EPISTEMOLOGICAL CONSTRUCTIVISM AND GEORGE ORWELL’S QUESTION: THE ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS OF AN INDEPENDENT REALITY

PAUL KINGSLEY

Abstract:

Educational constructivists maintain that knowledge is constructed by students as they learn. Sometimes this involves a weakening of the epistemological claim that knowledge involves discovering facts about an independent reality. In the terminology of Immanuel Kant, we are claimed to have access to phenomena or appearances, but not to things in themselves. This approach is closely linked to Husserl’s belief that objects must be “for” and “constituted by“ some consciousness. All of these views place a great deal of emphasis on the notion of a disembodied consciousness that somehow constructs the world it perceives. They tend to weaken our belief in an independent world about which we can have objective knowledge. Is this a mere philosophical quibble of no practical importance? Does it really matter? George Orwell, in his novel, 1984, introduces his unlikely hero, Winston Smith. He asks the question, “If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable what then?”. Smith’s tormentor, O’Brien, eventually supplies the answer. “But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else…only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth.” In short, the state engages in fabrications which are an extreme form of knowledge construction. Orwell outlines a situation where the distinction between constructing and discovering knowledge does matter. I shall argue that Kant, Husserl, and Wittgenstein conducted thought experiments with flawed research designs. They undermine the ethical role played by an independent reality in providing, in Iris Murdoch’s words, something “which my consciousness cannot take over, swallow up, deny or make unreal”.

Keywords:
constructivism, idealism, Ingarden, Orwell, Husserl, Kant, Peirce, von Glasersfeld, constructing reality, totalitarianism.

DOI: 10.20472/TE.2015.3.4.004

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APA citation:
PAUL KINGSLEY (2015). Epistemological Constructivism and George Orwell’s Question: the Ethical Implications of an Independent Reality. International Journal of Teaching and Education, Vol. III(4), pp. 33-53. , DOI: 10.20472/TE.2015.3.4.004


Copyright © 2015, Paul Kingsley et al, Paul.Kingsley@liverpool.ac.uk


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