Ernst von Glasersfeld's answers
December 1998



Dear Dr. Glasersfeld:

I have been reading about radical constructivism in class, yet I am not clear as to it's explanation of personality. How exactly can personality be explained using a radical constructivist approach? Also, much of what I have been reading about radical constructivism places a great emphasis on the importance of language, yet I am still not totally clear on the implications from a constructivist standpoint. What are these implications and are there any that can be tied into the explanation of personality?


Giancarlo Lombardo


Dear Mr. Lombardo,

"Personality" is what I call an obscure term. It is not only ambiguous, but people often don't know what they want to say when they use it. Take, for example, the personality of Mr.Clinton. Does it consist in the fact that he has shown considerable skill in running the economy and international interactions of the United States and, on the other hand, abismal stupidity and lack of taste in managing his sexual urges? - If so, we are speaking of the MANIFESTATIONS of his personality; just as we are speaking of the manifestations of "weather" when we mention wind, rain, or snow. And personality and weather then remain totally unexplained causes of the mentioned phenomena.

A friend of mine recently drew my attention to the fact that Marcel Proust, in the first part of "Du cotÚ de chez Swann" wrote: "our social personality is the creation of other people's thought" (la nostra personalitÓ sociale Ŕ la creatura del pensiero degli altri). - This is as constructivist an "explanation of personality" as I can give you. Of course, this is an observation, not an explanation. How someone's personality (including your own) comes to be what you think it is, is a matter of your individual habits of abstraction. Psychoanalysis has attempted to provide a model, but few people, today, want to adopt it - not because it might be "wrong", but because it does not suit the present fashion.

Ernst von Glasersfeld




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