Constructivist epistemology  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Constructivism epistemology is a epistemological perspective in philosophy about the nature of scientific knowledge held by many philosophers of science. Constructivists maintain that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world through strict scientific methods. In opposition of positivism that states that scientific knowledge comes from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific methods: quantitative research. Constructivism believes that there is no single valid methodology and there are other methodologies for social science: qualitative research.

History

Constructivism find its roots through :

  • Greek philosophers as Heraclitus (Everything flows, nothing stands still), Protagoras (Man is the measure of all things), Aristotle.
  • After the Renaissance and the enlightenment, with the phenomenology and the event, Kant gives a decisive contradiction to Cartesians’ epistemology that has grown since Descartes despite Giambattista Vico calls in "La scienza nuova" (the new science) in 1708 reminding that "the norm of the truth is to have made it".
  • XXth century, Gaston Bachelard, who is known for his physics psychoanalysis and the definition of an "epistemologic obstacle" that can disturb a changing of scientific paradigm as the one that occurred between classical mechanics and Einstein’s relativism, opens the teleological way with "The meditation on the object takes the form of the project". In the following famous saying, he insist on the question that come first when searching a theory, before summarizing "nothing is given, all is constructed" : "And, irrespective of what one might assume, in the life of a science, problems do not arise by themselves. It is precisely this that marks out a problem as being of the true scientific spirit: all knowledge is in response to a question. If there no were question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed.", Gaston Bachelard (La formation de l'esprit scientifique, 1934). While quantum mechanics is starting to grow, Gaston Bachelard makes a call for a new science in "Le Nouvel Esprit scientifique" (The new scientific spirit).
  • XXth century again, French poet and philosopher Paul Valéry reminds us of the importance of representations and action : "We have always sought explanations when it was only representations that we could seek to invent", "My hand feels touched as well as it touches; reality says this, and nothing more".
  • This link with action, that could be call a "philosophy of action" was well represented by Spanish poet Antonio Machado : Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.
  • Ludwik Fleck establishes scientific constructivism by introducing the notions of thought collective (Denkkollektiv), and thought style (Denkstil), through which the evolution of science is much more understandable, because the research objects can be described in terms of the assumptions (thought style) that are shared for practical but also inherently social reasons, or just because any thought collective tends to preserve itself. These notions have been drawn upon by Thomas Kuhn.
  • Norbert Wiener gives another defense of teleology in 1943 "Behavior, intention and teleology" and is one of those who created cybernetics.
  • Jean Piaget, after the creation in 1955 of the International Centre for Genetic Epistemology in Geneva, first uses the expression "constructivists epistemologies" (see above). According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget is "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing" (in An Exposition of Constructivism: Why Some Like it Radical, 1990) and "the most prolific constructivist in our century" (in Aspects of Radical Constructivism, 1996).
  • Herbert Simon called « The sciences of the artificial » these new sciences (cybernetics, cognitive sciences, decision and organisation sciences) that, because of the abstraction of their object (information, communication, decision), cannot match with the classical epistemology and its experimental method and refutability.
  • Gregory Bateson and his book Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972).
  • Heinz von Foerster, invited by Jean Piaget, presented "Objects: tokens for (Eigen-)behaviours" in 1976 in Geneva at a Genetic Epistemology Symposium, a text that will become a reference for constructivist epistemology.
  • Paul Watzlawick, who supervised in 1984 the publication of Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know? (Contributions to constructivism).
  • Ernst von Glasersfeld, who has promoted since the end of the 70s radical constructivism (see below).
  • Edgar Morin and his book La Méthode (1977-2004, six volumes).
  • Mioara Mugur-Schächter who is also a quantum mechanics specialist.
  • Jean-Louis Le Moigne for his encyclopedic work on constructivist epistemology and his General Systems theory (see "Le Moigne's Defense of Constructivism" by Ernst von Glasersfeld).




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