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?
ANSWER FROM ERNST VON GLASERSFELD
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