Emergence is interpreted in a non-dualist framework of thought. No metaphysical distinction between the higher and basic levels of organization is supposed, but only a duality of modes of access. Moreover, these modes of access are not construed as mere ways of revealing intrinsic patterns of organization: They are supposed to be constitutive of them, in Kant’s sense. The emergent levels of organization, and the inter-level causations as well, are therefore neither illusory nor ontologically real: They are objective in the sense of transcendental epistemology. This neo-Kantian approach defuses several paradoxes associated with the concept of downward causation, and enables one to make good sense of it independently of any prejudice about the existence (or inexistence) of a hierarchy of levels of being.
Context: Radical Constructivism is an issue that deeply divides the cognitive science community: most researchers reject it, but an increasing number do not. Problem: Constructivists stress that our knowledge starts from experience. Some (“ontic” constructivists) deny the existence of a mind-independent world, while others (“radical” constructivists) claim merely that, if such a world exists, we can know nothing about it. Both positions conflict with scientific realism. It is not clear that the conflict can be resolved. Method: This paper uses philosophical argument to ask whether constructivism can be rationally preferred over realism in science. Results: Ontic constructivism cannot be disproved by any knock-down argument. Nevertheless, it is irrational to accept it, because it ignores the strategy of “inference to the best explanation”: realism is the best explanation of the successes of science. Radical constructivism, too, fails to explain these successes. Some radical constructivists have tried to offer theories more sympathetic to realism. For instance, Ernst von Glasersfeld sees science as a coherent ordering of experience, and appeals to Piagetian psychology as support. There are close similarities. But Piaget was also caught in a constructivist anti-realism, despite his attempt to evade it. Implications: The constructivist’s claim that scientific concepts and theories are generated by human minds is correct. But this important insight should not be used to deny realism, which is the best explanation of the many undeniable successes of science and engineering.
Gadenne V. (2017) Ist der Konstruktivismus selbstwidersprüchlich. In: Kanzian C., Kletzl S., Mitterer J. & Neges K. (eds.) Realism – relativism – constructivism. De Gruyter, Berlin: 31–43. https://cepa.info/4201
According to constructivism, the world we can know is a construction and it is not possible to gain knowledge about the world as it is in itself. This thesis of constructivism has been criticized as being self-refuting. It is discussed whether this criticism is sound. Constructivists have tried three ways in order to avoid self-refutation. It is argued that the first two ways are unconvincing. The third solution is tenable. However, at a closer look the third solution turns out as a moderate kind of realism since it gives up the central claim of constructivism.
I assume that every theory of knowing presupposes an ontology or metaphysics, identifying the organization of beings capable of knowing something and the domain of objects and relations to which their knowledge claims might apply. Constructivist epistemology will be no exception. In particular, Ernst von Glaserfeld’s “radical” constructivism and Humberto Maturana’s “bringforthist” position incline toward metaphysical idealism, as both theories overstate the antirealist implications of a trivially true version of perspectivalism. My outline of hypothetical realism is designed to highlight several constructivist misconceptions, including: (1) the idea that there can be no meaningful access to a world that exists and has a nature independently of our making; (2) the idea that constructivism alone recognizes the irreducible plurality of our perspectives on the world; and (3) the idea that constructivist anti-realism is compatible with a focus on the social or linguistic nature of experience.
Kneer G. (2009) Jenseits von Realismus und Antirealismus: Eine Verteidigung des Sozialkonstruktivismus gegenüber seinen postkonstruktivistischen Kritikern [Beyond realism and antirealism: A defense of social constructivism against its post-constructivist critics]. Zeitschrift für Soziologie 38(1): 5–25.
For some years, social constructivism has been confronted with a range of basic caveats and objections. From the point of view of the critics, the concept of a “social construction of reality” has proved to be an unattractive variation of anti-realism that acknowledges the right of social things to exist, but does so at the price of denying non-social entities the right to their own reality. This article attempts to rebut this line of criticism. Using the example of the sociology of scientific knowledge, it argues that social constructivism follows an empirical research program that pursues the question as to which interpretations of reality achieve social commitment. The paper argues, with regard to considerations of neo-pragmatism and analytical language philosophy, that the social constructivist sociology of science takes a theoretical position that maintains distance from the premises of both realism and anti-realism even though many of its advocates have opted explicitly for one of the two sides.
Müller K. H. (2017) Two ways of exploring the world. In: In: Kanzian C., Kletzl S., Mitterer J. & Neges K. (eds.) Realism – relativism – constructivism. De Gruyter, Berlin: 83–99. https://cepa.info/4241
This article deals with the research tradition of Radical Constructivism and proposes four central claims for its theoretical, methodological and epistemic orientation and status. First, Radical Constructivism should be viewed as a comprehensive empirical research tradition with an emphasis on cognition, learning, living systems and organization which, in addition, developed a new general methodology for scientific operations. Second, the main opponent of Radical Constructivism, especially in the research program of Heinz von Foerster, does not lie in philosophical or epistemological terrains but in the area of the general scientific methodology and in its conventional mode of exploring the world. Third, Radical Constructivism proposed a new and alternative way for scientific explorations and world-making which produces, additionally, tangible and non-trivial effects with respect to scientific outcomes. Fourth, due to this new way of scientific world-making and due to its novel scientific methodology Radical Constructivism was only marginally interested in epistemological issues. Instead, the empirical research tradition of Radical Constructivism offered intriguing answers why the varieties of scientific realism and its allies like scientific objectivity seem so appealing and almost self-evident.
This paper argues that constructivist science education works with an unsatisfactory account of knowledge which affects both its account of the nature of science and of science education. The paper begins with a brief survey of realism and anti-realism in science and the varieties of constructivism that can be found. In the second section the important conception of knowledge and teaching that Plato develops in the Meno is contrasted with constructivism. The section ends with an account of the contribution that Vico (as understood by constructivists), Kant and Piaget have made to constructivist doctrines. Section three is devoted to a critique of the theory of knowledge and the anti-realism of von Glasersfeld. The final section considers the connection, or lack of it, between the constructivist view of science and knowledge and the teaching of science.
Olssen M. (1996) Radical constructivism and its failings: Anti‐realism and individualism. British Journal of Educational Studies 44(3): 275–295. https://cepa.info/2461
Radical constructivism has had a major influence on present-day education, especially in the teaching of science and mathematics. The article provides an epistemological profile of constructivism and considers its strengths and weaknesses from the standpoint of its educational implications. It is argued that there are two central problems with constructivism: anti-realism and individualism which, in turn, lead to difficulties associated with idealism and relativism which, together, prove fatal for the theory.
Context: The current situation in philosophy of science includes central, ongoing debates about realism and anti-realism. The same question has been central to the theorising of radical constructivism and, in particular, to its implications for educational theory. However the constructivist literature does not make significant contact with the most important, mainstream philosophical discussions. Problem: Despite its overwhelming influence among educationalists, I suggest that the “radical constructivism” of Ernst Glasersfeld is an example of fashionable but thoroughly problematic doctrines that can have little benefit for practical pedagogy or teacher education. My critique has a positive goal: it is important to understand why constructivism has generated such severe polarization and disputation. A symptom of the problem is the concern with the most abstruse and obdurate problems of philosophy that have no conceivable bearing on educational practice or anything else, for that matter. The diagnosis is confirmed by those pedagogical recommendations that are allegedly derived from radical constructivism that are touted as revolutionary but are platitudes of common sense. I suggest that, ironically, this observation itself provides some pedagogical insight. Method: The approach adopted for the topic is critical, philosophical analysis of the various claims and theses of radical constructivism in the light of philosophy of science and psychology. Results: The findings of the paper are that central theoretical claims of constructivism are couched in an unclear and unnecessary jargon that obscures the implausibility or banality of these claims. Implications: The value of the paper lies in providing an analysis and critique of central, influential claims of radical constructivism both in relation to issues in epistemology and also in relation to the alleged bearing of these claims on pedagogy. It is suggested that, contrary to the claims of radical constructivists, there are few if any implications for practice and applications.
Context: In the past three decades, the work of Varela has had an enormous impact on current developments in contemporary science. Problem: Varela’s thought was extremely complex and multifaceted, and while some aspects – notably his contributions to the autopoietic theory of living and enactivist approach to cognition – have gained widespread acclaim, others have been ignored or watered down. Method: We identify three dimensions of Varela’s thought: (i) anti-realism of the “middle way”; (ii) anti-foundationalism of the circular/recursive onto-epistemology; and (iii) ethical/social implications of the circularity/recursivity. The discussion of these dimensions is followed by a concise overview of the individual target articles in this issue and the topics they cover. Finally, we discuss in what ways the articles extend and relate to Varela’s work. We do this by means of a concrete example: the relation between “enaction” and “enactivism. Results: We show that the ignoring-cum-watering-down process of Varela’s contributions to science is at least partly linked to the three dimensions of Varela’s thought. Based on our examination we also find that the more narrow research topics are always interrelated with broader philosophical reflection. Researching into ignored and watered-down aspects of Varela’s work enables us to not only gain fresh insights into Varela’s overall philosophy and rekindle interest in the topics and themes that have been brushed aside, but also cast a fresh light on those that are currently in full bloom. Implications: Reviving interest in Varela’s work in toto could lead to fruitful research and discussion in numerous scientific fields. To illustrate this idea, we delineate, tentatively, three domains – theoretical, empirical, and existential – where Varela’s contribution to philosophy and science could instigate prolific exchange of views. Constructivist content: All three dimensions of Varela’s philosophy have strong affinities with radical constructivist critique of realism and some of its epistemological and ethical implications.