Volume 55, Issue 3, 2018
Cognition, Activity, and Content
A.N. Leontiev and the Enactive Origin of “Ideal Reflective Content”
According to Leontiev’s “activity approach,” the external world is not something available to be “worked over” according to a subject’s inner or “ideal” representations; at stake instead is the emergence of an “idealized” objective world that relates to a subject’s activity both internally and externally construed. In keeping with a Marxian account of anthropogenesis, Leontiev links the emergence of “ideality” with social activity itself, incorporating it within the general movement between the poles of ‘inner’ cognition and ‘external’ action. In this manner, Leontiev both parallels and goes beyond Hutto and Myin’s recent “enactivist” account of “content-involving” cognition, where representational thought depends on socio-cultural scaffolding and, as such, is uniquely human. What traditionally comes to be called representational content is for Leontiev the result of the transition from a primitive cognitive apparatus of “image-consciousness” to a one which is mediated by social activity. For the being endowed with “activity-consciousness,” mental content is something apprehended by assimilating “the objective world in its ideal form” [Leontiev, 1977, p. 189]. And the precondition for such assimilation is the apprehension of meanings from their origin in the social-material system of activity. The genesis of content-involving cognition is thus coeval with the development of socializing activity systems, replete with the external representations of values and norms as described in enactivist literature as publicly scaffolded symbol systems. Leontiev thus offers an anti-internalist account of cognition commensurate with Hutto and Myin but with the added dimension of a developmental scale of analysis with which to explain the origin of human-specific cognition.