F. T. Mikhailov

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What I least expected

It turns out that I have demonstrated, little by little, that there is a cultural-historical theory in psychology, that it is alive, and, consequently, that it has its methodological bases and problems. This means that I am obliged to fulfill the order for an article devoted to this theme. How on earth could it have seemed to me that the theoretical concept of cultural-historical psychology was a myth?! Have the works of Vygotsky really been plundered and extinguished? And what about Plato, Plotin, Francis Bacon, Spinoza, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Marx? And Ilyenkov? And our good friend Michael Cole, who anxiously hoes the same field? And Jim Wertsch, no less devoted to cultural-historical psychology? And the many others who strive in one fashion or another to express themselves in the concept of the cultural-historical logic of the general science of man and of psychology? And once there is such a theory, there is also the logic of its self-definition.

First of all, there is its axiom, without which there is not, and cannot be, any psychological theory. And it sounds like this: All man's life-supporting bodily procedures are motivated by their volitional goal-setting, while at the same time they remain precisely bodily, involved in the exchange of substances, and dependent on colds and harmful habits. There is also its main question: How is the subjective motivation of all the vital processes of Homo sapiens possible? Then follows the logic of the reply to this question, which excludes the Cartesian, behaviorist (stimulus-reaction) paradigm: it is necessary to find at least a hypothetical basis of life—of self-willful, constantly self-reproducing being. And for theory, for the time being, it is not important that the definition of its basis is hypothetical: theory seeks a sense (measure) of the thinkability of that basis that will justify the entire history of life on our planet. And this, for the time being, is more than sufficient.

Consequently, for a fundamental psychological theory—a theory of the emergence of the special characteristics of the subjective intention of the being of Homo sapiens—it is necessary to determine the source and basis of life as a planetary reality. Indeed, this has always been done in all psychological theories worth mentioning! At least recall Leontiev. He starts with the reactivity of the simplest organisms (the amoeba, etc.) and tropisms (the sunflower that follows with its head the position of the sun in the sky), continues up the evolutionary ladder with the increasingly complex bodily means and modes of the subjective motivation of animal behavior, and finally reaches the reflexive ability of man through his subjective and purposive will to "correct" the genetic predeterminations of bodily life, creatively and purposively to reorder his own self-consciousness and create therein new "worlds" needed not only by the individual but also by humanity!

For the subjective motivation of the life activity of all the species and subspecies of the animal kingdom on the planet earth is none other than the objective self-definition of life as a natural phenomenon. Subjectivity is the common field of all life, which through the efforts of the subjective reflexion of all its species reproduces itself as a single whole. The development of this essence of life to the point at which species-specific (genetic) constraints can be overcome through the development of human culture—there is the mystery of its basis, demanding solution from psychology too! But, consequently, a fundamental psychological theory must be open to the sense-bearing measures of the object of various kinds of theories—biochemical, biological, physiological, and also historical, economic, social, and culturological.

But, above all, it must be open to the sense-bearing measures of the being-nonbeing of all that is real that have been investigated and created by philosophy. For it is precisely philosophy's universal sense-bearing measures of the thinkability of being for the theoretical appraisal of the subjective motivation of the being of the living that through their development define also the logic of development of psychological theory. This basis must be preserved in determining each step of the theoretical analysis of the intersubjective speech field within which man acquires his capacity for the subjective motivation of all his life actions. The "unit" of this capacity is not a special abstraction like the reciprocal transitions of real into ideal forms and vice versa, but the act of communication—the act of addressing others and addressing the self as an other within the self. Speech forms—affective-verbal, musical, graphic, and motive, as they generate needed goal-related senses of the means of our address to one another and to ourselves, are reinterpreted on each occasion, creatively transformed in accordance with the given goal, and this makes man a creator of linguistic forms, even of the simplest and only at first glance most stereotyped of such forms. And this is not philosophy substituting itself for the specifically psychological aspect of the investigation of the foundations of the soul, but precisely psychology substantiated in terms of fundamental theory.

Such are the logic and methodology of cultural-historical theory. On this I have written a great deal, and for the untwisting of the logic of cultural-historical psychological theory I refer you, respected readers, to my monograph The Self-Definition of Culture [Samoopredelenie kul'tury] (Moscow: INDRIK, 2003) and to my latest, only just published articles: "The Muteness of Thought" [Nemota mysli] (Voprosy filosofii, 2005, no. 2); "Farewell, Philosophy!" [Proshchai, filosofiia!] (Epistemologiia ifilosofiia nauki, 2005, no. 2); and also "Kant Versus Modern Psychology," which is soon, I hope, coming out in Voprosy filosofii.

In conclusion, I shall steal from Luther the sacramental statement: "I have spoken and saved my soul."


  1. In principle, I share the despair of Vasia Davydov, who not long before his
    demise told me literally the following: "Enough! Volodia Zinchenko has ceased
    to be a psychologist, giving first preference to poetry and art. This is a symptom
    of the historical crisis of psychology of which Vygotsky wrote." But Volodia
    remains true to the main idea of the old article in Voprosy filosofii that he pub
    lished jointly with Merab Mamardashvili at the dawn of his misty youth. The
    article is precisely about the object of psychology. And then they declared that
    art reveals to us people's souls more clearly and fully than psychology today.
    And I cannot help it—each year Zinchenko's booklets come out, and I read
    them with pleasure. I love their author for the childlike directness of his experi
    ence of the psychological depths of art! And, in general, he is a fine fellow—a
    remarkable talent full of glory!

  2. The teaching of the mysteries and mechanisms of psychology is also al
    ready broken up into specialized courses of training precisely for these special
    izations, to the direct detriment of the involvement of students in research within
    the field of the unsolved problems of fundamental psychological theory.

  3. Speaking more broadly, Asiatic despotism has reigned in our country for
    over a thousand years. However, I am speaking of the past 300 years, during
    which Russia has been dominated by the power of the bureaucracy, which ma
    nipulates its tsars, general secretaries, and presidents.

4.I note in passing that the behavior in court of the defenders of the faith was reminiscent of the militant Catholic enthusiasm that inspired the knights in the Crusades rather than of our Russian Jesus Christ. The Jesus of Dostoevsky and of S.N. and M.A. Bulgakov is closer to us and more understandable in terms of our faith. Neither Prince Myshkin nor Ieshua in The Master and Margarita [Master i Margarita] are capable in principle of the heartrending shriek full of malicious hatred or of threats of physical reprisal against anyone.

  1. His expression.

  2. V.V. Bibikhin, Iazykfilosofii (Moscow: Progress, 1993), p. 16 (italics added).
    I add: not language, but precisely speech. Living, palpitating speech—that is the
    "environment" of human existence!

  3. By the way, the list of obligatory reading that Eval'd compiled for partici
    pants in the seminar was not only extensive but professionally difficult: it in
    cluded all three volumes of Hegel's great Logic, Kant's Critiques, and works by
    Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Husserl, and Wittgenstein. And I no longer remem
    ber the whole list.

  1. B.D. Elkonin [El'konin], Vvedenie v psikhologiiu razvitiia (V traditsii
    kul'turno-istoricheskoi teorii L.S. Vygotskogo) (Moscow: Trivola, 1994), pp.

  2. Elkonin, Vvedenie, p. 165. Further on I continue to cite Elkonin's text

  1. Incidentally, it was precisely Plato who began and triumphantly com
    pleted the analysis of the idea (of the ideal) as a model reality. Nothing needs
    either to be either added to or taken away from his analysis.

  2. True, Stoletov soon took me off the editorial board. It happened this way.
    President of the GDR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences Gerhard Neuner, se
    cretly from Stoletov, gave the text of my chapter to the Central Committee of the
    Socialist Unity Party of Germany, whence it reached, with a corresponding re
    port, the Central Committee of the CPSU. There, naturally, it aroused indigna
    tion and Stoletov got a scolding. After this our president cut off all relations with
    Neuner, who was, by the way, a personal friend of Margot Honecker, the minis
    ter of education of the GDR. The textbook came out with the chapter by D.B.
    but, of course, without my chapter. I am unspeakably glad of it: the textbook
    was exceptionally bad.

  3. My colleagues and I put forward and substantiated the idea and image of
    the cultural-educational center at the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the
    1980s. It was supported by the vice president of the USSR Academy of Peda
    gogical Sciences—Viktor Gennad'evich Zubov, a well-known physicist and
    pedagogue. Hearing that such a center was being created near Tselinograd [in
    Kazakhstan], he exclaimed: I'm chucking everything—Moscow, the academy,
    Moscow State University—and coming to join you! Only tell me what kinds of
    skills are needed by the state farm where you are setting up your Center. I brought
    him all our plans. But soon after, he died following an uninterrupted series of
    heart attacks. But what a man he was! A sparkling wit, boldness to the point of
    desperation. He was the one person in the old academy with whom I fell sin
    cerely and forever in love.

  4. An example: a standard textbook, issued and reissued for more than one
    decade with the ministry imprimatur, sets this question following Pushkin's poem
    Autumn [Osen']: "What do collective farmers do at this time of year?"

  5. See: I. Kant, Soch. v 6 tomakh, vol. 3 (Moscow: Mysl', 1964), pp. 414-17.
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