, Volume 80, Issue 1, pp 121-140

Cognition, construction of knowledge, and teaching

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The existence of objective knowledge and the possibility of communicating it by means of language have traditionally been taken for granted by educators. Recent developments in the philosophy of science and the historical study of scientific accomplishments have deprived these presuppositions of their former plausibility. Sooner or later, this must have an effect on the teaching of science. In this paper I am presenting a brief outline of an alternative theory of knowing that takes into account the thinking organism's cognitive isolation from ‘reality’. This orientation was proposed by Vico at the beginning of the 18th century, disregarded for two hundred years, and then propounded independently by Piaget as a developmentally grounded constructivist epistemology. The paper focuses specifically on the adaptive function of cognition, Piaget's scheme theory, the process of communication, and the subjective perspective on social interaction. In the concluding section it then suggests some of the consequences the shift of epistemological presuppositions might have for the practice of teaching.

I am indebted to Jack Lochhead and John Clement for their helpful critical comments on the draft of this paper. The work that led to it was supported in part by NSF Grants to IBR. University of Georgia, and SRRI, University of Massachusetts.