Foundations of Science

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 77–98

Constructivism: A ‘Next’ Area of Scientific Development?


  • Gerard de Zeeuw
    • University of Amsterdam, University of Lincolnshire and Humberside

DOI: 10.1023/A:1011361409819

Cite this article as:
de Zeeuw, G. Foundations of Science (2001) 6: 77. doi:10.1023/A:1011361409819


Radical Constructivism has been defined as an‘unconventional approach to the problem ofknowledge and knowing’. Its unconventionalityis summarised by its claim that it isimpossible to attribute unique meaning toexperience – as no mind-independent yardstick canbe assumed to exist against which to identifyuniqueness, and hence to produce knowledge andknowing. In other words, it is claimed thatthere is no ‘reality’ that is knowable to allindividual knowers. This claim appearsindefensible by itself, as it does not explainwhy the successes of traditional science appearas such. However, it is defensible in thecontext of numerous failures to achieve uniqueattributions, or of the history of science.Even so, what is missing are concrete methodsand research designs. This often leaves RadicalConstructivism to be critical only, toconcentrate on justifying the impossibility ofsuccess without contributing itself.Where this is the case it reduces scientiststo individuals considered unable to communicatewith others on public (and unique)attributions-who may do so only by borrowingmethods from previous approaches. It is arguedthat a more valuable contribution is possibleif Radical Constructivism is seen as a responseto the challenge defined by frequent failuresof traditional approaches. The latter may beextended such that the extensions converge toRadical Constructivism. Such extensions arebased on reported observations, rather than onexperiences in general, and are to beattributed meanings – uniquely as well asnon-uniquely – by way of a collective. The lattershould allow its ‘actors’ to restrict whatmaintains the collective to what is observableto others, as well as use the collective torestrict their own observations. The study ofcollectives thus allows for the study ofrestrictions or values, and hence for includingsubjective or constructivist experiences beyond(reportable) observations.

‘attached’ and ‘detached’ observationcomplete collectivehigh quality experiencehigh quality observationknowledgeknowinglanguageresearch design

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001