Re: [xmca] Re: the Strange Situation

From: Dewey Dykstra <ddykstra who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 29 2008 - 13:32:09 PDT

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):

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)).


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Received on Wed Oct 29 13:32:56 2008

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