Selected Works of Aleksei Nikolaevich Leont‟ev
Marxists Internet Archive
P.O. Box 1541; Pacifica, CA 94044; USA. Aleksei Nikolaevich Leont‟ev (1904-1979)
1. Psychology, 2. Activity Theory, 3. Marxism
CC-SA (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0) 2009 by Marxists Internet Archive.
Table of Contents
1. The Problem of the Origin of Sensation ............................................. 1
I. The Problem ............................................................................. 1
II. Hypothesis ........................................................................... 19
III. The Functional Evolution of Sensitivity......................... 43
IV. Discussion of the Results and Certain Conclusions ... 100 2. The Biological and Social in Man‟s Psyche...................................... 112 3. An Outline of the Evolution of the Psyche .................................... 135
I. The Evolution of the Psyche in Animals ......................... 135
II. The Origin of Human Consciousness ............................ 178
III. The Historical Development of Consciousness .......... 194 4.The Historical Approach to Study of the Human Psyche ............. 239 5. The Development of Higher Forms of Memory ........................... 287 6. The Psychological Principles of Preschool Play ............................. 321 7. The Theory of the Development of the Child‟s Psyche ............... 343 8. The Child‟s Psychological Development and Mental Deficiency 366
Note on the work of A N Leont’ev
The selected papers of A. N. Leontyev published in this edition express the main line of his theoretical and experimental research. After his first work, devoted to an experimental study of affective responses – An Investigation into the Objective Symptoms of
Affective Responses (jointly with A. R. Luriya) in Sovremennye problemy
psikhologii (Moscow, 1926); Experience of the Structural Analysis of Associative Chain Series, Russko-Nemetsky meditsinsky zhurnal, 1928, 1
and 2; Ekzamen i psikhika (Examination and the Mind) (jointly with A.
R . Luriya Moscow, 1929, he began to work under L. S. Vygotsky within the context of the latter‟s conception of research into the
ontogenetic development of the psyche – Mediated Remembering in
Children with a Deficient or Morbidly Altered Intellect, Voprosy
defektologii, 1928, 4; Development of the Internal Structure of Higher Behaviour in Psikhonevrologicheskaya nauka (Leningrad, 1930); Razvitie
proizvol‟nogo vnimania u detei (The Development of Voluntary Attention
in Children), Moscow, 1930. In this period he also published his first major monograph Razvitie pamyati (The Development of Memory),
From 1932 Prof. Leontyev‟s work took a new path. Heading a
group of young psychologists in Kharkov (V. I. Asnin, L. I. Bozhovich, P. J. Halperin, A. V. Zaporozhets, P. I. Zinchenko, O. M. Kontsevaya, G.D. Lukov, V. V. Mistyuk, K. E. Khomenko, and others), he directed research into the development of the child‟s
practical intellectual activity and consciousness. On this basis he and his associates worked on the problem of relating the structure of activity to forms of psychic reflection. Several of the theoretical problems that arose in this connection, prompted Prof. Leontyev to start research in the field of various psychophysiological and zoopsychic problems. At the same time at the suggestion of the Kharkov Polygraphic Institute, he organised and directed a cycle of work of a primarily practical nature on children‟s perception of
illustrations. A number of papers wore prepared under his direction in this period and published in Nauchnye zapiski Khar‟kovskogo
pedagogicheskogo instituta (Vol. I, X, 1939 ; Vol. II, X, 1941), Nauchnye
zapiski Khar‟kovskogo instituta inostrannykh yazyko v (Vol. II, X, 1939),
Trudy konferentsii po psikhologii, Vol. I (Kiev, 1941), and in a number of
later works, some of which appear in the present volume.
After resuming work in Moscow in 1935, Prof. Leontyev devoted his main attention to the problem of the origin of sensitivity and the general theory of the evolution of the psyche, completing his experimental genetic research into the origin of sensation in 1940.
During World War II Leontyev devoted his efforts to the urgent problem of restoring motor functions damaged by gunshot wounds. For that purpose he organised a rehabilitation hospital, of which he became scientific head. (The results of this work were published in A. N. Leont‟ev and A. V. Zaporozhets. Vosstanovlenie dvizheniya (The
Restoration of Movement), Moscow, 1945, and in a number of special papers by Leontyev and his colleagues in Uchonye zapiski MGU,
Apart from its practical value this experimental research into the restoration of motor processes also played an important role in elaboration of the theory of functional development, enabling the author later to advance a hypothesis of the systemic structure of psychic functions (1954).
In the postwar years the author again returned to the problem of child and educational psychology. At the same time he worked on several questions of general psychology. The joint session of the USSR Academy of Sciences and RSFSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences held in 1951 on Pavlov‟s physiological teaching, turned his
attention to study of the psyche‟s reflex mechanisms, which found
reflection in his work: in the following period – On the Materialist
and Subjective Idealist Reflex Conceptions of the Psyche, Sovetskaya
pedagogika, 1951, 10; The Dependence of Associative Connections on the Content of Action (jointly with T. V. Rozanova), Sovetskaya
pedagogika, 1951 7 10; On the Systemic Nature of Mental Functions. In: Tezisy doklado v na yubileinoi sessii Moskovskogo Universiteta (Moscow,
1955); On an Effect of the Forming of a Motor Chain Habit (jointly with M. I. Bobneva). Doklady APN RSFSR, 1958, 1; and the work
cited below on analysis of the systemic structure of aural perception. His work on educational psychology, and problems of general psychology are not included in the present volume.
The Progress Publishers edition, published in the USSR in 1981 has been reproduced with corrections and some changes to section numbering not affecting the content, by the Marxists Internet Archive in 2009, with the assistance of Michael Roth.
1. The Problem of the Origin
* of Sensation
I. The Problem
The origin, i.e. the genesis proper, of the psyche, and its
subsequent evolution, are closely related problems. Our general approach to psychic development is, therefore, directly characterised by how we theoretically resolve the problem of the psyche‟s origin.
There have been many attempts, of course, to give a fundamental answer to this problem. First and foremost there is the answer that can be briefly designated as in the spirit of „anthropsychism‟, and
which is associated in the history of philosophical thought with the name of Descartes. Its essence is that the origin of the psyche is linked with the advent of man, and exists only in man. The whole prehistory of the human mind is thus expunged altogether. This view cannot be considered dead today; it is still met, and finds reflection in specific sciences. Some workers still cling to it, holding that the psyche, strictly speaking, is a quality inherent only in man.
Another, opposite answer is given by the doctrine of
„panpsychism‟, i.e. of the universal mental character of nature. Such views were expounded by certain French materialists like Robinet. Fechner, among others famous in psychology, also held such a view.
Between these two extremes, attributing the existence of mind, on the one hand, only to man, and on the other hand recognising mind as a quality of all matter in general, there are also intermediate
* This paper was a section of the author‟s doctoral dissertation (Razvitie
psikhiki, 1940). The first part set out his hypothesis of the origin in principle of sensitivity as a capacity for elementary sensation, which he had developed in 1933-36. The hypothesis was originally formulated in several papers in Kharkov and Moscow, and was later presented in a special paper (A Contribution to the Problem of the Origin of Sensitivity) in the symposium dedicated to the 35 years of D. N. Uznadze‟s scientific work (Tbilisi, 1944),
and also in the first edition of the present work (Ocherk razvitiya psikhiki); in
the present edition this chapter has been omitted. The second part of the section was an exposition of his experimental investigation of the forming of sensitivity to inadequate stimulation, which he had carried out with his colleagues in 1936-39 in the laboratory he headed in the Institute of Psychology in Moscow, and in the chair of psychology of the Kharkov Pedagogical Institute.
views, which are much more common. First of all there is the view that could be called „biopsychism‟, the essence of which is that the
psyche is a property not of all matter in general but solely of living matter. Such were the views of Hobbes and of many natural scientists (Claude Bernard, Haeckel, and others). A psychologist who held this view was Wundt.
There is yet another, fourth mode of answering the problem, i.e. that of attributing the psyche not to matter in general, or to all living matter, but solely to those organisms that have a nervous system. This point of view might be called the conception of „neuropsychism‟.
It was advanced by Darwin and Herbert Spencer, and has become very common both in contemporary physiology and among
psychologists, especially the Spencerians.
Can any one of these four positions be adopted as a standpoint in general to orient us correctly on the problem of the origin of mind?
It is as alien to consistently materialist science to hold that mind is the privilege only of man as to attribute universal spirituality to matter. Our view is that the psyche – mind – is a property of matter
that arises only at its highest stages of development, at the level of organic, living matter. Does that mean, however, that all living matter has some kind of very simple mind, that the transition from inanimate matter to animate is at the same time a transition to living, „Sentient matter?
We suggest that this assumption, too, contradicts modern scientific knowledge of the simplest living matter. Mind can only be the product of living matter‟s subsequent evolution, and of the
subsequent evolution of life itself.
Thus we must also reject the contention that the psyche originates together with living matter and that it is inherent in the whole organic world.
There remains the last of the views listed, that the origin of mind is linked with the development of a nervous system in animals. That view, however, also cannot be accepted uncritically, from our point of view. It is unsatisfactory because it arbitrarily supposes a direct link between the development of mind and the development of a nervous system, and ignores the point that, although the organ and the function are inseparably interconnected, their link is not at the same time immobile, singular, and fixed once and for all, so that analogous functions can be performed by different organs.
For example, the function that nerve tissue subsequently began to perform was originally carried out by processes taking place in
THE ORIGIN OF SENSATION 3
1protoplasm without the involvement of nerves. It has been found
that in sponges (Stylotella), which have no nerve elements whatsoever,
there are true sphincters, whose action is consequently not regulated by nerve apparatuses (M. Parker). We therefore also cannot accept without further concrete examination (as many contemporary physiologists do) the view that the origin of mind is tied by a direct and unique link with the origin of the nervous system, although there is no doubt about it in the subsequent stages of evolution.
The problem of the origin of the psyche thus cannot be considered resolved, even in its most general form.
This state of affairs naturally led a number of natural scientists to agnostic positions on this issue. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century Emil Du Bois-Reymond , one of the most eminent natural. scientists of his time, pointed out, in his address in honour of 2Leibiniz (1880), seven unresolved „world riddles‟ for human science.
One of these was the problem of the origin of sensation. The President of the Berlin Academy, where Dubois-Reymond delivered his address, rejected several of the „riddles‟ outright when summing
up the discussion of the unknowability of certain problems for science, but kept three, emphasising their allegedly real inaccessibility to human knowledge. One of these three was the problem of the original rise of sensations, a question that Haeckel called, not by
3chance, the central mystery of psychology‟.
There is nothing, understandably, more foreign to consistently materialist science than the views of agnosticism, even if they are limited to just one area of knowledge.
The first issue facing investigation of the genesis of the psyche is that of the original, initial form of the psychic. In that regard there are
1 See: C. M. Child. The Origin and Development of the Nervous System (The
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1921).
2 See: E. H. Du Bois-Reymond. Reden, Vol. 2 (Verlag von Veit und Comp .,
Leipzig, 1912), p 65. See also: I. F. Ognev. E. Du Bois-Reymond s Speeches and His Scientific Outlook. Voprosy filosofii i psikhologii, 1899, 48: 211.
Khvolson, by endorsing Du Bois-Reymond‟s proposition that the riddle of
primary sensations‟ is unresolvable, inevitably came logically to a more general position of psychological agnosticism‟, namely that the problems of
psychology are, in general, „actually alien to natural science‟ (O. D. Khvolson.
Gegel‟, Gekkel‟, Kossut i dvenadtsataya zapoved‟ (Hegel, Haeckel, Kossuth, and
the Twelfth Commandment), St. Petersburg, 1911.
3 Ernst Haeckel. The Riddle of the Universe (Watts & Co., London, 1931), p
two opposing views. According to one the evolution of mental life begins with the development of a „hedonic psyche‟, i.e. with the birth
of a primitive, rudimentary self-consciousness. The latter consists in the organism‟s originally still hazy experience of its own states, experience that is positive in conditions of an abundant diet, growth, and multiplication, and negative in conditions Of starvation, partial destruction, and the like. These states, which are the prototype of human experiences of appetite, pleasure, or suffering, allegedly constitute the main basis on which various forms of foreseeing‟
consciousness, i.e. consciousness that apprehends the surrounding world, are later developed.
This view can be justified theoretically only from the standpoint of a psycho-vitalist interpretation of evolution, which posits a special force within the object itself that operated at first as a purely internal stimulus and only later armed itself‟ with external sense organs. We
do not consider this view acceptable in modern research that aspires to be rooted in scientific soil, and do Dot deem it necessary to make a detailed critique of it at this point.
We are compelled, both theoretically and factually, to regard life first and foremost as an interaction between an organism and its environment.
Only through the evolution of this process of external interaction are the organism‟s internal relations and states developed; internal sensitivity, which is associated, in its biological significance, with functional co-adaptation of organs, can therefore only be secondary and dependent on „protallaxic‟ changes (to use Severtsov‟s term). On
the contrary, it is external sensitivity functionally linked with the reciprocal action of the organism and environment that must be regarded as primary.
We shall thus take sensation, which reflects objective external reality, as the elementary form of the psyche, and treat the problem of the origin of the psyche in this concrete form as the problem of the genesis of a capacity for sensation‟ or (what is the same thing)
What can serve as the criterion of sensitivity, that is to say, how can we ascertain in general whether a sensation exists, even in its simplest form? The practical criterion is usually subjective. When we
want to know if a person is experiencing a particular sensation, we can proceed quite simply, without going into complicated arguments about method, by asking him directly and receiving a clear-cut reply. We can, furthermore, cheek the answer by putting the same question to enough other people under the same conditions. If each of the persons questioned, or most of them, also admit to having the sensation, then clearly there will be no doubt that this phenomenon