Re: [xmca] Re: the Strange Situation

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 29 2008 - 14:33:08 PDT


I was sketching with broad strokes, and obviously a lot of detail could be
added, and nuance.

But I stand by my main point, that there have been two kinds of
constructivism. The first considers the construction of knowledge. It is an
epistemological construction: it maintains that we construct
"representations" of reality, mental or linguistic. When we examine the
ontological assumptions of this kind of constructivism they are generally
dualist. The key sign is the claim that it is impossible to know the world
outside these representations, and so one must be "ontologically mute" (as
Gergen put it). Kant said this, as did Husserl, and von Glasersfeld.

The other kind of constructivism starts from a non-dualistic ontology, and
considers the construction of objects and subjects. It tends to view social
relations or practices as prior to individuals. It tends to emphasize non-
or pre-representational forms of knowledge. And it tends to point out that
language is a form of action before it is a form of representation.


On 10/29/08 4:32 PM, "Dewey Dykstra" <> wrote:

> On Oct 26, 2008, at 11:12 AM, Martin Packer wrote:
>> Andy, David,
>> I agree that Kant has to receive some credit. ...
>> What this kind of constructivism is unable to do is answer the
>> question that
>> Kant tried, but failed, to answer: how can we have adequate
>> knowledge and
>> ethics? These constructivists (Piaget, Berger & Luckmann, Gergen)
>> remain
>> trapped in skepticism (about real objects and other minds) and
>> relativism
>> (about both truth and values). They focus on the individual outside of
>> social relations, and they privilege theoretical reflection over
>> practical
>> activity. They privilege representation over practical know-how.
>> ...
> It appears from the paragraph above, the problem is that one is not
> satisfied until one has some absolute basis for absolute ethical
> stances, hence the word "trappped" when referring to skepticism and
> relativism. This position privileges realism over skepticism without
> ever answering the fundamental question of skepticism.
> The distinction here is apparently between a realist stance with
> respect to ethics and a non-realist stance. Someone who can never
> step outside of the realist stance will never understand a position
> taken in a non-realist paradigm and vice versa. Obviously, the
> likes of Piaget, Gergen, etc. and other constructivists such as von
> Glasersfeld, Maturana, Varela, von Foerster did/do not see themselves
> as trapped, but in a sense as freed. Yet, if you read what they have
> to say about things like ethics you will find reasoned, specific
> positions taken with respect to ethics. With that freedom comes
> responsibility--an ethical stance, it seems to me. Take for example:
> Maturana, H. (1988) 'Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest
> for a compelling argument', The Irish Journal of Psychology, 9(11):
> 25-82.
> It is repetition of false impressions to repeat the claim that Piaget
> did not attend to social relations merely because his work in this
> area was not translated into English until well after his death.
> Better to actually carefully study what has been translated at this
> point. I am also mystified why the claim is made that Gergen's focus
> is on the individual outside of social relations. One might disagree
> with another's operating explanatory model for a particular area, but
> is this grounds for making the claim that the other's work had no
> focus in the area?
> Finally, it strikes me that the claim that these authors privilege
> theoretical reflection and representation over practical activity and
> know-how is unfounded if one makes a careful study of the work of
> these authors. Practical is inextricably merged with reflection in
> the construction of the world.
> The choice, as Buddhists might put it, is not between essentialism
> and nihilism. Instead there is another way. Essentialism and
> nihilism are opposite poles of a single continuum, realism to
> solipsism. These authors are talking about an entirely different
> dimension, which includes neither essentialism nor nihilism, hence
> not realism. The two continua, thought of as straight lines in
> space, are neither parallel nor do they intersect. The Buddhist
> answer is called the Middle Way, but it seems that the Middle Way is
> not a point on the continuum between essentialism and nihilism. The
> Middle Way is incommensurate with the continuum of essentialism to
> nihilism, realism to solipsism. The version of non-realism espoused
> in various ways by these authors is a non-realist stance with many
> similarities to the Buddhist Middle Way. (For more about The Middle
> Way, check out Jay Garfield's commentary in The Fundamental Wisdom of
> the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (1995, can be found
> on Amazon)).
> Dewey
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Received on Wed Oct 29 14:35:14 2008

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