Constructivist epistemology is a branch in philosophy of science maintaining that scientific knowledge is constructed by the scientific community, who seek to measure and construct models of the natural world. Natural science therefore consists of mental constructs that aim to explain sensory experience and measurements.
According to constructivists, the world is independent of human minds, but knowledge of the world is always a human and social construction. Constructivism opposes the philosophy of objectivism, embracing the belief that a human can come to know the truth about the natural world not mediated by scientific approximations with different degrees of validity and accuracy.
According to constructivists there is no single valid methodology in science, but rather a diversity of useful methods.
The term originates from psychology, education, and social constructivism. The expression "constructivist epistemology" was first used by Jean Piaget, 1967, with plural form in the famous article from the "Encyclopédie de la Pléiade" Logique et connaissance scientifique or "Logic and Scientific knowledge", an important text for epistemology. He refers directly to the mathematician Brouwer and his radical constructivism.
The terms Constructionism and constructivism are often, but should not be, used interchangeably. Constructionism is an approach to learning that was developed by Papert; the approach was greatly influenced by his work with Piaget, but it is very different. Constructionism involves the creation of a product to show learning. It is believed by constructivists that representations of physical and biological reality, including race, sexuality, and gender, as well as tables, chairs and atoms are socially constructed. Marx was among the first to suggest such an ambitious expansion of the power of ideas to inform the material realities of people's lives.
Constructivism stems from a number of philosophies. For instance, early development can be attributed to the thought of Greek philosophers such as Heraclitus (Everything flows, nothing stands still), Protagoras (Man is the measure of all things). Protagoras is clearly represented by Plato and hence the tradition as a relativist. The Pyrrhonist sceptics have also been so interpreted. (Although this is more contentious.)
Following the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, with the phenomenology and the event, Kant gives a decisive contradiction to Cartesians' epistemology that has grown since Descartes despite Giambattista Vico calling in Scienza nuova ("New Science") in 1725 that "the norm of the truth is to have made it". The Enlightenment's claim of the universality of Reason as the only true source of knowledge generated a Romantic reaction involving an emphasis on the separate natures of races, species, sexes and types of human.
One version of social constructivism contends that categories of knowledge and reality are actively created by social relationships and interactions. These interactions also alter the way in which scientific episteme is organized.
Social activity presupposes human beings inhabiting shared forms of life, and in the case of social construction, utilizing semiotic resources (meaning-making and signifying) with reference to social structures and institutions. Several traditions use the term Social Constructivism: psychology (after Lev Vygotsky), sociology (after Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, themselves influenced by Alfred Schütz), sociology of knowledge (David Bloor), sociology of mathematics (Sal Restivo), philosophy of mathematics (Paul Ernest). Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophy can be seen as a foundation for social constructivism, with its key theoretical concepts of language games embedded in forms of life.
Thomas Kuhn argued that changes in scientists' views of reality not only contain subjective elements, but result from group dynamics, "revolutions" in scientific practice and changes in "paradigms". As an example, Kuhn suggested that the Sun-centric Copernican "revolution" replaced the Earth-centric views of Ptolemy not because of empirical failures, but because of a new "paradigm" that exerted control over what scientists felt to be the more fruitful way to pursue their goals.
But paradigm debates are not really about relative problem-solving ability, though for good reasons they are usually couched in those terms. Instead, the issue is which paradigm should in future guide research on problems many of which neither competitor can yet claim to resolve completely. A decision between alternate ways of practicing science is called for, and in the circumstances that decision must be based less on past achievement than on future promise. ... A decision of that kind can only be made on faith.— Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, pp 157-8
The view of reality as accessible only through models was called model-dependent realism by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. While not rejecting an independent reality, model-dependent realism says that we can know only an approximation of it provided by the intermediary of models. These models evolve over time as guided by scientific inspiration and experiment.
In the field of the social sciences, constructivism as an epistemology urges that researchers reflect upon the paradigms that may be underpinning their research, and in the light of this that they become more open to consider other ways of interpreting any results of the research. Furthermore, the focus is on presenting results as negotiable constructs rather than as models that aim to "represent" social realities more or less accurately. Norma Romm in her book Accountability in Social Research (2001) argues that social researchers can earn trust from participants and wider audiences insofar as they adopt this orientation and invite inputs from others regarding their inquiry practices and the results thereof.
In psychology, constructivism refers to many schools of thought that, though extraordinarily different in their techniques (applied in fields such as education and psychotherapy), are all connected by a common critique of previous standard approaches, and by shared assumptions about the active constructive nature of human knowledge. In particular, the critique is aimed at the "associationist" postulate of empiricism, "by which the mind is conceived as a passive system that gathers its contents from its environment and, through the act of knowing, produces a copy of the order of reality.":16
In contrast, "constructivism is an epistemological premise grounded on the assertion that, in the act of knowing, it is the human mind that actively gives meaning and order to that reality to which it is responding".:16 The constructivist psychologies theorize about and investigate how human beings create systems for meaningfully understanding their worlds and experiences.
Joe L. Kincheloe has published numerous social and educational books on critical constructivism (2001, 2005, 2008), a version of constructivist epistemology that places emphasis on the exaggerated influence of political and cultural power in the construction of knowledge, consciousness, and views of reality. In the contemporary mediated electronic era, Kincheloe argues, dominant modes of power have never exerted such influence on human affairs. Coming from a critical pedagogical perspective, Kincheloe argues that understanding a critical constructivist epistemology is central to becoming an educated person and to the institution of just social change.
Kincheloe's characteristics of critical constructivism:
Cultural constructivism asserts that knowledge and reality are a product of their cultural context, meaning that two independent cultures will likely form different observational methodologies.
Ernst von Glasersfeld was a prominent proponent of radical constructivism. This claims that knowledge is not a commodity which is transported from one mind into another. Rather, it is up to the individual to "link up" specific interpretations of experiences and ideas with their own reference of what is possible and viable. That is, the process of constructing knowledge, of understanding, is dependent on the individual's subjective interpretation of their active experience, not what "actually" occurs. Understanding and acting are seen by radical constructivists not as dualistic processes, but "circularly conjoined".
Constructivist Foundations is a free online journal publishing peer reviewed articles on radical constructivism by researchers from multiple domains.
Relational constructivism can be perceived as a relational consequence of the radical constructivism. In contrary to social constructivism, it picks up the epistemological threads and maintains the radical constructivist idea that humans cannot overcome their limited conditions of reception (i.e. self referentially operating cognition). Therefore, humans are not able to come to objective conclusions about the world.
In spite of the subjectivity of human constructions of reality, relational constructivism focusses on the relational conditions applying to human perceptional processes. Björn Kraus puts it in a nutshell:
„It is substantial for relational constructivism that it basically originates from an epistemological point of view, thus from the subject and its construction processes. Coming from this perspective it then focusses on the (not only social, but also material) relations under which these cognitive construction processes are performed. Consequently, it‘s not only about social construction processes, but about cognitive construction processes performed under certain relational conditions.“
A series of articles published in the journal Critical Inquiry (1991) served as a manifesto for the movement of critical constructivism in various disciplines, including the natural sciences. Not only truth and reality, but also "evidence", "document", "experience", "fact", "proof", and other central categories of empirical research (in physics, biology, statistics, history, law, etc.) reveal their contingent character as a social and ideological construction. Thus, a "realist" or "rationalist" interpretation is subjected to criticism. Kincheloe's political and pedagogical notion (above) has emerged as a central articulation of the concept.
While recognizing the constructedness of reality, many representatives of this critical paradigm deny philosophy the task of the creative construction of reality. They eagerly criticize realistic judgments, but they do not move beyond analytic procedures based on subtle tautologies. They thus remain in the critical paradigm and consider it to be a standard of scientific philosophy per se.
Numerous criticisms have been leveled at Constructivist epistemology. The most common one is that it either explicitly advocates or implicitly reduces to relativism. This is because it takes the concept of truth to be a socially "constructed" (and thereby socially relative) one. This leads to the charge of self-refutation: if what is to be regarded as "true" is relative to a particular social formation, then this very conception of truth must itself be only regarded as being "true" in this society. In another social formation, it may well be false. If so, then social constructivism itself would be false in that social formation. Further, one could then say that social constructivism could be both true and false simultaneously.
Another criticism of constructivism is that it holds that the concepts of two different social formations be entirely different and incommensurate. This being the case, it is impossible to make comparative judgements about statements made according to each worldview. This is because the criteria of judgement will themselves have to be based on some worldview or other. If this is the case, then it brings into question how communication between them about the truth or falsity of any given statement could be established.
The Wittgensteinian philosopher Gavin Kitching argues that constructivists usually implicitly presuppose a deterministic view of language which severely constrains the minds and use of words by members of societies: they are not just "constructed" by language on this view, but are literally "determined" by it. Kitching notes the contradiction here: somehow the advocate of constructivism is not similarly constrained. While other individuals are controlled by the dominant concepts of society, the advocate of constructivism can transcend these concepts and see through them.
A paradigm governs, in the first instance, not a subject matter but rather a group of practitioners. Any study ... must begin by locating the responsible group or groups.
We shall adopt an approach that we call model-dependent realism. It is based on the idea that our brains interpret the input from our sensory organs by making a model of the world. When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such ...theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather we are free to use whichever model is the most convenient.
In philosophy, constructive empiricism (also empiricist structuralism) is a form of empiricism.Descriptive knowledge
Descriptive knowledge, also declarative knowledge, propositional knowledge, or constative knowledge, is the type of knowledge that is, by its very nature, expressed in declarative sentences or indicative propositions. This distinguishes descriptive knowledge from what is commonly known as "knowing-how", or procedural knowledge (the knowledge of how, and especially how best, to perform some task), and "knowing of", or knowledge by acquaintance (the non-propositional knowledge of something through direct awareness of it). Descriptive knowledge is also identified as "knowing-that" or knowledge of fact, embodying concepts, principles, ideas, schemas, and theories. The entire descriptive knowledge of an individual constitute his understanding of the world and more specifically how it or a part of it works.The distinction between knowing-how and knowing-that was introduced in epistemology by Gilbert Ryle. For Ryle, the former differs in its emphasis and purpose since it is primarily practical knowledge whereas the latter focuses on indicative or explanatory knowledge.Epistemological idealism
Epistemological idealism is a subjectivist position in epistemology that holds that what one knows about an object exists only in one's mind. It is opposed to epistemological realism.Gaston Bachelard
Gaston Bachelard ( ; French: [baʃlaʁ]; 27 June 1884 – 16 October 1962) was a French philosopher. He made contributions in the fields of poetics and the philosophy of science. To the latter he introduced the concepts of epistemological obstacle and epistemological break (obstacle épistémologique and rupture épistémologique). He influenced many subsequent French philosophers, among them Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Dominique Lecourt and Jacques Derrida, as well as the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
For Gaston the scientific object should be constructed and therefore different from the positivist sciences information is in continuous construction. Empiricism and rationalism are not regarded as dualism or opposition but complementary, therefore studies of a priori and a posteriori or in other words reason and are dialectic and are part of scientific research.Genetic epistemology
Genetic epistemology or 'developmental theory of knowledge' is a study of the origins (genesis) of knowledge (epistemology) established by Jean Piaget.Giambattista Vico
Giambattista Vico (born Giovan Battista Vico , Italian: [ˈviko]; 23 June 1668 – 23 January 1744) was an Italian political philosopher and rhetorician, historian and jurist, of the Age of Enlightenment. He criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism, was an apologist for Classical Antiquity, a precursor of systematic and complex thought, in opposition to Cartesian analysis and other types of reductionism, and was the first expositor of the fundamentals of social science and of semiotics.
The Latin aphorism Verum esse ipsum factum ("What is true is precisely what is made") coined by Vico is an early instance of constructivist epistemology. He inaugurated the modern field of the philosophy of history, and, although the term philosophy of history is not in his writings, Vico spoke of a “history of philosophy narrated philosophically." Although he was not an historicist, contemporary interest in Vico usually has been motivated by historicists, such as Isaiah Berlin, an historian of ideas, Edward Said, a literary critic, and Hayden White, a metahistorian.Giambattista Vico's intellectual magnum opus is the book Scienza Nuova (1725, New Science), which attempts a systematic organization of the humanities as a single science that recorded and explained the historical cycles by which societies rise and fall.Hierarchical epistemology
Hierarchical epistemology is a theory of knowledge which posits that beings have different access to reality depending on their ontological rank.Jam2jam
jam2jam is a family of audiovisual software for collaborative performance. The systems use generative algorithms for audio and visual material whose parameters are controlled by users with either a graphical user interface or external hardware controllers. jam2jam software applications can connect over local networks or the internet allowing real-time collaboration. This type of functionality is referred to as Network Jamming and is the topic of ongoing research.The jam2jam software has been primarily employed to enable access to collaborative audiovisual performances, and is used in education and community arts settings. The software has also found application in assisting people with disabilities to participate in playful arts activities.
The Network Jamming research that surrounds the use of jam2jam is built on a constructivist epistemology and encourages learning about audio and visual media through interactive performances and making by video recording the performances. The jam2jam software facilitates this philosophical approach by enabling collaboration through network connections and allows performances to be recorded for review and sharing. There are a number of academic publications describing this research.Jean-Louis Le Moigne
Jean-Louis Le Moigne (French: [mwaɲ]; born 22 March 1931) is a French specialist on systems theory and constructivist epistemology. He is an alumnus from École Centrale Paris.List of epistemologists
This is a list of epistemologists, that is, people who theorize about the nature of knowledge, belief formation and the nature of justification.Michael Devitt
Michael Devitt (born 1938) is an Australian philosopher currently teaching at the City University of New York in New York City. His primary interests include philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, metaphysics and epistemology. His current work involves the philosophy of linguistics, foundational issues in semantics, the semantics of definite descriptions and demonstratives, semantic externalism, and scientific realism.
He is a noted proponent of the causal theory of reference. He claims that repeated groundings in an object can account for reference change. However, such a response leaves open the problem of cognitive significance that originally intrigued Bertrand Russell and Gottlob Frege.
Michael Devitt, along with Georges Rey, is also a critic of the transcendental argument against eliminativism, and defends this position against claims that it is self-refuting by invoking deflationary semantic theories that avoid analysing predicates like "x is true" as expressing a real property. They are construed, instead, as logical devices so that asserting that a sentence is true is just a quoted way of asserting the sentence itself. To say, "'God exists' is true" is just to say, "God exists". This way, Rey and Devitt argue, in so far as dispositional replacements of "claims" and deflationary accounts of "true" are coherent, eliminativism is not self-refuting.Devitt is a known critic of constructivist epistemology.Model-dependent realism
Model-dependent realism is a view of scientific inquiry that focuses on the role of scientific models of phenomena. It claims reality should be interpreted based upon these models, and where several models overlap in describing a particular subject, multiple, equally valid, realities exist. It claims that it is meaningless to talk about the "true reality" of a model as we can never be absolutely certain of anything. The only meaningful thing is the usefulness of the model. The term "model-dependent realism" was coined by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow in their 2010 book, The Grand Design.Problem of other minds
The problem of other minds is a philosophical problem traditionally stated as the following epistemological challenge raised by the skeptic: Given that I can only observe the behavior of others, how can I know that others have minds? It is a central issue of the philosophical idea known as solipsism: the notion that for any person only one's own mind is known to exist. Solipsism maintains that no matter how sophisticated someone's behavior is, behavior on its own does not guarantee the presence of mentality.Scientific realism
Scientific realism is the view that the universe described by science is real regardless of how it may be interpreted.
Within philosophy of science, this view is often an answer to the question "how is the success of science to be explained?" The discussion on the success of science in this context centers primarily on the status of unobservable entities apparently talked about by scientific theories. Generally, those who are scientific realists assert that one can make valid claims about unobservables (viz., that they have the same ontological status) as observables, as opposed to instrumentalism.Speculative reason
Speculative reason, sometimes called theoretical reason or pure reason, is theoretical (or logical, deductive) thought, as opposed to practical (active, willing) thought. The distinction between the two goes at least as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, who distinguished between theory (theoria, or a wide, bird's eye view of a topic, or clear vision of its structure) and practice (praxis), as well as techne.
Speculative reason is contemplative, detached, and certain, whereas practical reason is engaged, involved, active, and dependent upon the specifics of the situation. Speculative reason provides the universal, necessary principles of logic, such as the principle of non-contradiction, which must apply everywhere, regardless of the specifics of the situation.
On the other hand, practical reason is the power of the mind engaged in deciding what to do. It is also referred to as moral reason, because it involves action, decision, and particulars. Though many other thinkers have erected systems based on the distinction, two important later thinkers who have done so are Aquinas (who follows Aristotle in many respects) and Immanuel Kant.The Dream of Reality
The Dream of Reality: Heinz von Foerster's Constructivism is a book by Lynn Segal first published in 1986. Segal, a licensed clinical social worker, examines the constructivist epistemology of physicist and philosopher Heinz von Foerster. Originally intended as a transcription of von Foerster's lectures, the book evolved into Segal's interpretation of von Foerster's constructivism written in everyday language.Tom Rockmore
Tom Rockmore (born 1942) is an American philosopher. Although he denies the usual distinction between philosophy and the history of philosophy, he has strong interests throughout the history of philosophy and defends a constructivist view of epistemology. The philosophers whom he has studied extensively are Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Marx, Lukács, and Heidegger. He received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1974 and his Habilitation à diriger des recherches from the Université de Poitiers in 1994. He is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University, as well as Distinguished Humanities Chair Professor at Peking University.