Saturday, February 02, 2008

Constructivism's Implication

Here's a dense and condensed draft of a paper I'm working on:

I will describe an implication of a constructivist view of knowledge. A central understanding of most constructivisms is that knowledge is created rather than discovered. The key difference between discovered knowledge and created knowledge is that with discovered knowledge there is something – nature, the way things are, human perceptions, facts, Reality, rightly applied methods of knowledge acquisition, the final consensus - that we attain or gradually approach which acts as a guarantor and adjudicator of right knowledge. For the constructivist and the believer in knowledge as a creation, the one way things are is not out there to be discovered using the right methods of inquiry. Instead, the very idea of “a way in which things are” and “what’s out there” are understood to be social, linguistic and historical constructions.

An implication of a constructivist view of knowledge is that changing what causes knowledge to be as it is changes knowledge. The genetic fallacy states that the genesis or origin of knowledge has no bearing on its validity. But if there is no ultimate adjudicator of valid knowledge or if one cannot be conclusively proven to be operative, then whatever alters the causes of knowledge having the character it has alters knowledge. We might hope that certain ultimate adjudicators would act as the validators of knowledge whether they are the right rules of reason, the way the world actually is or the confirmed results of scientific inquiry, but, as these are constructed conceptualizations subject to various interpretations and philosophical critiques, they cannot act as ultimate adjudicators of intellectual disputes. Without an unproblematic, neutral adjudicator of knowledge claims, all causes of knowledge can affect the validity of knowledge.

One cause or determinant of knowledge is the arational commitments of believers. For many important issues in academia and daily life there are fundamental differences that rest on a believer’s assumptions, commitments or so-called “rational intuitions.” Many important convictions are not rationally adjudicable and so are due to arational causes. According to the genetic fallacy the psychological and biographical causes of a person’s beliefs play no role in the validity of those beliefs. But on a constructivist view of knowledge, since there is no ultimate adjudicator of validity in these disputed cases, the validity of a proffered piece of knowledge is affected by the psychological and biographical causes of that knowledge. A change in psyche or biography can alter the determination of validity by altering what individuals and, through accretion, groups deem valid knowledge.

If knowers cannot conclusively prove that their view is in keeping with what’s objectively true or right, then validity is a contingent affair affected by whatever causes knowledge to have its current character. If knowledge is constructed, if it is made and not found; then what alters that making alters knowledge. Therefore, whether it is rational argumentation, persuasive rhetoric, a moving experience, changes in social structure, or any other cause of knowledge, these all affect what we understand to be our knowledge.