Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning

By Ernst Von Glasersfeld | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Unpopular Philosophical Ideas: A History in Quotations

In the first chapter I recounted how biographical circumstances—my upbringing, living in certain places, meeting a few exceptional people, and eclectic reading—led me to an unconventional way of thinking. Yet, there is nothing new about the ideas that make up radical constructivism. The only novelty may be the way they have been pulled together and separated from metaphysical embroidery.

I agree with Bertrand Russell’s definition:

Metaphysics, or the attempt to conceive the world as a whole by means of thought, has been developed, from the first, by the union and conflict of two very different human impulses, the one urging men towards mysticism, the other urging them towards science…the greatest men who have been philosophers have felt the need both of science and of mysticism: the attempt to harmonise the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its arduous uncertainty, make philosophy, to some minds, a greater thing than either science or religion. (Russell, 1917/1986, p. 20)

However, I do not agree that to attempt such a union would be a rational undertaking. For me, whatever is truly mystical eludes the grasp of reason. This is neither a denial nor a judgment of value, it merely expresses the conviction that the mystical is a closed domain of wisdom that withers under the cutting tools of reason. The purpose of reason is analysis. Whatever reason wants to deal with must be describable in terms of specific differences and therefore has to be articulated into entities and relations. The mystical treats the world as a whole that requires no differentiation from any background. When it speaks of parts, they are metaphors intended to generate empathy with the ultimate oneness.

Radical constructivism is intended as a model of rational knowing, not as a metaphysics that attempts to describe a real world. I believe that its effort to delimit the purview of reason is one of its virtues, precisely because this limitation accentuates the need to contemplate the realm of the mystic’s wisdom.

The history I shall present, therefore, is an attempt to justify this separation.

-24-

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