Purpose: To develop a realistic view that integrates the idea that knowledge is a constructive process. Problem: In the controversy between realism and constructivism, both sides have often misunderstood each other. Many realists still consider constructivism as a kind of idealism. And constructivists often assume that realists believe they have direct access to things as they really are. It seems necessary to clarify the statements of either side, to rule out some misunderstandings, and then to discuss anew the central epistemological problems. Solution: A version of realism is proposed that takes into account constructivist ideas and objections. Realism as presented here is not opposed to the idea that cognition is a constructive process. According to this view, reality is something we presuppose in any attempt to attain knowledge though we can never be certain how things really are. Having knowledge amounts to the preliminary judgment that some hypotheses seem to correspond to reality better than others. In addition, it is demonstrated that a constructivist position that reduces the claim to knowledge even further does not solve the problems better but creates new ones. Finally, Mitterer’s non-dualizing view of descriptions is discussed. It is argued that description necessarily presupposes something different from language.
Problem: The paper investigates some reasons why RC has not become a mainstream endeavor. Method: The central assumptions of RC are summarized. Analysis is made of how each of these assumptions corresponds to other views, especially to intuitive beliefs that are widely accepted. Is RC consistent with these beliefs, supported by them, or incompatible with them? Results: The construction hypothesis is supported by the results of cognitive science and neurophysiology. However, the closed-system hypothesis and antirealism are in conflict with deeply rooted convictions of most people. Some ethical and educational aspects claimed by RC are generally accepted but they are not specifically implications of RC. Implications: In the near future, RC will probably not become the leading paradigm or a mainstream endeavor in the sciences or in philosophy.
According to constructivism, the world we can know is a construction and it is not possible to gain knowledge about the world as it is in itself. This thesis of constructivism has been criticized as being self-refuting. It is discussed whether this criticism is sound. Constructivists have tried three ways in order to avoid self-refutation. It is argued that the first two ways are unconvincing. The third solution is tenable. However, at a closer look the third solution turns out as a moderate kind of realism since it gives up the central claim of constructivism.
Context: The current situation in philosophy of science includes central, ongoing debates about realism and anti-realism. The same question has been central to the theorising of radical constructivism and, in particular, to its implications for educational theory. However the constructivist literature does not make significant contact with the most important, mainstream philosophical discussions. Problem: Despite its overwhelming influence among educationalists, I suggest that the “radical constructivism” of Ernst Glasersfeld is an example of fashionable but thoroughly problematic doctrines that can have little benefit for practical pedagogy or teacher education. My critique has a positive goal: it is important to understand why constructivism has generated such severe polarization and disputation. A symptom of the problem is the concern with the most abstruse and obdurate problems of philosophy that have no conceivable bearing on educational practice or anything else, for that matter. The diagnosis is confirmed by those pedagogical recommendations that are allegedly derived from radical constructivism that are touted as revolutionary but are platitudes of common sense. I suggest that, ironically, this observation itself provides some pedagogical insight. Method: The approach adopted for the topic is critical, philosophical analysis of the various claims and theses of radical constructivism in the light of philosophy of science and psychology. Results: The findings of the paper are that central theoretical claims of constructivism are couched in an unclear and unnecessary jargon that obscures the implausibility or banality of these claims. Implications: The value of the paper lies in providing an analysis and critique of central, influential claims of radical constructivism both in relation to issues in epistemology and also in relation to the alleged bearing of these claims on pedagogy. It is suggested that, contrary to the claims of radical constructivists, there are few if any implications for practice and applications.