Volume 2 · Number 2-3 · Pages 58–64
Distinguishing Ernst von Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism from Humberto Maturana’s ‘Radical Realism’

Vincent Kenny

Log in to download the full text for free

> Citation > Similar > References > Add Comment


Purpose: Ernst von Glasersfeld has dedicated a lot of effort to trying to define just where his views and those of his friend Humberto Maturana part company, epistemologically speaking (Glasersfeld 1991, 2001). As a contribution to unravelling this puzzle I propose in this article to delineate just where they seem to differ most and why these differences arise. Approach: Part of my contribution is to propose drawing a distinction between von Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism as the last viable outpost of constructivism before entering into the domain of solipsism, in contrast to Maturana’s position which is saved from being located within the solipsistic domain by virtue of his ideas on “structure determined systems” and his theory of how language arises in human experience. Findings: Von Glasersfeld’s puzzle arises due to what Kant called “transcendental illusion,” that is, the error of trying to encompass two mutually untranslatable phenomenal domains within the same language framework. Conclusion: After an examination of some of the crucial differences between von Glasersfeld and Maturana I typify Maturana’s positioning as that of “radical realism” in contrast to von Glasersfeld’s “radical constructivism.”

Key words: epistemology, transcendental illusion, radical realism, map–territory, Humberto Maturana, Ernst von Glasersfeld


Kenny V. (2007) Distinguishing Ernst von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism from Humberto Maturana’s ‘radical realism’. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 58–64. http://constructivist.info/2/2-3/058

Export article citation data: Plain Text · BibTex · EndNote · Reference Manager (RIS)

Similar articles

Kenny V. (2007) Anyone for Tennis? Conversations with Ernst on Being Sporting about Epistemology
Umpleby S. A. (2016) Second-Order Cybernetics as a Fundamental Revolution in Science
Silverman P. S. (2011) My Mentor Ernst von Glasersfeld
Baron P. (2019) A Proposal for Personalised and Relational Qualitative Religious Studies Methodology
Scholl A. (2012) Author’s Response: What Constructivism Does not Say


Bateson G. (1972) Steps to an ecology of mind. Ballantine books, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Foerster H. von & Glasersfeld E. von (2001) Come ci si inventa. Odradek: Rome. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von (1984) An introduction to radical constructivism. In: Watzlawick P. (ed.) The invented reality: How do we know? W. W. Norton, New York: 17–40. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/070.1
Glasersfeld E. von (1987) The construction of knowledge: Contributions to conceptual semantics. Intersystems Publications: Salinas CA. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Glasersfeld E. von (1988) The reluctance to change a way of thinking. Irish Journal of Psychology 9(1): 83–90. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/111
Glasersfeld E. von (1991) Distinguishing the observer: An attempt at interpreting Maturana. Methodologia 8: 57–68. http://www.vonglasersfeld.com/125.2
Glasersfeld E. von (1995) Radical constructivism: A way of knowing and learning. Falmer Press, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Held B. & Pols E. (1987) Dell on Maturana: A real foundation for family therapy? Psychotherapy 24: 455–481. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Johnson D. K. (1991) Reclaiming reality: A critique of Maturana’s ontology of the observer. Methodologia 9: 7–31. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kant I. (1968) Critique of pure reason. Translated by N. Kemp Smith. Macmillan, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kelly G. (1955) The psychology of personal constructs. 2 Volumes. Norton, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Kenny V. (1989) Anticipating autopoiesis: Personal construct psychology and self-organizing systems. In: Goudsmit A. (ed.) Self-organisation in psychotherapy. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. (1986) The biological foundations of self consciousness and the physical domain of existence. Personal communication. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Poerksen B. (2004) From being to doing: The origins of the biology of cognition. Carl-Auer, Heidelberg. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Maturana H. R. & Varela F. J. (1987) The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. New Science Library, Boston. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Mingers J. (1995) Self-producing systems: Implications and applications of autopoiesis. Plenum Press, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Piaget J. (1971) Insights and illusions of philosophy. Meridian, New York. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar
Wittgenstein L. (1933) Tractatus logico-philosophicus. Kegan-Paul, London. ▸︎ Google︎ Scholar

Comments: 0

To stay informed about comments to this publication and post comments yourself, please log in first.