Construct (philosophy)

A construct in the philosophy of science is an ideal object, where the existence of the thing may be said to depend upon a subject's mind. This contrasts with a real object, where existence does not seem to depend on the existence of a mind.[1]

In a scientific theory, particularly within psychology, a hypothetical construct is an explanatory variable which is not directly observable. For example, the concepts of intelligence and motivation are used to explain phenomena in psychology, but neither is directly observable. A hypothetical construct differs from an intervening variable in that it has properties and implications which have not been demonstrated in empirical research. These serve as a guide to further research. An intervening variable, on the other hand, is a summary of observed empirical findings.

The creation of constructs is a part of operationalization, especially the creation of theoretical definitions. The usefulness of one conceptualization over another depends largely on construct validity. To address the non-observability of constructs, U.S. federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute has created a construct database termed Grid-Enabled Measures (GEM) to improve construct use and reuse.

Bobo doll-en
An object's center of mass is certainly a real thing, but it is a construct (not another object)

Construct versus object

Concepts that are considered constructs by this definition include that which is designated by the symbol "3" or the word "liberty". Scientific hypotheses and theories (e.g. evolutionary theory, gravitational theory), as well as classifications (e.g. in biological taxonomy) are also conceptual entities considered to be constructs.

Simple examples of real objects (that are not constructs) include silver fish and undershirts.


Cronbach and Meehl (1955) define a hypothetical construct as a concept for which there is not a single observable referent, which cannot be directly observed, and for which there exist multiple referents, but none all-inclusive. For example, according to Cronbach and Meehl a fish is not a hypothetical construct because, despite variation in species and varieties of fish, there is an agreed upon definition for a fish with specific characteristics that distinguish a fish from a bird. Furthermore, a fish can be directly observed. On the other hand, a hypothetical construct has no single referent; rather, hypothetical constructs consist of groups of functionally related behaviors, attitudes, processes, and experiences. Instead of seeing intelligence, love, or fear we see indicators or manifestations of what we have agreed to call intelligence, love, or fear.

Symptoms of leukemia
Diseases like Leukemia are important explanatory concepts, but do not 'exist' in the same way as a rock or a pencil

McCorquodale and Meehl (1948) discussed the distinction between what they called intervening variables and these hypothetical constructs. McCorquodale and Meehl (1948) describe hypothetical constructs as containing surplus meaning, as they imply more than just the operations by which they are measured.

In the positivist tradition, Boring (1923) described intelligence as whatever the intelligence test measures. As a reaction to such operational definitions, Cronbach and Meehl (1955) emphasized the necessity of viewing constructs like intelligence as hypothetical constructs. They asserted that there is no adequate criterion for the operational definition of constructs like abilities and personality. Thus, according to Cronbach and Meehl (1955), a useful construct of intelligence or personality should imply more than simply test scores. Instead these constructs should predict a wide range of behaviors.


Boring, E.G. (1923) "Intelligence as the tests test it", New Republic 36:35-37.

Cronbach, L.J., and Meehl, P.E. (1955) "Construct validity in psychological tests", Psychological Bulletin 52:281-302.

MacCorquodale, K.,& Meehl, P.E. (1948). "On a distinction between hypothetical constructs and intervening variables", Psychological Review 55:95-107.


  1. ^ Bunge, M. 1974. Treatise on Basic Philosophy, Vol. I Semantics I: Sense and Reference. Dordrecth-Boston: Reidel Publishing Co.

Construct, Constructs or constructs may refer to:

Construct (information technology), a collection of logic components forming an interactive agent or environment

Language construct

Construct (Dungeons & Dragons), a type of creature in the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons

Construct (album), a 2013 album by Dark Tranquillity

Construct (comics), a fictional artificial intelligence in the DC Universe

Construct (philosophy of science), a hypothetical object whose phenomenal existence depends upon a subject's mind

Construct (python library), a software library used for data-structuring

Construct (software), an open-source game creatorConstruct state, an Afro-Asiatic noun-formDNA construct, a segment of nucleic acid, created artificially, for transplantation into a target cell or tissue

Social construct, something that people believe to exist purely because their society has decided that it exists

Construct (psychology)an alternative name for a concrete category

a term used in the philosophy of artificial intelligence

biological creations appearing in the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels

Index of philosophy of science articles

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.

Race (human categorization)

A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. First used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations, by the 17th century the term race began to refer to physical (phenotypical) traits. Modern scholarship regards race as a social construct, an identity which is assigned based on rules made by society. While partially based on physical similarities within groups, race is not an inherent physical or biological quality.Social conceptions and groupings of races vary over time, involving folk taxonomies that define essential types of individuals based on perceived traits. Scientists consider biological essentialism obsolete, and generally discourage racial explanations for collective differentiation in both physical and behavioral traits.Even though there is a broad scientific agreement that essentialist and typological conceptualizations of race are untenable, scientists around the world continue to conceptualize race in widely differing ways, some of which have essentialist implications. While some researchers use the concept of race to make distinctions among fuzzy sets of traits or observable differences in behaviour, others in the scientific community suggest that the idea of race often is used in a naive or simplistic way, and argue that, among humans, race has no taxonomic significance by pointing out that all living humans belong to the same species, Homo sapiens, and (as far as applicable) subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens.Since the second half of the 20th century, the association of race with the ideologies and theories of scientific racism has led to the use of the word race itself becoming problematic. Although still used in general contexts, race has often been replaced by less ambiguous and loaded terms: populations, people(s), ethnic groups, or communities, depending on context.

Social constructionism

Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately within each individual.Social constructionism questions what is defined by humans and society to be reality. Therefore, social constructs can be different based on the society and the events surrounding the time period in which they exist. An example of a social construct is money or the concept of currency, as people in society have agreed to give it importance/ value. Another example of a social construction is the concept of self/ self-identity. Charles Cooley stated based on his Looking-Glass-Self theory: "I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am." This demonstrates how people in society construct ideas or concepts that may not exist without the existence of people or language to validate those concepts.There are weak and strong social constructs. Weak social constructs rely on brute facts (which are fundamental facts that are difficult to explain or understand, such as quarks) or institutional facts (which are formed from social conventions). Strong social constructs rely on the human perspective and knowledge that does not just exist, but is rather constructed by society.

Theoretical definition

A theoretical definition defines a term in an academic discipline, functioning as a proposal to see a phenomenon in a certain way. A theoretical definition is a proposed way of thinking about potentially related events. Theoretical definitions contain built-in theories; they cannot be simply reduced to describing a set of observations. The definition may contain implicit inductions and deductive consequences that are part of the theory. A theoretical definition of a term can change, over time, based on the methods in the field that created it.

Without a falsifiable operational definition, conceptual definitions assume both knowledge and acceptance of the theories that it depends on. A hypothetical construct may serve as a theoretical definition, as can a stipulative definition.

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