There are many varieties of epistemological and cognitive constructivism. They have in common an appreciation of the failures of centuries of attempts to realize a correspondence notion of truth and representation, and they all propose some constructivist programme as an alternative. The programmatic proposals, however, can differ greatly. Some contemporary constructivisms that are being vigorously advocated propose a social form of idealism with a consequent relativism. Such proposals risk giving constructivism a bad name. The main burden of this article is to show that such an idealism and relativism is not forced by constructivism, but, instead, is the result of an additional and questionable presupposition. Constructivism per se is a strong epistemological position that is fully compatible with realism.
Diverse forms of constructivism can be found in the literature today. They exhibit a commonality regarding certain classical positions that they oppose – a unity in their negative identities – but a sometimes wild multiplicity and incompatibility regarding the positive proposals that they put forward. In particular, some constructivisms propose an epistemological idealism, with a concomitant relativism, while others are explicitly opposed to such positions, and move in multifarious different directions. This is a potentially confusing situation, and has resulted in some critics branding all constructivisms with the charge of relativism, and throwing out the baby with the bath water. In addition, since the epistemological foundations of even non-relativist constructivisms are not as familiar as the classical positions, there is a risk of mis-interpretation of constructivisms and their consequences, even by some who endorse them, not to mention those who criticize. Because I urge that some version of constructivism is an epistemological necessity, this situation strikes me as seriously unfortunate for philosophy, and potentially dangerous for the practice of education.
This article reviews recent work in socio-historical technology studies. Four problems, frequently mentioned in critical debates, are discussed – relativism, reflexivity, theory, and practice. The main body of the article is devoted to a discussion of the latter two problems. Requirements for a theory on socio-technical change are proposed, and one concrete example of a conceptual framework that meets these requirements is discussed. The second point of the article is to argue that present (science and) technology studies arc now able to break away from a too academic, internalistic perspective and return to the politically relevant “Science, Technology & Society” issues that informed much of this work more than a decade ago.
Problem: The question of the moral and social effects of non-dualism has not yet been clarified to the necessary extent. The relation of truth claims, power and violence has been simplified; critical questions of non-dualist practises have not yet been addressed. Approach: By discussing relevant philosophy and political theory, this paper draws the attention of non-realists towards the issues of power, conflict and discourse rules and asks to rethink the issue of the pragmatic justification of non-realist epistemology. Findings: (1) Constructivists, as well as the non-dualist Josef Mitterer, are critical of the discursive effects of truth claims. Yet, neither constructivism nor non-dualism solve the power issues that are ascribed to realism by constructivists and dualism by Mitterer. Even if participants abstained from truth claims in discourses, many of the power issues would still be prevalent. (2) The question arises of whether a practical difference between non-dualism and dualism exists. (3) There is a tendency in constructivist and non-dualist theory to regard any form of influence on others as illegitimate. This tendency is not sound. Instead, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate power is necessary in non-dualism as well. Implications: Constructivist and non-dualist theory need to scrutinise statements about the moral implications of the respective theories and to emphasise power issues not solely by extrapolating from epistemology, but by acknowledging the social dynamics of discourses and conflicts. Non-dualist social scientists could contribute to the discussion through empirical analyses of the effects of the use and the debunking of truth claims.
Is von Glasersfeld’s constructivism actually radical? In this article, I respond to this question by analyzing von Glasersfeld’s main works. I argue that the essential theoretical move of radical constructivism – namely the assertion that reality is the construction of a human mind that only responds to the subjective perception of ‘what fits’ – results in a conservative vision of reality, knowledge, and education. To the extent that the friction with, and the challenge of, reality is eliminated, knowledge remains only a subjective affair and the world is reduced to a living tautology. In this way, von Glasersfeld constructs a theory of ethical disengagement in which personal responsibility is de facto denied. Thus, to the extent that education entails (and, in a sense, is) responsibility, change, and comparison, radical constructivism is a theory that is unsuitable for education. I also attempt to argue that the equivalence between radical constructivism and relativism and nihilism that many support is incorrect; relativism and nihilism, indeed, stem from a strong moral stance; thus, they may be educationally promising.
This article presents a dialogue about personal construct psychology, radical constructivism, and social constructionism. The dialogue is based on a symposium conducted in July 2011 at the 19th International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology. Jay Efran, Sheila McNamee, and Bill Warren were the participants, with Jonathan Raskin as moderator. The dialogue addresses points of contact and divergence across these three theories, how these theories deal with the issue of relativism, and how theorists from these three perspectives might best “go on” together. Relevance: The paper covers the relationship between radical constructivism and personal construct psychology and social constructionism.
The aim of this article is to present to the reader the theoretical construction of Jean-Louis Le Moigne. It starts with a discussion of the background that is relevant for this construction, which is: a few words about Le Moigne himself, some influences on his thinking and an overview of the theoretical framework together with some domains of application. The following exposition of Le Moigne’s Systemics (LMS) is articulated in three groups: the what, the why and the how of knowing. The what presents the two basic hypotheses of LMS’ epistemological version, called Projective Constructivist Epistemology. These are: the phenomenological and the teleological hypotheses. The three dominating properties of the first hypothesis, that is the irreversibility, the recursivity and the dialectics of knowing, are presented as well. The why question presents the criterion for validation, which is projective (or cognitive) feasibility, to be contrasted with the positivist’s aspiration for objective truth. This presents LMS’ solution to the dilemma between objectivity and relativism. Projective feasibility is possible due to the so-called social contract and the autonomy of science as a domain of thought, both are discussed. The third question, the how, presents a set of cognitive instruments for knowledge constitution. These may be articulated in three sub-categories: modelling rationality, systemic modelling and inforgetic theory. Under the label of modelling rationality the following topics are discussed: formalism, procedural rationality, conjunctive or self-referential system of logic and the discussion of the method for conduct of good reason. Secondly, systemic modelling discusses: complexity, modelling, the canonic model of a General System, LMS’ modelling instrument called Systemography, the canonic model of a General Process, the canonic model of Information Processing System, LMS’ instrument for articulation of complex systems called Teleological Complexification of Functional Levels, a general and a priori identification of pertinent levels of complexification of a complex system’s organisation as manifested in the canonic model called Decision-Information-Organisation System, and finally the paradigm of an active organisation: Eco-Auto-Re-Organisation with its canonic model of organisation, the latter is a conflictful conjunction of three recursive functions: to produce and self-produce, to relate and self-relate, to maintain and self-maintain. Thirdly, inforgetic theory refers to the conceptual relation between information and organisation. It includes: the canonic model of information: Signified-Sign-Signification, the first principle of inforgetics: the principle of self-organisation, and the second principle of inforgetics: the principle of intelligent action. Finally, the article gives a brief summing up of the significance of Le Moigne’s contribution.
In recent years there has been a great deal of methodological debate among educational researchers, theoreticians, and practitioners concerning issues such as relativism raised by the so-called “new,” “Kuhnian” or “postpositivistic” philosophy of science. The intensity of this debate notwithstanding, the fundamental principles and their relations that comprise the postpositivistic view have not always been carefully spelled out. Some of the principles discussed will include (a) the problem of confirmation, (b) the underdetermination of theory by logic, (c) the underdetermination of theory by experience, (d) the Quine-Duhem thesis, (e) the theoryladenness of experience, and (f) the incommensurability of theories. No attempt will be made to evaluate these principles. However, those who are prepared to accept all of these will be hard pressed to avoid the dangers of relativism. I will argue that these dangers, if they exist, may be lessened if not eliminated by practicing the pragmatic virtues of epistemological conservatism and good sense.
The central thesis of this paper is that most versions of epistemological relativism and constructivism fall into two categories which I call “noncontroversial” versus “controversial.” The former holds that beliefs about reality are constructed by the mind and are relative to various frameworks: history, culture, and individual circumstances. Controversial constructivist relativism holds, by contrast, that truth itself is constructed by the mind and is relative to various frameworks including those Kuhn (1970) calls “paradigms.” Controversial constructivist relativism tends to exert a detrimental influence on psychoanalysis by undermining the search for truth in both theory and clinical practice. Arguments are presented to show that controversial constructivist relativism (CCR) is untenable whereas noncontroversial constructivist relativism (NCR) is trivial in the sense that nobody disputes it. Hoffman’s social-constructivist paradigm (endorsed by Gill) is untenable to the extent that it espouses CCR. Although both Hoffman and Gill explicitly reject CCR in some of their statements, other statements appear to embrace CCR. They can resolve this logical inconsistency by retracting those statements that endorse CCR but at the cost of rendering the social-constructivist paradigm epistemologically trivial. These same arguments apply to the issue of relativism in hermeneutics and postmodernism.
Purpose: Radical constructivism holds that experiential reality is created by each individual. As a way of thinking, it unquestionably belongs to the theories of knowledge that are called “subjectivist” and “relativist.” This paper deals with the Italian philosopher Adriano Tilgher’s analysis of the relation between relativism and fascism and examines the possible impact of this connection on constructivism and its view of ethics. Approach: Conceptual analysis and the demonstration of a contradiction in Tilgher’s argumentation. Findings: A review of the ethics inherent in Kant’s categorical imperative shows a tendency towards a subjectivism that may hint at anarchism but in no way implies fascism. Implications: This investigation should make it more difficult for critics of constructivism to relate it to fascism.