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four dialogue between pragmatism and constructivism in historical perspective Kenneth W. Stikkers  The history of social constructivist thinking could be written in various ways. One might begin with the suggestions of the ancient Sophists: that knowledge claims are but functions of power. In the modern period constructivism begins with David Hume’s assertion that the synthesis of ‘‘immediate, vivid, forceful, and distinct’’ sense impressions is accomplished through habit and custom. One might then examine Immanuel Kant’s response to Hume and his attempt to account transcendentally for the lawfulness of the synthesis of perceptions. Next one might consider Hegel’s efforts to historicize the Kantian categories of understanding, and one would likely identify Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s The German Ideology, following Hegel, as the first text presenting anything resembling a coherent, systematic theory of social constructivism, grounded in Marx’s assertion that knowledge claims are functions of economic structures and especially class interests. Surely one would want to note important contributions by Wilhelm Dilthey and Emile Durkheim and to include a PAGE 67 { 67 } ................. 17147$ $CH4 01-07-09 14:25:54 PS 68 pragmatism and constructivism in historical perspective major chapter on the sociology of knowledge, put forward by Wilhelm Jerusalem, Max Scheler, and Karl Mannheim and greatly influenced by Marx, Dilthey, and Durkheim, among others. The aim of this chapter is to examine the important role played by American Pragmatism, especially Charles Sanders Peirce and William James, in the development of the sociology of knowledge and to see what lessons we might learn from such an historical investigation for social constructivist thought today. While our concern will be mainly with William James, let us begin, though, with some considerations of Charles Peirce. Peirce already suggested, prior to Dilthey and Durkheim and without any apparent benefit from the insights of Marx’s German Ideology , that the forms of human knowing are fundamentally the forms of social life, without reducing the latter, as did Marx, to the forms of economic life. What Peirce termed ‘‘the social impulse,’’ viz., the desire to reconcile our personal beliefs with those of our neighbors, leads us to believe in ‘‘the independently Real.’’ ‘‘Inevitably we find that others hold views different from ours, and sooner or later the strength of our tenacity [in clinging to habituated beliefs] is worn away. Unless we make ourselves hermits, we shall necessarily influence each other’s opinion; so that the problem becomes how to fixate belief, not in the individual merely, but in the community’’ (Peirce 1986, 250). That others contradict us is a major source of what Peirce termed ‘‘irritation,’’ which in turn is the impetus to inquiry. Inquiry is thus the quest for stable community, even more than it is a quest for disinterested knowledge, but communities look to the future: they seek to secure themselves not just for their present members but for innumerable generations to come. From this desire of a community to enjoy an indefinite future is borne, by Peirce’s account, the idea of the ‘‘independently Real,’’ which he defines as ‘‘that whose characters are independent of what anybody may think them to be’’ (271). In another passage, Peirce offers his well-known definitions of ‘‘truth’’ and ‘‘reality’’ and his description of them as grounded in ‘‘the social impulse’’: ‘‘Different minds set out with most antagonistic PAGE 68 ................. 17147$ $CH4 01-07-09 14:25:55 PS kenneth w. stikkers 69 views, but the progress of investigation carries them by a force outside themselves to one and the same conclusion. This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no relation of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestined opinion of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality’’ (274). Such descriptions appear to identify independent reality, or ‘‘the independently Real,’’ with objective reality, viz., what something supposedly is in the absence of any positioned, perceiving subject, a ‘‘God’s eye view’’ or a ‘‘view from nowhere.’’ But Peirce clearly indicates that such is not what he means. The first claim, that ‘‘the independently Real’’ is ‘‘that whose characters are independent of what...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780823246991
Print ISBN
9780823230181
MARC Record
OCLC
607853761
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-18
Language
English
Open Access
N
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