Volume 6 · Number 2 · Pages 227–234
The Individual in Radical Constructivism. Some Critical Remarks from an Evolutionary Perspective

Peter M. Hejl

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Context: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism (RC) develops two positions that are, for the founder of RC, necessarily linked: (1) all accessible realities are perceived realities, (2) perceived realities are “constructed” by “individuals.” Purpose: Von Glasersfeld refers quite often to the theory of evolution. Despite this frequent referring, he uses an evolutionary approach primarily when discussing the viability of constructs. Furthermore, although this use of evolutionary thinking is already restricted, it plays an even smaller part in the reception of RC. The first goal of this paper is to show that as a result of this restriction, individuals as “constructors” do not have enough properties to explain the production of behaviors that we observe. The second goal is to open a perspective on the much richer picture of human cognitive activities that results from the abolishment of this restriction. Approach: Starting with the difference between the interest of philosophers in the problem of “reality” and the problems that organisms have to solve in coping with their needs in varying environments, it is argued that, from an evolutionary perspective, only the perceived or “constructed” realities matter because they are the ones that allow organisms to survive, find partners, cooperate, etc. Hence, both the position of RC and the perception of the environment from an evolutionary perspective are compatible, as claimed by von Glasersfeld. Looking then at the individual, it is argued that RC mainly looks at the construction of realities as ontogenetic processes. Findings: As a result, the constructing individuals do not have enough properties to explain observable behavior or to predict the results of their cognitive constructions. Taking von Glasersfeld’s references to evolutionary theory seriously, it is argued that all organisms, and of course humans, have an evolutionary history that influences their construction of realities. Due to this broadly common background, all humans share an important number of inherited dispositions that influence the constructive processes of individuals. As a result, communication is possible, though not perfect, and there are transcultural (near-)universals and individual dispositions for solving reoccurring problems of social life, as shown by references to current research. Implications: The construct of the constructing individual in RC needs conceptual and interdisciplinary enrichment.

Key words: autopoiesis, communication, evolution, individual, regulation of social systems, universals


Hejl P. M. (2011) The individual in radical constructivism. Some critical remarks from an evolutionary perspective. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 227–234. http://constructivist.info/6/2/227

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