A plague on social constructivism

July 28, 2006

I’m currently reading an excellent book “fear of knowledge: against relativism and constructivism” by Paul Boghossian Prof. of Philosophy at New York University. It is short, witty and devastating in its criticism of the view that all knowledge is socially constructed – something that seems to pervade social sciences, along with a tendency to confuse correlation with causation in research.

Aside from some basic logic along the lines of “the fact that something is socially constructed does not mean that all things are social constructed”, he also makes a convincing case for the intuitive common sense view that there is a world independent of human opinion. I was struck by the commonality between (i) the social constructivist assertion that it is a necessary truth about any fact that it obtains only because we humans have constructed it in a way that reflects our contingent needs and interests and (ii) the inherent selfishness of extreme monetary forms of capitalism in which all value is determined by the market. It further convinced me that we have been correct to locate our main thinking on the naturalising tradition that recognises the value of science and its application to social systems. Somethings just are – and that includes the fact that some things (read the news) are plain wrong.

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