Friday, January 20, 2017

Constructing (Deconstructing?) Constructivism

I pause in mourning the advent of this peculiar new presidency and its even more peculiar president to consider the philosophical view called, I believe, "Constructivism."  If I understand it correctly, it is an epistemological view, and roughly speaking is the belief that our knowledge is "constructed" because it is contingent on human perception, conventions and social or cultural experience.  As a result, it's claimed, our knowledge isn't of an external world or reality.

As you might expect, those who accept Constructivism are disinclined to believe there is any objective truth or knowledge of what is real, because what we consider to be reality is, in fact, and necessarily, constructed reality.  I confess I have a tendency to maintain that such a view is a difference which makes no difference and is thereby not a difference at all.  (I paraphrase, and forget who said this, but believe it was either William James or Mr. Spock, or perhaps even both of them).  That tendency has its basis in my feeling that if we can't know what reality is it's foolish to dwell on that fact; we'll never know what it is and so our time is better spent in dealing, as we must, with constructed reality.

But I also think that the use of the word "Constructivism" and the claim that we "construct" reality as a result of our interaction with the (presumably but it seems unknowable) real, is misleading.  We certainly can construct things, but when we do so we act intentionally to do so.  We construct a bridge, a building.  However, when we see, feel, hear, etc., we construct nothing at all.  If I see an apple I'm not constructing it, nor even am I constructing what I see if it is in the "external world" or unconstructed reality something different that I can't know (just what that might be we can't say, because we can't know what it is according to Constructivism).  I am, instead, seeing.  I'm doing part of what we do as living, human, organisms which are part of the world.  I'm living.

It seems to me Constructivism partakes of the same kind of duality as certain other theories of knowledge which are committed to the belief that we're separate from reality; apart from it rather than a part of it.  At least, our minds are thought to be separate from it if not our bodies.  Our minds are constructing reality being as they are dependent on our senses, our society, our culture.

If we don't construct a reality (if we don't make it) separate from the "really real"--if in other words we merely live as humans do given our characteristics as living creatures, see as humans must do, hear as they do, eat as they do, feel as they do, etc. as parts of the world--it strikes me there is neither the need nor the inclination to maintain that the environment in which we do those things, the world of which we're a part, is in any way disconnected from us or unknowable.  We aren't different from reality, or observing reality, or studying reality.  We're a part of reality.  We're reality just as much as everything else is.  There is no reality without us because reality would in that case not be reality; it would be something different.

It happens we humans, as part of what we do while living in the world (as constituents of reality) congregate, form bonds with others, form tribes, nations, societies, cultures.  They're likewise parts of the world, the real.  What we do as members of nations, societies, cultures are naturally influenced by them, but there's nothing unreal about this.  They may be different from one another as a result of what takes place with humans in different parts of the world, but they're all parts of reality as well.  This doesn't mean that we're incapable of knowing what the "really real" is, it means we're living in the "really real."  It doesn't follow from this that there is some external world unknowable to us.

Submitted for your consideration, some thoughts I have while avoiding what I'd rather not think about.

No comments:

Post a Comment