Publication 3750

Gillett E. (1998) Relativism and the social constructivist paradigm. Philosophy, Psychiatry. and Psychology 5: 37–48. Fulltext at
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.


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