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The Explanation of Social Action$
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John Levi Martin

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199773312

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199773312.001.0001

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Action In and On a World

Action In and On a World

(p.145) Chapter 5 Action In and On a World
The Explanation of Social Action

John Levi Martin

Oxford University Press

Chapter 5 investigates three alternatives to the Durkheimian understanding of the nature of the cognitive components to action. The first is the Russian activity school, associated most clearly with Vygotsky and his critique of Piaget for neglecting the social aspect of the formation of the child’s cognitive system. Vygotsky emphasized this social aspect, but persisted with the Durkheimian assumption of the arbitrariness of categories, and hence the social relationships he imagined were intrinsically authoritarian. In contrast, the Gestalt school emphasized the non-arbitrariness of the conceptual system, but at the cost of de-emphasizing the active side of cognition. The pragmatic tradition as exemplified by Dewey incorporated both the active nature of cognition and the embracing of the reality of experience. Dewey emphasized that what we perceive is properly seen as an interaction between the active animal and the environment, and what we mean by the qualities of objects are necessarily and nonproblematically what they call out for us to do. Dewey’s perspective implies an embracing of the fundamentally qualitative nature of experience, which technically calls for a theory of aesthetics.

Keywords:   activity, Vygotsky, Gestalt, Köhler, pragmatist, Dewey

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