| Von Glasersfeld's answers - February 2003  |



Dear professor Von Glasersfeld,

I am a student studying developmental psychology. I am very interested in structuralism, especially its relation to what we call 'explanation', and I read Piaget's books "Le structuralisme". As I understand Piaget explaining turns out to be structuring in transformational patterns and his Genetic Epistemology is such a structure itself, and containing several structures.

In one of your replies - december 2002 - you say "Structuralism" contains the statement that "the cognitive organism would construct a stable world for itself, even if the 'real' world were in continuous flux."

I do not know to which passage you refer or if there is any. Piaget writes on p.19: "car si les points d'arrivee etaient constamment modifies par les chemins parcourus il n'y aurait plus d'espace mais un flux perpetuel comparable au fleuve d'Heraclite".

So he seems to say, rather, there would be no construction of (pre-)operations we would call space, but a construction of (pre-)operations we perhaps would call 'un flux perpetual'.

I doubt Piaget ever wrote about a/the 'real' world other than the descriptions of contemporary science. So, did you interpret Piaget correctly (consistently)? Or, can one make a consistent deduction from Piaget's theory to a non-relation to a 'real' world as you seem to be doing in the statement above. 'Real world' isn't an explanatory concept (and a fortiory not a structure), or is it?

To be straightforward, I am having doubts about Radical Constructivism (RC) because it's engaging itself again and again in discussions on non-explanatory concepts like 'real' world and having opinions about these.

I don't see a connection for explantory-construct and non-explanatory constructs exclude oneanother. So what is there to talk about; isn't it a sterile discussion? Or is RC itself a non-explanatory extension of Piaget's explanatory theory?

If you do think, however, 'real' world is an explanatory concept, I would invite you to explain why.

I hope you are willing to reply, allthough my questions are based on your answer to another question.

Yours sincerely,
Jenny McDermot
New Zealand

Dear Ms. McDermot,

Let me begin by saying that I believe there are several ways to interpret Piaget. He worked and published for seventy years and being a highly productive, original thinker older ideas sometimes had to be modified by the creation of new ones. In his writings there are places where he sounds like a realist and others where he sounds like an idealist. I believe he was neither. I took as the basis for my interpretation the things I understood him to say after he had replaced the developmental notion of stages with that of progressive conceptual equilibration.

Concerning the passage I mentioned in the December 2002 answer, here is the original:

Ce qui reste alors est la construction elle-mme et l'on ne voit pas pourquoi il serait draisonnable de penser que la nature dernire du rel est d'tre en construction permanente au lieu de consister en une accumulation de structures toutes faites. Le structuralisme, (1970), p.57-58

Nearly all my books were destroyed in a fire last April and I therefore cannot look up the passage you quote (I fortunately had nearly all quotations I used on a separate disk!). It is not clear to me what the points d'arrive  are and what kind of space is beeing referred to.

As I see it, I have never used a real world as an explanatory concept. I have said that I don't deny an ultimate reality - because it makes no sense to deny something of which one cannot have any knowledge. I agree with what Hans Vaihinger (The Philosophy of As If) ascribed to Kant, namely that Reality  is a heuristic fiction. This makes sense because for the practical purposes of social interaction and mutual compatibility it is far simpler to assume an interpersonal reality  of permanent objects and stable relations than to operate continuously with the conception of relative adaptation, i.e., the conception that I adapt to my interpretation of you, and you to your interpretation of me.

I'd like to continue this discussion, but you will have to give me some examples of explanatory concepts as opposed to non-explanatory ones. I am not clear as to how you make that distinction.

Best wishes,

Ernst von Glasersfeld


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