Subject and activity

Subject and Activity

The world's universal relation to itself (reflection) includes the world's self-reproduction. The inanimate, animate and conscious levels of reflection are characterized by their own place in that reproduction. Conscious production of things and their relations is called activity.

On the inanimate level, mediation is basically identical to interaction, and one body is merely absorbed by another, possibly changing its state. No further interactions are assumed. The behavior of a living creature only passively influences its environment: an organism may cause an environmental change as a side effect of its behavior, which is not intended to be used by that organism in the future. The activity of the subject implies transformation of the objects involved, their adjustment to the subject's ways. In any activity, some changes in the world are produced to be used by the subject, though not necessarily the producer. Such artificial objects, produced by the subject for the subject, are called products, and a product can be considered as a synthesis of an object and a subject possessing the attributes of the both. No product can exist otherwise than in its relation to the subject; taken apart from a definite culture, no thing can be considered as a product of conscious activity, remaining a mere thing.

Every object is a product, since its definition implies relatedness to the subject. This is a consequence of the presence of both the material and ideal sides in any reality. In particular, the subject as a special kind of object is a product too. Both objects and subjects are repeatedly reproduced in the two ways, or aspects. The primary object cycle can be expressed with the scheme:

... → O → S → O' → ...

This representation puts stress on the reproduction of the world as the result of conscious activity. The complementary subject cycle is the inverted form of the object cycle:

... → S → O → S' → ...

Here, the stress is on the subject's development through its interaction with the world. Any activity is the unity of the both objective and subjective reproduction. As a special case of mediation, each particular activity can be represented by its product.

In the continuous train of activity, one could distinguish individual acts of reproduction, which may be of either O → S → O' or S → O → S' type. The former triad represents individual actions, while the latter scheme S → O → S' describes communication acts, or transactions. Any activity includes both action and communication. However, an abstract scheme can represent many kinds of action or communication. Thus, the same triad S → O → S' can refer to either communication of two individuals, or communication of a person with him- or herself, interrelations between a person and a group, processes of personality development etc. Similarly, the scheme O → S → O' can span the range from a routine operation to the development of the object mediated by conscious activity. Virtually, due to the universality of subjective mediation, all the world is to become involved in conscious activity and adapted to the subject's needs, cultivated. In this way, the very distinction of the object, the subject and the product will be lifted up, so that the whole world in its entirety will become the object, the subject and the product.

Reproduction and creativity

The material side of activity is in rearrangement of the world, assimilating and re-creating it. People use objects to make products, and any product is intended to become an object for some other people, in their own activity. The general scheme of such subject-mediated reproduction, O → S → P, combines two complementary acts, consumption and production, expressed by the links O → S and S → P respectively.

Objects and products can be very different, and in no way restricted to material things, reproduction of the world by the subject includes reproduction of reflection, on any level. For instance a particular act O → S → P can correspond to using O as raw material for producing P; the same scheme with O as a social relation describes one's behavior as dictated by moral norms or cultural stereotypes. The product P can be either a tangible thing or a sublime change in one's soul, or in people's relations. In any activity, the subject reproduces both the nature and subjectivity itself.

On the syncretic level, consumption and production are the aspects of the same act. Thus, writing a letter on a sheet of paper, we spend some ink; satisfying hunger, we consume food; attending a ballet show (consumption), we produce certain mental structures inside us. In other respects, production and consumption can be formally separated, with many acts of consumption accumulated for a single act of production, and a single act of consumption leading to different products. This is the analytical level, where consumption physically precedes production. Syncretism is lifted up on this level of activity, and any one of the actions comprising it can be considered as a simple unity of consumption and production, with the favorable conditions for further actions as partial products. On the synthetic level, all the analytical activities are included in the integral process of cultural reproduction, restoring the objective and subjective conditions for each specific activity.

In the cycle O → S → O', the same objects become produced again and again, to allow repeated activities. This is called simple reproduction, and it is the way human culture is conserved despite all its inherent dynamics. However, there is a complementary interpretation of this scheme, stressing that every act of production will change the world, introduce something that did not exist before, so that the new product would be qualitatively different from any previously known object. This aspect of reproduction is known as creativity. In general, since the product is a synthesis of the object and the subject, it is different from mere object by definition. However, in every particular act of production, the creative component may be of different importance. Still, creative work is the attribute of the subject, and one of the criteria of subjectivity and consciousness.

In the picture of activity as cyclic reproduction of both the objective and the subjective sides of the subject/object interaction, one could formally unfold the arrows in the scheme O → S → O', which gives O → P → S → P' → O'. In other worlds, the influence of object O onto subject S (or its assimilation by the subject) becomes mediated by an instrument P, and subject S influences (produces) object O' using a tool P'. Occupying the place of a mediator between the subject and the object, every tool can be characterized from both objective and subjective sides, that is, its functioning in the physical world and the modes of the tool's usage; similarly, an instrument combines transmission of the world's influence on the subject with subjective filtering, selecting the relations relevant to the current activity. This could be represented by the scheme O → (o « s) → S → (s' « o') → O', or, in a refolded form, (O → o) → (s → S → s') → (o' → O'). In other words, the objects manifest themselves in a very specific way, while involved in conscious activity, and tool/instrument mediated activity makes the subject expand, assimilating a part of the external world and developing a kind of an inorganic body. In its ultimate development the subject will embrace all the world, becoming identical to it.


In communication, S → O → S', two subjects cooperate within a common activity. This scheme does not make any sense on itself, as if the subject created the world from nothing and then absorbed it back. The origin of communication is in repeated activity, in which any subject can be substituted by any other:

O → S → O' → S' → P

The very act of substitution requires putting the subject S' in the conditions to produce the product P ; it is the subject S who produces these conditions as the product of a special activity. That is, instead of directly producing the desired effect, one can aim at merely prepare the others for producing it. People manipulate other people, use them as a tool, to achieve what is not directly achievable. Such a second-order (mediated) production is an immediate consequence of the universality of subjective mediation. Higher animals can develop primitive forms of manipulation, but it is only in conscious beings that the majority of behavioral acts is manipulation. However, dominance of such a direct manipulation is a sign of primitive consciousness, while self-consciousness and reason demand well-developed self-manipulation through the society as a whole. This becomes possible through reflexive communication, described with the scheme

O → (S → O' → S' → O" → S) → P

From the outside, this looks like ordinary production, O → S → P, with the only difference that there is a delay between consuming the object O and producing the product P, and in the middle the subject communicates with other subjects in order to get prepared for the final production. As one can see, this is equivalent to self-communication through somebody else's activity:

O → (S → (O' → S' → O") → S) → P ,


O → (S → O(S') → S) → P .

This is how people come to communicating with themselves, self-communication. Every instance of such communication is interiorized communication with the others, with the society in general.

It is important that different subject perceive each other as activities, and not mere objects. Thus, in the scheme S → S' → P , the subject S is yet another object, with no subjective quality; on the contrary, in the scheme (O → S → O') → S' → P, which is a refolding of the scheme used to illustrate the origin of communication, it is the whole activity O → S → O' that plays the role of the object for S', and hence S is now perceived as a subject, as universal mediator.

The demand of universality implies that there must be an object mediating communication in a universal way. This universal mediator of communication is language (hereafter denoted by the letter L). It does not need to be the usual verbal conversation, and the idea of language is wider, including both verbal and non-verbal components, as long as they are used in a universal manner. Thus, words can be mere voice signals, without the specifically human cultural reference; similarly, silent communion can convey much more conscious content than vast prolixity. Almost any object can be used in a language-like mode, though some objects are more convenient for universal mediation than the others. Speech became the basis of human communication due to its high versatility in the conditions of the planet Earth; this does not mean that it is the only possible implementation of language, and that, even in humans, it would not loose its dominance some day. The overall direction of development is towards more diversity of communication, increasing its non-verbal component.

Like in objective reproduction, communication can be split into the separate acts of expression, S → L, and attending, L → S'. In indirect communication, expression and attending are separated in time, with some objective process, or activity, between them: S → (L → L') → S', or S → (L → S" → L') → S'. Quite often, the role of the intermediate subject in communication is played by a higher-level subject (a social layer, a class, the society as a whole). That is, any words are perceived in the present cultural context and brought under the "common sense". This why the same words can mean opposite things when said by different people.

Inner activity

In the cycle S → O → S' , one can formally fold objective mediation and consider "purely subjective" development: ... → S → S' → S" → ... Here, the subject seems to develop entirely through communication, and self-communication. In the latter case, one comes to an activity-like process within the subject, substituting the subject for objective mediation. This seemingly objectless process is called inner activity, complementing the outer, object mediated activity.

In outer activity, the subject makes some product, which is to be consumed by the subject to maintain its active existence. In inner activity, the subject itself plays the role of the product, becoming an object for itself. This reflectivity results in developing a hierarchy within the subjects, as well as a hierarchy of subjects.

The same scheme of inner activity applies to the development of subjectivity in general, as a level of reflection, as well as subjectivity carried by individuals, groups, societies. Inner activity may equally refer to psychological processes in the personality, to the relations between the members of a group, to the interaction of social forces. As an inter-level process, it describes the development of individuals through society (socialization). Individual subjects do not need to be physical individuals, humans; they can as well be groups of people joined by some common activity into a whole, or even imaginary characters. As soon as such a collective formation can mediate (at least indirectly, through other people) relations between things and other subjects, it can be called a subject, and it can develop regardless of the presence of the physical body.

The origin of inner activity is in the intrinsic subjectivity of any object, which is always a product and hence reflects some aspects of the subject. Therefore, any objective mediation of the inter-subject relations S → O → S" is always activity mediated :

which includes the component S → S' → S". Due to the universality of subjective mediation, the mediating subject S' can become a part of S ; if the same subject S is substituted for S", the outer sequence S → S' → S" becomes reproduced within the same subject, which is known as interirorization. Depending on the level of the subject (an individual, a collective subject, the society) interiorization takes different forms. Basically, one can distinguish phylogenic and ontogenetic interiorization, that is, through historical development and learning, through cultural influence and education.

Inner activity can also be understood as expansion of the subject's non-organic body. Interacting with the world through instruments and tools, the subject includes their subject-related aspects (the modes of operation, the typical applications etc.) into its internal hierarchy, which leads to a scheme like s → S → s', with s and s' denoting the parts of the instrument and tool included in the subject. In this scheme, both the object and the product are within the subject, which explains the term "inner activity".

Since no inter-subject relations can exist outside the reproduction of the objective world, any inner activity originates from some outer activity, and it can be unfolded in an outer activity in special circumstances. This process of exteriorization is an important element of cultural inheritance, since it provides a mechanism for new subject formation, when new subjects first appear as an inter-subject relation. For instance, when the parents give birth to a child, they form a specific relation between them long before the physical birth, and, sometimes, even before the conception. This inner relation becomes exteriorized and projected onto the newly born organic body, through including it in the process of objective reproduction and social relations.

[Philosophy of consciousness] [Philosophy] [Unism]