top of page
  • filipefelizardo2

The Human as Transformation - Notes against a Pedagogy for Labor

The following should be read as an assembly of hopefully not very disparate notes, intended as research for “The Logic of Pedagogical Transformation – Activity against Labor, Intelligibility against Necessity” - a paper to be presented in coming months as result of a residency at Foreign Objekt's Intelligence Unbound: Navigating the Dynamics of Human-Posthuman Evolution.

Filipe Felizardo - "The Purist" excerpt from comic, ink on paper, 2022

The upcoming paper is to be considered a part of a larger project, titled “Paideia2 – The Formation of the Inhuman”, currently being developed for the New Centre of Research & Practice's Certificate Program in Critical Philosophy. That project's main aim is to propose a philosophy of pedagogy under the lens of a meta-concept of radical universalism, as derived from research on and the works of Evald Ilyenkov and Lev Vygotsky, and aided by Moishe Postone's accounts of labor, history, and value, in order to interrogate contemporary logics of pedagogy. At the end, it should be able to propose Jean-Yves Girard's linear logic as a strong contender for the logic of learning, as well as map such an organon onto Plato's concept of mixture and its importance for realizing ever newer forms of the human.

Specifically, this paper will look at modes of social reproduction enmeshed with the meta-concept of paideia – the enforming, bildung, or formation of the human as the formation of intelligence. We will ask if the formation of the human-particular can be seen instead as a social transformation of intelligence isomorphic to an account of learning as transformation of the human-universal.

For this aim, we will consider 'formation' as a mode of production. As such, it will be critiqued as the mode of production of intelligence. This will be done by positing a labor-based mode of production in pedagogy, under the conceptual framework of Postone's 'Time, Labor & Social Domination'. Afterwards, we will analyse it alongside an alternative mode – that of activity, as proposed by Evald Ilyenkov's account of human activity. Moreover, we will pin-point the money form as that which will allow us to emancipate labor-based pedagogy into activity-based pedagogy, where this abstraction's engine can be modelled as a form of the human constituted as realizer of intelligibilities, which these in turn realize and make intelligible anew.

With these modes of production having been made transparent to themselves, we will propose that each has its underlying logic, and map it accordingly. On account of the strong import of modal logic in social reproduction and the synthetising impact this has on the formation of intelligent agents, their self-conception as social individuals and especially the self-conception of their agency and its import on reality, these results will be considered under the framework of an enlargened modality. Here, necessity, possibility, and contingency are augmented by intelligibility and realizability, as to provide a clearer view of each pedagogical logic's methodology and its purported results.

It will be claimed that a labor-based pedagogical mode of production operates under a formalist logic framework – demonstrative, apodictic, merely syntactic, and abstract. On the other hand, the activity-based pedagogical mode of production will appear as constructive, not apodictic, not merely syntactic, and not merely abstract. With this in mind, we will propose Jean-Yes Girard's linear logic as the best candidate for activity-based pedagogical frameworks. It will be claimed that such is the case, by virtue of linear logic's fruitfulness in terms of our augmented modality and its appropriateness to a dialectical model of the form of the human. Here, 'dialectical' is not a progressivist prescription, but a developmental, synthetic method, wherefrom one gleans mixture, negation, and clarity. As such, linear logic appears appropriate to a pedagogical framework hinging upon revisable grounds, transparency, and the formation of emancipated agents who can emancipate - transform - the framework itself.

[In order to provide you with complementary information to this work in progress, we will add another post to this blog, including remarks on a notion of radical universality, as gleaned from the work of Evald Ilyenkov. It is explored through a mapping of two modes of production of the form of the human, or pedagogical frameworks: what we call vulgar-universalism, and constructionist pluralism. These are mapped, respectively, onto formalist logic, and intuitionistic logic. Furthermore, we check if paraconsistent logic, as proposed by Graham Priest, fits the requirements of the radical-universalist pedagogical framework. From those results, we imply that none of the three logical frameworks is adequate for radical-universalism, and leave the path open to an investigation of Girard's linear logic as a contender for that place. In that post, we will leave further suggestions that a labor-informed pedagogical framework is opposed to a radical-universalist one, which is informed by the Ilyenkovian concept of activity – itself opposed to labor. Moreover, we suggest that the latter is an alternative to the former, and can present itself as the pedagogical framework for a formation of the human outside of necessity, and so, outside of capitalism. In tandem with the preliminary investigation below, we intend to suggest that such a framework aims for another form of the human.

“Is Radical Universality What It Is Not? A preliminary inquiry into the logic of pedagogy” can be read here.]

A clarificatory note: though it may seem dissonant to place such posts inside a blog titled "Posthuman Art", our research is done under the assumption that "a proof is a program is an artist". At the end of such an endeavour, we hope to have made clear that the activity constitutive of the form of the human is homomorphic to mathematical proof construction. As such, a form of the human seen as the form of transformation will hopefully lead to a pedagogy which answers positively to the unfortunately commonplace, cynical question: "So what? Are you saying that under communism everyone is going to be an artist?"

The Human as Transformation - Notes against a Pedagogy for Labor


Like all beginnings, a difficult one: we will try to clarify what is to be understood by labor, and then proceed to an exposition of the concept of activity. The stakes are not small. The undercurrent of this project entails the abolition of the value form and the abolition of the labor form in order to effect emancipation of form of the human.

There is already something strange lurking in a formulation like “the labor form”. For some, and we can say many, labor is something given. So much so, it seems an inevitable, unavoidable fate of Homo sapiens, or even its so-called nature, its essence. Whereupon it seems that what is claimed is that the form of the human is distinguished from others by its essence being labor; moreover, that the form of the human is identical to labor – where Form takes an axiomaticity in harmony with a seldom contested reading of Plato in which the Forms belong to an eternal, unchanging realm, disjoint from this other sensuous world, if only be somehow captured into its lowly matter. That is to say, that there supposedly is a two-tiered world, where the lower is essentially formed, affirmed, and informed by the higher.

For now, we will not delve into our disagreement with this account of Plato's Forms – it should be sufficient to contend that we are working under the assumption that though there are Forms indeed, there is no two-tiered world, and as such, there are no immutable forms encoding natural essence into reality, neither are they given through sensuous experience, nor are they immutable essences of the make-up of the world, including Homo sapiens.

Which leads us to attempt a further clarification: Homo sapiens is not identical to the form of the human. The former is a species of the genus Homo, classified under biological taxonomy – itself subject to various fluctuations depending on methodology and historical framework – whereas the latter is, provisionally, a historically contingent bundle of different and differentiating activities that members of the species Homo sapiens deem as characteristic of the human. A common-sense definition of the latter works through negation in an illuminating way: human is not an animal – though Homo sapiens is an animal under biological taxonomy, precisely one of the bundle of different and differentiating activities constitutive of the human. At this point it would be better to say instead: '...constitutive of the form of the human'. As we've just seen, at what is deemed a very base level of the scientific image of the world, the human is already at odds with what the world seems to say it is.

What are we to make of certain activities that Homo sapiens shares with other species of the animal kingdom? On the one hand, is Homo sapiens that much human – as not-animal – if other species share some of its more complex and apparently historical activities, such as the death-rites of elephants? On the other hand, is the form of human somehow metaphysically inscribed in the Homo sapiens genome?

If there is any indication that the form of the human is not contingent upon its almost-homonymic natural substratum, it is precisely through the terrifying agonies great numbers of Homo sapiens have suffered under others who disagreed on whom the form of the human is embedded, no matter if by gods or by nature. Not that such horrors were inhuman by themselves, but precisely because they were – still are – a constituent part of a form of the human.

What we learn from this is twofold: that the form of the human is indeed not ontologically contingent upon its biological taxonomy – for if it were, there would be no grounds for disagreement on who deserves it, Eden would run through our veins; and that the form of the human, contrary to a doctrine of essence, is as formed as it is crafted, activated. Both claims are important for our purposes. The former, by virtue of opening the form of the human to universal access – which will be explored later on. The latter – that the form of the human is formed – by virtue of an almost incredible vice, or positive constraint: that the form of the human rests upon its conception as inhuman. That is to say, that it can only be formed if its abstract negation – all the things it is not – is developed into its determinate negation – that which it determinately is not, in order to become what it holds itself to be. If we might add, for deliberate perplexity: the form of the human is none other than that of transformation.


As things stand up until now in this argument – upon grounds which affirm their solidity by virtue of their elasticity – it already seems difficult to conceive of a form of the human which is identified or structured by the concept of labor. If labor is held to be a given, a genomically or even Lamarckian-ly inscribed necessity, then we should take it for granted that through labor, humans just are. Or even that through humans, labor just is. Moreover: retrospectively, under this lens, we should even find precursors of labor, value, rent, price, money, distributed in ancestor species preceding Homo sapiens. Fortunately, that does not seem to be the case. This is told in light terms, but there is a point to be made about how, on the one hand, conflation of certain terms compresses enormous amounts of intelligibility into naturalized frameworks; on the other hand, how such frameworks gain a transhistorical purchase and cement their axioms – their unexamined givenness – into natural law, simultaneously carving their explanation into the past, and explaining the future away.

It may be fruitful to reveal more of our stakes: we contend that, as claimed above, a universal form of the human is historically informed, and add that this conditions how a singular human will be formed; in its turn, how the singular human will be made intelligible – if it does come to be – to the universal human. In addition, this formation is effected through educational institutions, themselves subject to historical contingency. It is crucial to note that – generally speaking – under the capitalist social formation, what the formation of the human constitutes is a formation into necessity. It can be the necessity of natural law, the necessity of logical laws of thought; it can also be the necessity of divine law, the necessity of sexual difference, the necessity of essence, the necessity of the form of the human itself, as a closed chapter in no need of revision. Some of these are previous to the capitalist social formation, but nonetheless present in it. For our purposes, it can also be the necessity of the capitalist social formation, or, more precisely in order to critique that and other existing or desired social formations deemed alternative to it: the necessity of labor. Under such strictures, we think it is permissible, or even a duty, to ask: have we been human so far?


In his book “Time, Labor, and Social Domination – A reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory”, Moishe Postone schematizes the framework of the capitalist social formation as profoundly contingent upon the concept of labor, and that of value. To Postone, a great part of the Marxian exegetical movement has been performed under the belief that Marx's critical theory is one of the mode of distribution – of wealth as identified with value – and not as a critique of the mode of production of wealth, where the latter critique would reveal the contradictions in the production of wealth as identified with value, and show the conditions of possibility for transforming production. A critique of distribution, which Postone deems 'traditional Marxism', preserves labor as strictly constitutive of the human and focuses on planned economy, redistribution of material wealth, in tandem with a reorganization of class relations, and, crucially, leaves the value-form unexamined. Where it falters more drastically, Postone claims, is in how value is still identified with material wealth, how both value and this specific form of wealth are taken as external to the capitalist social formation, and how labor is considered the principal, if not the only, locus for emancipation. In this manner, all the changes enumerated in penultimate sentence are still under the shadow of the value-form and so, under the commodity-form, and so, under that of capital.

The core claims that Postone aims to glean from Marx in order to develop his critique of labor are two: production is not a purely technical process, it is socially mediated; social relations extend beyond private ownership and the market economy. From here, we see a categorial horizon open up to further investigation. From there, Postone can criticize the form of production and the form of value, opening an ortogonal path for our own critique of the form of forming and the form of the human as subordinated to the form of labor.

One of the most recognizable features of the capitalist social formation is social domination. It is as easily identified from afar, as it is a feature of everyday life. It is not difficult to understand how it somehow seems as the first point to tackle in a struggle for emancipation, given how prevalent it is, how its social mediation is almost immediately felt in class dynamics reflected in a society constituted by labor. Still, another large problem looms: this same society is constitutive of labor. A “labor-society” has specific relations under labor. These social relations are, Postone claims, quasi-objective – in that they are not a necessary feature of all societies, but appear as such in this specific formation. Furthermore, these social relations are not fully grasped in terms of class. In other words, social domination appears graspable and thus transformable in terms of class, but this is nonetheless obscured by the fact that the specific relations of labor are themselves constitutive of class dynamics. In this manner, a transformation of the socius through a reorganization of class that preserves labor relations, will preserve social domination.

Following Postone, we are faced with two different conceptions of determining the mode of domination: categorial interpretations of relations will give us a critique of labor in capitalism; class-centered interpretations of relations give us a critique of capitalism from the perspective of labor. The former conception provides us with a notion of labor as constitutive of capitalist social relations; as underlying the identification of value with wealth, and the industrial mode of production; and the possibility of considering labor as constitutive of a specific, abstract, form of social domination. Whereas the latter conception, as we have seen above, seem to lack the granularity for these claims.

Under the conception that the mode of domination can be analysed through categorial interpretations of relations that provide us with a critique of labor in capitalism, we can model a critique of the mode of production, obviating a critique of the mode of distribution. It may be possible to do a critique of distribution without the assumption that labor is transhistorical, but it seems harder to do so when preserving transhistoricity for the value form. It is beyond our intentions and capacities to provide substance to a past where neither Homo sapiens nor the form of the human lived through social mediations neither constituted by nor constitutive of value, but we do intend to investigate the possibility of making such alternative social mediations emerge from our historical moment. For that purpose, a critique of distribution alone does not seem sufficient, whereas a critique of production appears to develop further intelligibilities in this regard. As such, it should be understood that value-constitutive labor is not transhistorical labor, or at least that we are considering exploration of such thesis and how it would develop into the future. Moreover, Marxist critique is itself historically specific, and cannot universally map the whole of history. Following Marx, Postone sees labor as historically specific to capitalism, structuring that society, and thus sees labor as the object of critique. Against traditional critique, which sees a tension between social life in capitalism and the social sphere of labor, and thus affirms labor, Postone claims that it is labor which is to be critiqued as constitutive of such society. If that society is to be negated, it may be so through the negation of labor.

Such categorial interpretations allow Postone to propose that in capitalism, social domination is not domination of people by people – as is claimed by class-centered interpretations. Social domination is domination of people by abstract social structures constituted by people. For the purposes of our research, which is on how, bluntly put, people are formed, this can even be reformulated as social domination being the domination of people by abstract social structures constitutive of people. Before going forward to claim that the formation of the human under capitalism is a formation-for-labor and therefore, barely constitutive of the form of the human as held to be the form of transformation, we shall investigate the abstract social structures through which domination is perpetrated. This path will narrow down into that of labor. A somewhat exhaustive foray into Marx's critical theory – at least in the ambit of an investigation into pedagogy – is the necessary groundwork for structuring the previous claim, as it will allow us to make intelligible the conditions of possibility for another conceptual framework for pedagogy, emancipated from the contradictions present in the current mode of production of the human. This will entail understanding which of the capitalist categories are loci of contradiction, and as such, are eligible to become loci for the synthesis of another logic - one which will invite thought outside of capitalism. That is to say, looking at such contradictions we will be able to follow their thread and find out what is the logic that necessitates them. Only so can we propose an alternative logic that helps us model a form of the human dissociated from the burden of the form of labor.

For Marx, the abstract social structures of domination are the commodity and capital. These socially mediate, determine, not only the goal of production, but also the material form of production. We will later see how they also determine the material form of formation.

Social domination is not ultimately a function of private property, surplus, means of production; it is grounded in the value form of wealth. It is this specific form which opposes itself to workers and, more generally, to persons as rational self-determining agents. Capitalism abstractly dominates through labor, and labor provides “growth” which reinforces capitalism's hold, in successive iterations. Under this lens, the working class – as a moment of the concept of humankind – may very well be capitalism by embodying it, rather than its negation. In Postone's glaringly enlightening formulation, commodity and capital do not obscure 'real' social relations: they are the real relations. Foreshadowing later claims, we can also rephrase this: commodity and capital realize social relations. There is, of course, a panoply of ways to realize ourselves in the world, and capitalist categories will be seen to create negative constraints on such possibility, and as such, provisional constraints on realizability and intelligibility. If this research project shares any similarities with Postone's methodology, it may be for not looking so much at the results of formation – which it will nonetheless – but instead at what forms the expectations of such results; the logic undergirding them. It is not the case that formation under capitalism is hiding any potential, rather that it malforms such potential.

Before we proceed, we must return to the tension between the mode of distribution, favoured by traditional Marxist critique, and the mode of production, Postone's elected space of synthesis and so, of possibility. By looking at these two different critical perspectives, we'll be able to understand how different conceptions of the historical role of the value-form deeply affect an understanding of the historical shape of other categories. Only afterwards can we further delve into the abstract structures of commodity and capital and then into two crucial categories for our project, their realizing categories: labor and money.

From the classical or traditional Marxist perspective as nominated by Postone, that of a critique of capitalism under the standpoint of labor, social domination is effected via class and exploitation. According to Postone, such standpoint has a transhistorical notion of labor as “a goal directed social activity mediating humans and nature, creating specific products to satisfy determinate human needs” (Postone, pp7-8, fn4). We should note that later on there will be much to be said about a notion of labor involving terms as “goal directed social activity mediating humans and nature”, by exploring Ilyenkov's treatment of the concept of activity and concomitantly, of the human and its mediation with nature. It will be seen why is it that in a conflation of labor with activity, labor gains its essentialist, naturalized ballast and – unwittingly for many – becomes a burden on the form the human. It is in this manner that labor becomes transhistorical – and from here it is a small step to a generalization of a transhistorical concept of value that feeds infinity into the necessity of labor. A posited ourobouros.

In this perspective, labor is the source of social wealth, and this is assumed to be couched in exploitation. The latter assumption elicits a question: does this entail that exploitation is itself transhistorical? Without elaborating, we contend that it is not; though it should be noted that answering in the positive usually goes hand in hand with a naturalization of vulgarised, game-theoretical theories of biological evolution, where domination is taken to be a necessary law of nature. The point being made here is that taking exploitation or domination to be transhistorical, a "fact of life", and thus preserving it in any reorganization of social mediation, entails that such mediation will still take the shape of domination. As we will soon see, this only opens the possibility of the proletariat allowing - if not desiring - to be dominated by labor anew.

Marx's theory of capitalist development is traditionally taken to map history as being shaped by two moments: On the one hand, free market capitalism and industrial production lead to increases in social wealth, always in an exploitative manner. On the other hand, there being a contradiction between the forces (capital accumulation) and the relations of production; the market relation being interweaved with the competition force; the private property relation being interweaved with the crisis forces; growingly makes the relations of production less adequate.

While such historical reading seems informed by a teleological or finalist view of history in the Hegelian vein, where social transformation is inscribed by necessity, such vein is not a critical blunder by itself. A greater issue lies in taking one specific contradiction as the only locus from where history can be developed. Taking the specific contradiction between forces and relations of production to be the only contradiction from which capitalism can be overturned would further Postone's point that such teleological interpretations of history are still inside the capitalist formation. Capitalism is the realm of exclusive necessity. The negation of capitalism will be the realm of the necessity of possibility.

To circumvent the specific contradiction between the relations and forces of production, Marx is said to be proposing new sets of social relations: technological and social preconditions for the abolition of the market and private-property relations, via decentralizing ownership, management, re-constitution of proletariat, and overtaking the means of production – which supposedly lead to a rationally regulated mode of distribution. The glitch is evident: though appealing for some specific reasons, such new sets of social relations describe a theory of distribution, leaving production critically untouched. What then, is the traditional perspective on the mode of production? How, if seen as informing the production of the form of the human and of intelligence, can it not preserve labor and value as necessary conditions it?

To be continued.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page