Publication 2779

Quale A. (2002) The role of metaphor in scientific epistemology: A constructivist perspective and consequences for science education. Science & Education 11: 443–457. Fulltext at
I examine the role played by metaphor, in supporting and conditioning our thinking about theoretical models of learning in science education. Some examples are given, of cases where the use of inappropriate metaphors can actually counteract a proper understanding of the topic being learnt. With special reference to von Glasersfeld’s theory of radical constructivism, it is argued that much of the controversy appearing in the academic discussion of this theory stems from the injudicious use of metaphors of “truth” and “reality”, concepts that are in a sense inherited from the domain of Law. These metaphors are often taken too literally, as representing “obvious” and hence indisputable constraints on scientific investigation; and they then strongly favour the adoption of an epistemology of scientific realism, which is at variance with the theory of knowledge that is proposed by radical constructivism. However, it is argued that this realist epistemology is not compelling, since it rests on a somewhat contentious metaphoric base, and that a radical-constructivist epistemology offers a better strategy for the purposes of science education.

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