CEPA eprint 1505 (EVG-218)

Jean Piaget’s epistemology

Glasersfeld E. von (1999) Jean Piaget’s epistemology. Comment TA15 C10 in Karl Jaspers Forum Available at http://cepa.info/1505
1 As I endeavored to substantiate at greater length in my 1995 book than in the cited article (i.e., Homage to Jean Piaget, cf. TA 15(23)), I certainly consider Piaget’s ’Genetic Epistemology’ to be relevant to the philosophy of science. The salient point is that he has proposed a radical modification of the concept of knowing, which he no longer sees as attempting to produce ’representations’ of what in your article is called the ’mind-independent reality’; instead it has to produce a viable fit within environmental constraints as they are experienced.
2 Structure and qualities of the experienced environment are always constructed by the experiencing organism. An observer can distinguish an organism from its ’environment’ and posit all sorts of relations between the two, but both that environment and the organism are parts of the observer’s experiential field and therefore have the structure, the components, and qualities he or she has constructed. In this context, the observer can very well speak of the organism’s adaptation the its environment.
3 Observers, however, can also speak of their own adaptation to their world (experiential reality) at any level of construction, where some things have already been constructed and are now taken as ’given’.
4 This last point gains particular relevance for the philosophy of science to ’how physicists build reality’ if you consider what George Spencer Brown, the author of the calculus of distinctions, formulated so well: ’our understanding of such a universe comes not from discovering its present appearance, but in remembering what we originally did to bring it about’ (Brown, 1973, p.104).
5 In Piaget’s theory of development, the self/other (subject/object) distinction is the first that arises in experience during the first two years of life. My favorite analogy is a kitten biting its own tail and noticing the mistake.
References
Glasersfeld, E.von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. London: Falmer Press.
Brown, G.S. (1973) Laws of form. New York: Bantam Books.
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