Excerpt: As we know well enough from our own experience, at that level of elaboration, the “permanence” or “universality” of our cognitive constructs tends to become precarious. But even if it did not, even if we could achieve perfect intersubjective agreement of structures, it still would not get us across the border of the black box, because all it would tell us with certainty is that we, collectively, have found one viable construction. Such a construction becomes no more “real,” in the ontological sense, if we share it – it would still be based solely on signals on our side of the construct we have called “experiential interface,” and on the particular way in which we have categorized, processed, and coordinated these signals as input to, or output from, the construct we have called “universe.”
Within the limits of one chapter, an unconventional way of thinking can certainly not be thoroughly justified, but it can, perhaps, be presented in its most characteristic features anchored here and there in single points. There is, of course, the danger of being misunderstood. In the case of constructivism, there is the additional risk that it will be discarded at first sight because, like skepticism – with which it has a certain amount in common – it might seem too cool and critical, or simply incompatible with ordinary common sense. The proponents of an idea, as a rule, explain its nonacceptance differently than do the critics and opponents. Being myself much involved, it seems to me that the resistance met in the 18th century by Giambattista Vico, the first true constructivist, and by Silvio Ceccato and Jean Piaget in the more recent past, is not so much due to inconsistencies or gaps in their argumentation, as to the justifiable suspicion that constructivism intends to undermine too large a part of the traditional view of the world. Indeed, one need not enter very far into constructivist thought to realize that it inevitably leads to the contention that man – and man alone – is responsible for his thinking, his knowledge and, therefore, also for what he does. Today, when behaviorists are still intent on pushing all responsibility into the environment, and sociobiologists are trying to place much of it into genes, a doctrine may well seem uncomfortable if it suggests that we have no one but ourselves to thank for the world in which we appear to be living. That is precisely what constructivism intends to say – but it says a good deal more. We build that world for the most part unawares, simply because we do not know how we do it. That ignorance is quite unnecessary. Radical constructivism maintains – not unlike Kant in his Critique – that the operations by means of which we assemble our experiential world can be explored, and that an awareness of this operating (which Ceccato in Italian so nicely called consapevolezza operativa) can help us do it differently and, perhaps, better.
To claim that one’s theory of knowing is true, in the traditional sense of representing a state or feature of an experiencer-independent world, would be perjury for a radical constructivist. One of the central points of the theory is precisely that this kind of “truth,” can never be claimed for the knowledge (or any piece of it) that human reason produces. To mark this radical departure, I have in the last few years taken to calling my orientation a theory of knowing rather than a “theory of knowledge.” One of the consequences of such an appraisal, however, must be that one does not persist in arguing against it as though it were or purported to be a traditional theory of knowledge. Another consequence is that constructivism needs to be radical and must explain that one can, indeed, manage without the traditional notion of Truth. That this task is possible, may become more plausible if I trace the sources of some of the ideas that made the enterprise seem desirable.
That we cognite seems to us self-evident. In the very process of doing what I am doing, cognition appears to me as my immediate experience. I perform an act of knowledge when I act in a manner that I describe as a manipulation or handling of the world in which I exist. The cogito ergo sum of Descartes grasps this and gives to the experience of knowledge a central role: the cogito, the act of cognition, is for Descartes the starting point. Or, in other words, cognition is a human property and no question arises about cognition as a phenomenon. This I wish to change. I wish to present the way in which I make cognition a problem, and how I answer the question, “What phenomenon is the phenomenon of cognition?"
Purpose: This is an attempt to define constructivism in a pluralistic way. It categorizes constructivist work within a three-dimensional space rather than along one dimension only. Practical implications: The interdisciplinary definition makes it possible to perceive the rather heterogeneous constructivist community as a coherent and largely consistent scientific effort to provide answers to demanding complex problems. Furthermore it gives authors of Constructivist Foundation the opportunity to locate their own position within the community. Conclusion: I offer a catalogue of ten points that outline the constructivist program. Each of these aspects invites authors to extensively reflect on it and to approach it from their disciplinary background to do work in any of the types of investigations the journal covers.
Constructivism expresses the idea that mental structures and operations are actively constructed by one’s mind rather than passively acquired. This paper focuses on the particular question of whether constructivism is an over-arching perspective that accommodates both Kuhn’s and Piaget’s respective philosophies of science. To this end, I first review some exemplary cases of constructivism ranging from Mach’s phenomenological constructivism to von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism, which is characterized in four principles. One of these principles says that reality constructions are entrenched due to the hierarchical organization of the constructed knowledge. I then show how central notions in Kuhn’s theory, such as “mental sets” and “incommensurability,” can be interpreted in terms of constructivism and its emphasis on an alternative approach to knowledge. I conclude that the constructivist principle mentioned above lends itself to explaining Kuhn’s notions of paradigms and incommensurability as well as orthogenesis in Piaget’s philosophy of science.