Constructivism (philosophy)

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Constructivism is an epistemological position developed mainly in 20th century philosophy . Several currents are sometimes mistakenly mistaken for coincident due to the common name. Most variants of constructivism assume that a detected object from the viewer itself through the process of recognizing constructed is. Expressed in the terminology of philosophy, they take a nominalistic position on the problem of universals .

While in Radical Constructivism the human ability to recognize objective reality is disputed on the grounds that each individual "constructs" his or her reality in his own head, supporters of Erlangen constructivism believe in a common method of construction, that is, that it can be done with the help of a special language and scientific methodology is possible to overcome "the naive finding of the world" and to replace it with "methodical knowledge and scientific construction". Whether this jointly constructed also exists independently of its construction or merely proves a consensus is a different problem. Constructivism in Erlangen is essentially inspired by constructive mathematics , which, like radical constructivism, takes a nominalistic view.

Central figures of thought

Despite all the differences in the disciplinary origins of individual approaches, the following similarities can be noted:

  • The focus is not on ontological WHAT questions, but epistemological HOW questions, i.e. In other words, it is essentially not about the essence of things, but about the process and the origin of their knowledge.
  • What is decisive is the orientation towards the observer or the cognitive authority and not towards the observer-independent "reality".
  • Farewell to the idea of ​​an absolute truth and an empirical objectivity, because the observer cannot be viewed as independent of knowledge.
  • Interest in the difference and plurality of possible or effective conceptions of reality.
  • Autonomy of the observer due to the self-regulation, control and organization of the cognitive authority.
  • Cognitive value of circular and paradoxical figures of thought in connection with the phenomenon of recursion.

In summary, it can be said that constructivism deals with the creation of one's own realities, dimensions or even abilities that arise through one's own recognition or belief in these realities, dimensions or abilities. As a result, every person perceives the world differently, as the human unconscious emphasizes or even inserts things into the field of vision that seem important to him. So, theoretically, people cannot trust their own perception, since this is always slightly distorted, since every person is perceived differently by different people.

Radical constructivism

The Radical Constructivism is a position of the theory of knowledge , which differs significantly from other constructivism. The core statement of radical constructivism is that a perception does not provide an image of a reality independent of consciousness , but that reality always represents a construction of sensory stimuli and memory performance for every individual . Therefore objectivity in the sense of a correspondence between the perceived (constructed) image and reality is impossible; every perception is entirely subjective. This is the radicalism (uncompromising) of radical constructivism.

Ernst von Glasersfeld is considered the founder of radical constructivism . According to Glasersfeld, the core problem of occidental epistemology is : “To want to recognize what lies outside the world of experience.” According to radical constructivism, this problem cannot be solved, but rather avoided; Glasersfeld had found inspiration for this in the work of the psychologist and epistemologist Jean Piaget : Piaget had already stated “that the cognitive structures that we call 'knowledge' should not be understood as 'copies of reality', but rather as the result of adaptation . "E. v. Glasersfeld coined the term viability for this . This term distinguishes between “an iconic relationship of correspondence or reflection” and a “relationship of fit”. This overcomes the illusion that "the empirical confirmation of a hypothesis or the success of a course of action means knowledge of an objective world."

The biophysicist and cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster and the neurobiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela are also considered to be the main representatives of radical constructivism , even if the latter two do not want to be called constructivists. Maturana and Varela developed the concept of autopoiesis , which also radiated into the humanities and social sciences, e.g. B. in the 1980s in the sociological systems theory of Niklas Luhmann . Heinz v. Foerster formulated a cybernetic epistemology, i. H. a theory of knowledge acquisition based on cybernetics.

Erlangen constructivism

The Erlangen constructivism comprises the projects of a scientific language free from misunderstandings, dialogical logic , constructive mathematics , protophysics and a theory of society and technology based on it. The core of Erlangen's constructivism is the construction or reconstruction of terms that is free of circles and that understand their specific usage. Representatives include Wilhelm Kamlah , Paul Lorenzen , Christian Thiel . The following schools have developed from constructivism in Erlangen:

Interactionist constructivism

The bear interactive constructivism is the Erlangen Constructivism more similar than the radical constructivism. However, he does not understand the culturalistic turn of constructivism predominantly in terms of language, but in relation to the world of life and in the basic assumptions ties in in particular to post-structuralism , cultural studies , deconstructivism and pragmatism . His representatives include Kersten Reich and Stefan Neubert.


The radical constructivism is primarily criticism of naive realism . He opposes that with a relativism that declares objectivity to be impossible. Above all, subjective observer positions seem essential to him. There are tendencies towards solipsism , but radical constructivism is clearly differentiated from it. Circular thought processes are not seen as logically flawed, but rather as inevitable. Radical Constructivism advocates a critical scientific program that questions insufficiently reflected ideas. His thesis that everything is "only" constructed is sometimes understood as a devaluation of construction.

The Erlangen constructivism , on the other hand, upgrades construction and uses it to clarify the scientific foundations, especially the terminology of scientific theories . The Erlangen constructivism makes the comprehensible reconstruction of terms its program and strives to recognize conceptual ambiguities in science, to work out well-founded alternatives and in this way to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding in scientific exchange. It is geared towards the consensus of the scientific community, while Radical Constructivism challenges a superficial consensus.

The interactionist constructivism includes actions in lifeworld, social and cultural contexts. In doing so, he tries to reflect on the subjective observer's positions against the background of cultural participation and actor roles. In addition to the theoretical justification, the approach particularly emphasizes educational applications.

See also


  • Bernhard Pörksen (Ed.): Key works of constructivism. 2nd Edition. Wiesbaden 2015.
  • F. v. Ameln: Constructivism . Tuebingen 2004.
  • Holger Lindemann : Constructivism, systems theory and practical action. An introduction to educational, psychological, social, societal and operational fields of action. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2019.
  • Siegfried J. Schmidt : The discourse of radical constructivism. Frankfurt am Main 1987.
  • Siegfried J. Schmidt: Cognition and Society. The Discourse of Radical Constructivism 2. Frankfurt am Main 1992.
  • Markus F. Peschl (Ed.): Forms of Constructivism in Discussion. Vienna 1991.
  • K. Reich: Do we need a new constructivist approach? Questions from the perspective of interactionist constructivism. In: H.-R. Fischer, SJ Schmidt (Hrsg.): Reality and world generation. Heidelberg 2000.
  • K. Reich: Constructivist approaches in the social and cultural sciences. In: T. Hug (Ed.): How does science get its knowledge? Volume 4, Baltmannsweiler 2001.
  • Siegfried J. Schmidt, Constructivism on the way . Hamburg 2017: Shoebox House. Flandziu Collection, Volume 3.

Web links

supporting documents

  1. B. Poerksen: key works of constructivism. An introduction. In: B. Poerksen: key works of constructivism. Wiesbaden 2011, pp. 13–28, especially pp. 21–25.