a single readymade “recipe” for solving any given problem reveals in its general forms both the ways of getting out of its framework and the “formula” for more general, substantially and integrally presented concepts.

In the integral development of world culture every particular step of this development is a problem, but a particular problem. Consequently, on the one hand, it is limited as a partial embodiment of the universal. And by this limitation it determines both its limits and the possibility of going beyond them, thus allowing itself to be subsumed as a particular problem. On the other hand, “our” problem being a particular form of the universal is connected with it by innumerable forms of linkage and transition. In other words, in the universal there is an objective “pointer” to the way out of the confines of the particular problem to its own future, where it will be only one of the aspects, facets, moments of the developing universal.

5. The word “instrumental” is in quotation marks because the situationally assimilated and not purposefully created objects of nature that acted as the means of biologically significant actions were not instruments in the literal sense of the word.

6. The subject laying claim to historical substantiality is in fact the individual outside history, “man in general” comprising only specific – definitions of the historically limited individual in the system of social division of labour. This applies equally to the subject understood naturalistically as an individual with a ,et of universal human attributes, to the subject as an individual making history thanks to his reason (in the sphere of theory), his needs, emotions and will (in the sphere of practical life), and to the subject understood as the Genius (spirit, culture, etc.) of the people and the epoch positing itself in history but personalised in separate individuals.

Contents | Chapter 3