Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

By André Kukla | Go to book overview

10

The infinite regress of constructions

In the previous chapters, I systematically evaded every threatened encounter with the problems of reflexivity. But the time of reckoning is at hand. The statement that all facts are constructed, by virtue of its universality, obviously falls under its own scope: if it’s indeed a fact that all facts are constructed, then that metafact must itself be constructed. Moreover, the metametafact that the metafact is constructed must also be constructed, and so on. It appears that the thesis of strong constructivism leads to an infinite regress. Several philosophers have claimed that this regress (or one of its conceptual cousins) renders strong constructivism untenable. Their arguments will be evaluated in this chapter. But first, we need to discuss an influential attempt from the sociologists’ camp to deny that there could possibly be an argument from reflexivity that compels them to abandon constructivism.

Malcolm Ashmore (1989) presents an argument which, he claims, robs ‘the tu quoque’ of its putative power to disallow certain forms of discourse. Criticizing his argument is a delicate operation, however, because he also lets it be known that he doesn’t take logical argumentation entirely seriously. For instance, he cites the reflexive dilemma produced by the positivists’ verifiability criterion of meaning: if unverifiable statements are meaningless, then the claim that unverifiable statements are meaningless is itself meaningless by virtue of its unverifiability. Does this mean that the verifiability criterion of meaning is untenable? Here’s what Ashmore says:

Now, I have no intention of arguing with this wonderful piece of irony—for those who live by logic, to die by logic is an eminently satisfying state of affairs…

(Ashmore 1989:88)

This pronouncement of course suggests that the author is not among those who live by logic, and that he’s thereby impervious to its force. Nevertheless, there are arguments in Ashmore’s text, and they have the appearance of having been crafted with as much care for coherence as the author can muster. This places the would-be critic in a classical double bind. In the

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Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Defining Constructivism 1
  • 2 - Constructivism and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge 7
  • 3 - The Varieties of Dependence 19
  • 4 - The Varieties of Constitutive Constructivisms 24
  • 5 - The Empirical Case for Constructivism 32
  • 6 - The a Priori Case for Constructivism 44
  • 7 - Three Brief and Inadequate Objections to Constructivism 46
  • 8 - The Problem of Misrepresentation 51
  • 9 - Constructive Empiricism and Social Constructivism 59
  • 10 - The Infinite Regress of Constructions 68
  • 11 - The Duhemian Asymmetry 80
  • 12 - The Problem of the Two Societies 91
  • 13 - Constructivism and Time 105
  • 14 - Constructivism and Logic 119
  • 15 - Relativism 125
  • 16 - Semantic Constructivism 136
  • 17 - Irrationalism 149
  • 18 - Conclusions 160
  • References 164
  • Index 168
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