Context: In the literature of radical constructivism, the epistemology and ontology of religion has been rarely discussed. Problem: I investigate the impact of radical constructivism on some aspects of religion - in particular, on the conflict that is sometimes perceived to arise between religion and natural science, discussed in the context of religious belief. Method: It is argued that the epistemology of radical constructivism serves to distinguish between items of cognitive and non-cognitive knowledge. This makes it possible to discuss issues (...) of religious belief, which are non-cognitive, from a constructivist epistemic and ontological perspective. Results: I conclude that radical constructivism cannot be invoked to support or contradict any particular religious faith; the individual knower will construct her own ontology, as part of her store of non-cognitive knowledge, in interaction with her environment ; on the other hand, any knowledge of it must be constructed in the mind of the knower, and there is no way to identify any one construction as being objectively “right” or “true.” Hence the truth value of propositions of religious conviction cannot be argued in cognitive terms. Implications: It is argued that these results elevate the knower into a position of personal autonomy with respect to religious issues. One consequence of this is the emergence of a fundamental epistemic incompatibility between the worldviews of radical constructivism and religion of any kind. Another is that the old dichotomy between atheism and agnosticism disappears - or rather, becomes irrelevant. Constructivist content: The role played by radical constructivism in the approach to cognitive vs. non-cognitive knowledge is discussed, specifically as pertaining to issues of religion. The construction of knowledge is a strictly personal enterprise, and the use of constructed non-cognitive knowledge then forms a basis for the individual knower’s religious position. (shrink)
Upshot: All my commentators have focused, with varying emphasis, on issues related to: (a) cognitive vs. non-cognitive knowledge, (b) the role of the social environment, and (c) ethical responsibility. These issues are addressed in this response.
Upshot: Since all my commentators express some reservation about the distinction between the cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of knowledge in general, and its applicability and relevance in the domain of religious belief in particular, I will address the question of why this distinction is important and whether these two modes of knowledge can be communicated. Further questions I try to address include: Can a radical constructivist be an atheist, or alternatively a religious believer? What exactly would these designations mean? Is (...) it at all possible to discuss meaningfully the question of whether God exists? Can two or more people ascertain whether they in fact share their concept of a God? (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the target article “Arguments Opposing the Radicalism of Radical Constructivism” by Gernot Saalmann. First paragraph: The article argues that radical constructivism is flawed, and should be rejected in favour of an alternative version of constructivism: critical realism. It is my aim here to demonstrate that the arguments do not hold, for at least two reasons: 1. They are directed against a mistaken conception of what radical constructivism is about. 2. They are essentially “criticisms from the outside”: (...) i.e., radical constructivism is criticised for what it is not, and not for what it is. (shrink)
Context: The theory of radical constructivism offers a tool for the evaluation of knowledge in general: especially with regard to its epistemic and ontological character. This applies in particular to knowledge that is non-cognitive, such as, e.g., ethical convictions. Problem: What impact can radical constructivism have on the topic of ethics? Specifically, how can ethical issues be resolved within a radical-constructivist epistemic approach? Method: I extend the theory of radical constructivism to include also items of non-cognitive knowledge. This makes it (...) possible to discuss ethical issues, which are non-cognitive, in a constructivist epistemic and ontological perspective. Some arguments against this conception of “strictly personal ethics” are discussed. Results: Radical constructivism is neutral on ethical issues, and thus cannot be invoked to endorse any particular ethical position. However, this causes no problem for the theory: the individual knower will construct her own ethical values and convictions, as part of her store of non-cognitive knowledge, in interaction with her environment (including other individuals. Hence ethical values cannot be argued in cognitive terms; and this elevates the knower into a position of personal responsibility with respect to ethical issues. Constructivist content: I focus on the role played by radical constructivism in the approach to cognitive vs. non-cognitive knowledge. The construction of knowledge (of any kind) emerges as a strictly personal enterprise. For instance, in the context addressed here, constructed non-cognitive knowledge forms a basis for the individual knower’s ethical position. (shrink)
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: When reading the article, I am left with a slightly uncomfortable feeling that there is something missing here – an unspoken issue that is not adequately addressed. The issue is ontological; it may be expressed, somewhat simplistically, in the form of a question: “What is it knowledge of ...?”.
Context: A number of objections that are frequently raised in the literature against radical constructivism, including: the charge of solipsism, allegations of self-refutation, social and moral reservations, and the accusation that RC cannot explain the success of science. Problem: These four objections are sought to be refuted. Results: 1. Solipsism is only troublesome against the background of a realist ontological perspective. 2. The truth-value of any proposition is only defined relative to some ontological context, thus self-refutation, as constituting a logical (...) problem, does not arise. 3. Any ethical argumentation derives from one’s own personal views on ethical matters: their construction being a personal responsibility such that no one else can tell a person how to construct the “right ethics.” 4. In the relativist ontology of radical constructivism, a scientific theory is regarded as a model imposed on natural phenomena; its success is due to the capabilities of its constructor/scientists. Implications: It is found that the objections are based on an (overt or tacit) adoption of the antithetical viewpoint of scientific realism. In other words, radical constructivism is being criticised for not promoting a realist ontology. (shrink)
Context: the position of pure and applied mathematics in the epistemic conflict between realism and relativism. Problem: To investigate the change in the status of mathematical knowledge over historical time: specifically, the shift from a realist epistemology to a relativist epistemology. Method: Two examples are discussed: geometry and number theory. It is demonstrated how the initially realist epistemic framework – with mathematics situated in a platonic ideal reality from where it governs our physical world – became untenable, with the advent (...) of non-Euclidean geometry and the increasing abstraction of the number concept. Results: Radical constructivism offers an alternative relativist epistemology, where mathematical knowledge is constructed by the individual knower in a context of an axiomatic base and subject items chosen at her discretion, for the purpose of modelling some part of her personal experiential world. Thus it can be expedient to view the practice of mathematics as a game, played by mathematicians according to agreed-upon rules. Constructivist content: The role played by constructivism in the formulation of mathematics is discussed. This is illustrated by the historical transition from a classical (platonic) view of mathematics, as having an objective existence of its own in the “realm of ideal forms,” to the now widely accepted modern view where one has a wide freedom to construct mathematical theories to model various parts of one’s experiential world. (shrink)
the editor and publisher are to be commended on the publication of this book. It will, in all probability, not be able to resolve the controversies surrounding radical constructivism but it will serve as a standard reference to the theory of radical constructivism, as advocated by its originator and leading figure, Ernst von Glasersfeld. It is hereby strongly recommended.
Purpose: The relativism inherent in radical constructivism is discussed. The epistemic positions of realism and relativism are contrasted, particularly their different approaches to the concept of truth, denoted (respectively) as "truth by correspondence" and "truth by context." I argue that the latter is the relevant one in the domain of science. Findings: Radical constructivism asserts that all knowledge must be constructed by the individual knower. This has implications for teaching, here imagined as a sharing of knowledge between teacher and students: (...) it should be done, not by "reporting the true facts" of whatever is being taught, but rather by "telling a story" about it. An explicit distinction is made between the notions of cognitive and non-cognitive knowledge. It is argued that cognitive knowledge (such as in mathematics and science) is characterised by rules that can be unambiguously agreed on by actors who choose to "play the game"; and hence such knowledge is directly communicable from the teacher to the students. Implications: In telling the story of science, the teacher can verify that the students "have got it right," even though they are all constructing their knowledge individually. In contrast, for non-cognitive knowledge (emotion, preferences, belief, ...) there are no such unambiguous rules to agree on, and therefore it is not communicable in this way: in telling this story, the teacher has no way of verifying that the same knowledge is actually being shared. Conclusion: Science teaching should be carried out in the mode of story-telling; it does not need an epistemology of realism. (shrink)
Purpose: To examine the role of reductionism in the theoretical development of modern physics -- more specifically, in the quest for a complete unification of physical theory -- from the perspective of radical constructivism (RC). Approach: Some central features of the impact of RC on philosophy of physics are pointed out: its position of scientific relativism, with important implications for the validation of scientific propositions; and the notion of sharing constructed knowledge among individual knowers and its consequences for science teaching. (...) The issue of reductionism is then discussed with regard to (a) the hierarchical explanatory ordering of physical phenomena; (b) the idea of a "theory of everything" (TOE); and (c) some of its implications for the methodology and sociology of science. Findings: It is argued that the ontological status of the hierarchical structuring inherent in the sought-after TOE will depend on the individual knower's epistemic position concerning the notion of truth in science. In the relativist epistemology of RC, any true/false dichotomy of theories is without meaning. A hierarchical ordering is just one of many possible strategies that may be chosen for the construction of physical theories; and such a strategy may then be considered successful only to the extent that it yields a theory that is viable. Implications: The paper serves as an illustration of the impact of RC on the ongoing search in physics for a "final theory.". (shrink)
Context: Despite many obvious advantages (radical) constructivism has over other philosophies it has failed to become a mainstream philosophy that is widely taught and discussed. Problem: What are the reasons for this failure? Can we identify issues that make it difficult for scholars to accept and even embrace radical constructivist ideas? What is the best way to characterize, explain, and eventually refute objections? Method: By collecting articles from both proponents and opponents of radical constructivism the editors of the special issue (...) tried to present a range of answers to these questions. Results: Some problems are due to known objections to radical constructivism, in particular the idea that being responsible for one’s own constructions opens doors to a “whatever” attitude. Another important insight is that constructivism seems to resemble a river delta with ever branching new sub-disciplines that become increasingly incompatible with each other. Implications: The insights gained from the contributions may lead to a re-orientation of (radical) constructivism that will include less misunderstandings among its critics and to a higher acceptance in the academic community. (shrink)