Volume 2 · Number 2-3 · Pages 58–64

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Distinguishing Ernst von Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism from Humberto Maturana’s ‘Radical Realism’

Vincent Kenny

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Purpose: Ernst von Glasersfeld has dedicated a lot of effort to trying to define just where his views and those of his friend Humberto Maturana part company, epistemologically speaking (Glasersfeld 1991, 2001). As a contribution to unravelling this puzzle I propose in this article to delineate just where they seem to differ most and why these differences arise. Approach: Part of my contribution is to propose drawing a distinction between von Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism as the last viable outpost of constructivism before entering into the domain of solipsism, in contrast to Maturana’s position which is saved from being located within the solipsistic domain by virtue of his ideas on “structure determined systems” and his theory of how language arises in human experience. Findings: Von Glasersfeld’s puzzle arises due to what Kant called “transcendental illusion,” that is, the error of trying to encompass two mutually untranslatable phenomenal domains within the same language framework. Conclusion: After an examination of some of the crucial differences between von Glasersfeld and Maturana I typify Maturana’s positioning as that of “radical realism” in contrast to von Glasersfeld’s “radical constructivism.”

Key words: epistemology, transcendental illusion, radical realism, map–territory, Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld


Kenny V. (2007) Distinguishing ernst von glasersfeld’s radical constructivism from humberto maturana’s ‘radical realism’. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 58–64. http://constructivist.info/2/2-3/058

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