Consequences of objectivism vs constructivism

July 18, 2012

I had a conversation at CFAR last night in which we discussed the consequences of an objectivist vs a constructivist viewpoint. An objectivist statement might sound something like “there is a reality that exists in the absence of any observers.” A constructivist response might be “properties or characteristics of reality are a function of observer coupling with reality.” And an objectivist reaction would be “well, duh. Tell me something I don’t know.” So I doubt that there are any hard objectivists really. But then what good is constructivism?

One difference might be that the constructivist viewpoint privileges the observer’s role in reality definition. The constructivist might be biased to pay more attention to the observer when considering definitions of reality. In this way it might be compared to post-modernism which is something I hadn’t thought of but was suggested by a member of CFAR and it does make sense. So we might expect that people slavishly sticking to objectivist viewpoints would be less aware of observer biases. And this is where I reach the conclusion that I haven’t met any strict objectivists. I don’t know anyone who might otherwise be labelled objectivist who isn’t interested in cognitive biases.

Another related example is the “brain-centric” view of cognition criticized by the constructivists (enactivists) like Noë or Thompson. Those who hold a “brain-centric” view of cognition might be accused of overlooking ways in which the body or inter-subjective experience defines cognition. So I might expect someone who oversubscribes to the brain-centric view of cognition to reject the findings of Christakis on social influence on behavior. However, I have yet to meet this strawman brain-centric individual. The enactivists are presumably fighting against someone though. I guess I will dig through the literature and see if I can find any viewpoints to populate the other side of this argument.

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One Response to “Consequences of objectivism vs constructivism”

  1. I’m sure I’ve encountered people who are serious objectivists – as in believing that many concepts we use refer to platonic essences whose nature is independent of human minds. But it’s been many years since I’ve encountered beliefs that clearly fit that pattern.

    I suspect that it would be fairly easy to find people who at least appear to be objectivists in flame wars over, say, abortion.

    It may be that most sensible people have figured out ways of filtering out objectivist ideas.

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