Volume 6 · Number 3 · Pages 363–369
Maturana’s Theory and Interpersonal Ethics

Hugh Gash

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Context: Maturana’s views on cognitive processes and explaining have ethical implications. The aim of this paper is to link ethics and epistemology to facilitate thinking about how to promote respect between different viewpoints through mutual understanding. Method: Maturana’s views on ethics are outlined in three domains: the personal, the interpersonal, and the societal. Results: The ethical implications that emerge around the notion of reality with or without parenthesis, the concept of the legitimate other, and Maturana’s conjectures about the origins of human social groups. Social groups in which cooperation is more important than competition are based on love in the sense that others are accepted as legitimate members of the community. An epistemology that responds to the biological origins of human cognition is one that is more open to cooperation, honesty, responsibility, and respect than an epistemology that takes reality as given and the task of human cognition to represent truth. Implications: This framework for thinking about cognitive processes provides a way of approaching disagreements so they become opportunities for discussion rather than for power assertion of one reality over another. In a world where strongly held viewpoints on ethics and reality lead to conflict, promoting viable models of cognitive process that link cognition and ethics may lead to insights that promote tolerance. Ideas from attribution theory in social psychology are presented as a means of facilitating the emergence of the concept of the legitimate other in discussion about disagreements.

Key words: ethics, constructivist epistemology, legitimate other, reality in parenthesis


Gash H. (2011) Maturana’s theory and interpersonal ethics. Constructivist Foundations 6(3): 363–369. http://constructivist.info/6/3/363

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