Publication 2631

d’Agnese V. (2015) ‘And they lived happily ever after’: the fairy tale of radical constructivism and von Glasersfeld’s ethical disengagement. Ethics and Education 10(2): 131–151. Fulltext at
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.


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