Dear Professor Von Glasersfeld,
I am a master's student for Dr. Bednarz and
Dr. Kieran at the Université
du Québec à Montréal.
Lately, I started to read a lot on
constructivism and I had some questions for you -I will try to
I have always heard that for a constructivist, there is no such
thing as independant reality, because in
the constructivists perspective we
construct our own reality -which is our interpretation and is
different for each human beings. To do that, we construct
it from our experiences and our
interpretations of thoses experiences.
For me, this meant that there was no ontological world
independant of us - because such a thing
was a non sense for a constructivist.
However, I think I was wrong because I read an answer you wrote
1997 and it says: «Whatever may lie beyond experience is
inaccessible to human reason. But this is no denial of
and you add in December of the
same year: «Radical constructivism does
not deny a world beyond our experiential
interface, but it denies the possibility of knowing it.».
For me, and this is where I need your help, this states clearly
that there is an independant reality, but
we can't know it rationaly. Instead, it
is our interpretation of it that we construct -and we
can't say it represent it, we can only say that it seems
viable in it.
So we construct, for ourselves, our interpretation of our
reality that we live in -based on our
experiences and the invariants and constants
that we experience in that unknowable «real» world.
Am I completely out of place or does my interpretation of it
seems compatible with yours? Thank you
very much in advance for your time.
Étudiant à la maîtrise
I think you have got what I
intend. Only the mystics may have access to an
external reality, but then they cannot comunicate about
it in rational terms.
I am reluctant to say "There IS a reality", because I don 't
know what "is"
could mean outside the domain of my experience. Therefore I
limit myself to
saying that I do not deny it. Not denying does not imply
existence, it is simply part of
Ernst von Glasersfeld
In the book, Radical
Constructivism A Way of Knowing and Learning you
wrote, "It is cetainly not the case 'anything goes'. It
is always possible
that an ontic reality manifests itself by impeding some of our
thwarting some of our efforts. But even if this should be the
case, this ontic reality would manifest
itself only in failures of our acting
and/or thinking, and we would have no way
of describing it, except in terms of the
actions and thoughts that turned out to be unsuccessful."
Aristotle defined the following, "To say of what is that is not
or of what is not
that it is, is falsehood; to say of what is that is and of what
is not that is not, is truth" . It
seems to me that a radical constructivist
argues we cannot know "what is". However, it is not clear
to me how they
would reply to knowing, "what is not that it is not." For
example, could a
radical constructivist say (and be consistent with her or his
1. It is true there is not
an living adult tyrannosurus rex in our
2. It is true I cannot jump to the moon.
Thank you for your time.
Dear Mr. Hairston,
believed that the capacity of knowing transcends the domain of
experience and that we can discover what is and what is
not in an ontological sense. In my view
no ontic world is accessible and, because the
meaning of our words is necessarily derived from and
pertains to our experiential world, we
cannot tell what "to be" and "to exist" could
possibly mean in an
hypothetical space beyond the experiential interface.
As to "truth", for a constructivist it cannot have the meaning
it is assumed to
have in traditional philosophy, i.e. that something correctly
represents or matches reality.
Hence a statement about an item will be considered
"true" if it replicates what was
or will be said about the item in another
experiential frame; or, as Ceccato said, if the operations that
give rise to it
now are the same that gave rise to it then. - Therefore, if you
tell me that there is a tyrannosurus rex
in your living room, I'll consider it a
hallucination until I or someone else can conform its presence
(hence the extraordinary effect of
collective hallucinations such as crying madonnas
and the like). Jumping to the moon
is a bad example because given the right
sort of rocketry you might pull it off.
Ernst von Glasersfeld
I´m a student of philosophy from the University of Essen,
Germany, writing an
paper on the radical constructivist theory of knowledge. I would
highly aprechiate information of
the basic concepts of the radical
constructivist (RC) approach to knowledge
and their difference to actual contextualist
approaches like those of Michael Williams, for example. I
think context play
an important Role in both of them, but what makes
RC specifically different from such kinds of
Dear Mr. Siefke-Bremkens,
I cannot answer your question because I do not know Williams'
or other "contextualist"
epistemologies. However, if the context they
accentuate is assumed to be
observer-independent, the theories will necessarily be
incompatible with RC. - You would have to enlighten me as
to how contextualists define knowledge
and what, in their view, it represents.
Ernst von Glasersfeld
professor Von Glasersfeld,
Thank you very much for your reply (februari
2003) and the quoted passage in
"Le structuralisme" of which you gave your interpretation
earlier (in a
december 2002-answer). Sorry to hear your books got lost in
I would like to answer your question with regard to
'(non-)explanatory concepts', and put two
questions to you related to the matter of Piaget
being neither a realist nor an idealist.
You asked me to give some examples of «explanatory concepts» as
non-explanatory ones because it is not clear to you how to make
I would like to refer to Peirce's notion of abduction; a concept
that enters in a
abductive inference in order to explain/understand a surprising
phenomenon is an explanatory concept. So, an explanatory
concept refers directly to a surprising
phenomenon, and a non-explantory concept
doesn't (neither directly nor
indirectly). As an example, the notion of IQ is
not induced by a surprising
phenomenon (as far as I know), and all other
psychometrically related 'concepts' I would say.
My first question to you is, acknowledging Piaget is neither a
realist nor an
idealist, whether you find Piaget is having a pragmatic-like
The following passage in your 'Hommage to Jean Piaget' gave me
food for this
"Adaptation is, in fact, a negative concept. It does not require
any knowledge of what really exists - it
merely implies that whatever is
functionally successful will live and reproduce itself. It is
the result of
trial and the elimination of what does not work. The fact that
an organism is
'adapted' only shows that it has found a way of coping with the
world in which it
My second question is, agreeing one could interpret Piaget
(slightly) differently i.e. before and
after he modified ideas, is what you'ld make
of the following passage in Le
structuralisme p.35-36 (1970):
"Mais comprendre ou expliquer ne se borne
nullement alors a appliquer nos
operations au reel at a constater que celui-ci se
une simple application demeure interieure
au niveau des lois. Pour depasser er
atteindre les cause, il faut plus: il est necessaire
d'attribuer ces operations aux objects
comme tels et de les concevoir comme constituant
en eux-memes des operateurs. C'est
alors, et alors seulement, que l'on peut
parler de «structure»
causale, cette structure etant le systeme
objectif des operateurs en leurs
I hope you have the opportunity to reply.
Dear Ms. McDermot,
Thanks for the
examples of explanatory and non-explanatory concepts. I
agree about IQ. It explains
nothing. It merely designates what is measured by
tests that are called
"intelligence tests" but do not reliably measure
intelligence. IQ is therefore a pretty useless concept;
unlike, say kilometer, which is not an
explanatory concept either but a useful one.
The matter of abduction is, I think, a little more
complicated. Peirce explained that a
"surprising" event can be turned into an expectable one
by the invention of a rule. I am
reluctant to call the rule a concept. I
would reserve this word for the items
that the rule concatenates in such a way
that the surprising event becomes
its normal outcome.
With regard to your two questions about Piaget, let me first say
this: As a
constructivist I cannot discriminate between my interpretation
of Piaget and what
he "really" was. I can only try to adjust my interpretations so
as to obtain the most coherent,
consistent position. My constructivism has
indeed parallels to pragmatism,
but I have tried to focus on the analysis of the
constructs that "work" (are viable) and on showing
(which the pragmatists did
not) that we can have our experiential reality without
reference to an ontological one.
I have no difficuly agreeing with what Piaget says there. If we
explanations of phenomena, we have to reify our experiences and
treat them as independently related and
acting upon each other. This is part of our
construction of reality.
Ernst von Glasersfeld
Professor von Glasersfeld,
I admire your work and would like to learn more about it. Is
there any way we
can access your " An exposition of constructivism: Why some like
it radical" on the Web.
Thank you very much in advance for your time and generosity.
Universidad Tecnológica Nacional
College of Education - INSPT
Buenos Aires - Argentina
Dear Mr. Villarreal,
Thank for your
interest in my work. I am sending you below a copy of the
paper you requested .
Ernst von Glasersfeld
Exposition of Constructivism: Why Some
Like it Radical