How to become an adult?

We owe Vygotsky, a major educational theorist, for having shown how the child's psyche is formed. P. Svrac explains in this work what this theory owes to Spinoza.

P. Svrac's book Power of childhood. Vygotsky with Spinoza deeply enriches the reading of an author, L.S. Vygotskij, who is, with Paulo Freire, a major reference in educational sciences. As P. Svrac says, it allows (at least theoretically) to go beyond two dominant conceptions in matters of education: educational populismaccording to which the child develops continuously, following its own laws and spontaneously; And the aristocratism of knowledge (p. 15), according to which knowledge from the outside radically transforms the student's development. Vygotskij, he asserts, allows us to think about both continuity and rupture.

The subtitle Vygotskij with Spinoza is doubly based: 1. the first works constantly on the basis of, with the second; he refers to it to found his monist anthropology, reformulates it to develop a future theory of emotions, even attempts to give it a scientific basis; 2. with SpinozaP. Svrac, a specialist on this philosopher, rereads Vygotskij by interpreting in an original way a certain number of central concepts of this author.

Vygotskij and child development

Born in 1896, initially a teacher trainer and literary critic, Vygotskij began his academic career in 1924 in defectology, pedology and psychology in USSR. He died in 1934 from tuberculosis. His work includes more than 200 texts, including Psychology of art, History of the development of higher psychic functions, Pedology of adolescents, Thought and language And Theory of motions. For Vygotskij, specifically human capacities, higher psychic functions, are historical-social constructions. All human activity is mediated by an instrument, tool or sign, which intervenes between the subject and the object and fundamentally transforms the structure of this relationship. Vygotskij's basic idea is to consider the sign as an instrument allowing one to act on others and oneself and thus to control one's own behavior and one's own psychic functions. By forming increasingly complex functions and systems of functions, the structure of the psyche and the entire personality are transformed.

Vygotskij describes this formation through the study of genetics, distinguishing its essential stages, separated by crises and ruptures: completely new forms of memory, attention, action and thought are constructed, more and more consciously mastered, in profoundly remodeled systems. . The genetic principle underlying these formations is that of the internalization of social relationships through which the person appropriates culturally developed behaviors, based on systems of signs. The most personal psyche is thus profoundly social; the human essence is created through relationships with the world and society. Human development thus conceived in its principles is particularly complex to the extent that two lines of development, physiological maturation and cultural construction, are merged, but it is above all artificial, the fruit of educational interventions in particular “teaching”, which make it possible to actualize possible areas of future development and thus guide this development.

From thought to affect: a journey with the help of Spinoza

Dacosta instructing the young Spinoza, painting by Samuel Hirszenberg, 1901

P. Svrac's book delves into several aspects of Vygotskian theory, summarized here very briefly. In the first part, he explains the intertwining of the two lines of development. He shows that cultural development is not the deployment of a program preformed a natural development as affirmed by the psychological theories of his time, but a constant transformation. This transformation that he discusses in contrast with the Hegelian and Piagetian conceptions is as much the fruit of self-movement as the result of an educational cultural effort: self-hetro-motion he shouts.

These general characteristics of Vygotskian anthropology established, P. Svrac, with the help of Spinoza from the second part, considers the child's cognitive activity. Presenting the formation of concepts during the transition from childhood to adolescence that Vygotskij analyzes in his work Thought and language syncretic thinking, thinking by complexes, thinking by concepts he shows that it is possible to put them in parallel and to clarify them through the kinds of knowledge identified by Spinoza: transcendental terms, universal notions of the imagination (first kind), universal notions of reason (second kind). But conversely also, the analysis that Vygotskij proposes of the genesis of concepts during childhood would allow be sensitive to what might go unnoticed in Spinoza, even to better understand his conception of the third kind of knowledge, intuitive science (p. 123). This results in original formulations where the thoughts of the two authors intersect intimately:

While (in the child's development) the imagination, becoming intellectualized, goes from bottom to top, the intellect, becoming more imaginative, goes from top to bottom, here undertakes a rationalization of the imaginary and an imagination of the rational. (pg. 104)

The emotional power of thought, third part, first addresses the question of the relationship between thought and language. To identify the concrete mechanisms of how this relationship works, Vygotskij defines a basic unit, the word and its meaning. It allows us to grasp the constantly changing relationship between thought (generalization) and language (communication) and follow its development through the internalization of language, namely the constitution of an interior language, of a verbal thought, a thought that can be deployed outside of any situation and concrete action. By constantly comparing Vygotskian analyzes with the thought of Spinoza, P. Svrac reformulates this transformation of the relationship between language and thought which takes place through the development of the child until the age of transition to become an adult. Let’s take an example that illustrates his approach: Words being bodily affections, order and chain words which follow an order valid for the intellect (secundum ordinem ad intellectum) means to compose a speech (a rain of words (Vygotskian expression)) even to linguistically realize an adequate idea which is a thought rich in a simultaneous plurality (p. 155). Here we see the emergence of another Spinozan idea at the basis of Vygotskian anthropology, the unity of body and spirit:

Dialectical psychology, writes Vygotskij, starts above all from the unity of psychic and physiological processes. For her, the psyche is not, according to Spinoza's expression, something outside of nature or a state within a state (Vygotskij, cited by Svrac, p. 193).

Consciousness as a lived experience of lived experiences

But how, in this context, can we approach the problem which is at the heart of Vygotskij's work from the beginning of his research, namely that of consciousness?? This has no mode of existence of its own, which would be contradictory with the monist position he shares with Spinoza.; its specificity consists of a structure that Vygotskij describes as lived experience of lived experiences. P. Svrac explains the concept of lived experience through an original interpretation of a text often commented on in secondary literature on The environmental problem in pedology. Vygotskij shows how the same middle, in this case an alcoholic, violent mother, is refracted in a profoundly different way in the lived experience of her three children: for them, it is not in fact the same and does not have the same effects. Which allows us to say P. Svrac that this lived experience pereivanie it is frequently said today in the literature devoted to Vygotskij instead of its possible translation corresponds to affect in the Spinozian sense, a variation in psychophysical power produced by an encounter with external causality (p. 206). This lived experience which is therefore affected in the Spinozan sense can become more and more clearly the object of a lived experience itself, or, to put it in the terms of P. Svrac borrowing Vygotskij and Spinoza simultaneously:

If inadequate consciousness, passive and partial, can be reflexivity reflexed from a lived experience, on the other hand adequate consciousness, active and total, is necessarily reflexivity reflected from several lived experiences (p. 218-220).

The reader, a connoisseur of Vygotskij, emerges undeniably enriched from reading the work from which we have extracted some strong points here. It allows him to construct a renewed look at fundamental conceptions of Vygotskian work: the development of concepts appears in a new light; the relationship between thought and language deepens through reformulation with Spinoza; the dialectical conception of psychology as a unity of the physical and the psychic, developed particularly in the pedological works of Vygotskij, finds its solid philosophical foundation; and the Spinozan theory of affects can be mobilized to advance in the difficult articulation between consciousness, intellect and affections outlined by Vygotskij in the concept of lived experience.

In a book on the power of childhood, it should be noted, however, that Vygotskij's pedological work, namely his analyzes of the stages of child development through crises, ruptures and reorganizations of the psychic system, is hardly discussed.; the period of the transitional age, adolescence, for example, which is that of the formation of concepts, is not the subject of a systematic presentation. The relationship between teaching (obuat ; not school learning as P. Svrac writes following the unfortunate translation of Françoise Sve) and development, artificial development writes Vygotskij, is certainly approached, but not very systematized. The Marxian contribution in the work of Vygotskij, omnipresent for example in the criticism of Piaget as “abstracting from real practice for the construction of knowledge”, is not mentioned at all. But, whatever it is, Power of childhood is a book that opens new avenues of reflection and allows us to penetrate further into the reading and interpretation of Vygotskij's work.