Comments of my "reality" paper

Mancuso, James C. (
Sat, 08 Feb 1997 17:25:31 -0500

Hello, all:
Several weeks ago a piece which I had prepared was placed on severaal
electronic fora. I had several responses, and I, herewith, respond to
those responses.
I have exerpted some of the key points of those responses, and I have
assembled them here. I then have interjected my comment on the
This has been very stimulating I do wish that the process would be
even less time- consuming, though I am very grateful for the scientists
who invented the constructions that have mad possible the technical
achievements that allow us to communicate and consider our
The original piece was entitled:

The piece is still accessible should you wish to have a copy.

James C. Mancuso

>In the end, it is advisable for societies to refrain from
>trying to convince its members that knowledge-making is a special
>enterprise by which select individuals search for "out there
>realities" from which to derive transcendent rules for the
>functioning of that society. Our current understandings of
>knowledge making should be put into effect in order to prompt
>every person to take the opportunity to participate in the making
>of the constructions which shall guide his/her society. All
>of this, of course, evolves from placing positive value on each
>person's participation in a multiple systems approach to evolving
>the "local truths" which the society invents in its efforts to
>organize and control social action.

Great post by Professor Emeritus James C. Mancuso regarding reality as
"truth out there" or the "result of construction."

It would be most difficult for me to disagree with this one!!!!

----------------------------Original message----------------------------
Damon Newcomb quotes Professor James Mancuso:

>>In the end, it is advisable for societies to refrain from
>>trying to convince its members that knowledge-making is a special
>>enterprise by which select individuals search for "out there
>>realities" from which to derive transcendent rules for the
>>functioning of that society. Our current understandings of
>>knowledge making should be put into effect in order to prompt
>>every person to take the opportunity to participate in the making
>>of the constructions which shall guide his/her society. All
>>of this, of course, evolves from placing positive value on each
>>person's participation in a multiple systems approach to evolving
>>the "local truths" which the society invents in its efforts to
>>organize and control social action.

This statement is of course a classic example of post-modernist,
constructivist, deconstructivist, etc. thinking. Ultimately Professor
Mancuso offers us no particular reason for accepting his argument other
than that which is ideologically based.

On the other hand, we always can expect an invalidation of our
I am, of course, pleased that the writer recognizes my statement as an
example of constructivist thought.
Whether or not we can say "classic example" is questionable, especially
if one studies:
Phillips, D. C. (1995). The good, the bad, and the Ugly: The many faces
of constructivism. _Educational Researcher_, _24_, 5-12.
Chairi, G. & Nuzzo, M. L. (1996). Psychological constructivisms: A
metatheoretical differentiation. _Journal of Constructivist Psychology_.
_9_, 163-184.
I certainly don't want to be classed among the social
constructionists. If one reviews my paper, he/she will find the
repeated used of the term _personal_. For some reason, social
constructionist find that term to be unacceptable. The arguments are
fun.... The person who characterized my statement as "classic" should
read some of them.

A, to me , troubling aspect of the writer's critique is his leveling
this shot at my discourse:
"Mancuso offers us no particular reason for accepting his argument
otherthan that which is ideologically based."
Of course, my justification for the use of of a thoroughgoing
constructivism is ideologically based. That is the whole point of my
IDEOLOGIALLY BASED. I advocate that we push by the effort to claim that
one or another position takes us closer to REALITY that we should face
our situation and abandon the concept of REALITY. And, I argue, all
epistemological values/criteria are ideologically based.
I would guess that many people would find it difficult to believe that
we can function without the concept of reality . I did note in my
" If we observe a child aged less than six years, we can see
that he/she believes that everyone has the same understanding
of an event. After the child reaches the age of six, it is
capable of grasping the notion that each individual can construe
an event in his/her own unique fashion. The post-six-year-old,
generally, also knows that rules stand as socially agreed-upon
constructions of events, and that, as such, rules may vary if
people agree to look at things in a particular way (Piaget, 1932).
By this time, however, the child's realist naive epistemology has
a head start. Language, with verbs that imply "real" existence
and rigid "out there" categories, prompts the child to continue
its reliance on his/her belief that he/she "knows the real thing."
He/she can "identify" a dog, and knows "the characteristics of"
a dog. The developing child's knowledge of its own knowing
process are, however, hidden deep within his/her psychological
Through the use of linguistic exchanges, we do develop a deep structure
which might require that we persist in using a construction bearing the
sign _reality_.

While the statement has a clear ideological position that egalitarianism
the way the world should be, what does is actually meant when
Professor Mancuso states: All of this, of course, evolves from placing
positive value on each person's participation in a multiple systems
approach to
eolving the "local truths" which the society invents in its efforts to
organize and control social action.

It means that I have concluded, from following through on my other
positions, that we
need to recognize that we cannot simply "wipe out" another person's
constructions because he has not followed the epistemological values
which we have endorse [or have attempted to eleveate to some kind of
sanctified status]. We must let others know that we have chosen a
particular epistemological value, and we need to try to convince others
to use that same value, and that means that we need to include everyone
in the process of defining the knowledge which we will validate.

For me this argument is the latest reincarnation of the invalid Marxist
"modes of production" theory of society. Does that mean that the local
truths of the Creationist perspective, Flat Earther or Holocaust
view is of equal merit to their counter views based on a
observation? There were local truths prior to Brown vs. Topeka 1954
may or may not have been local but were not true by any objective
standards. All views are not equal. That is the simple fact of evolution
and natural selection. The Catholic Church held the geocentric theory
be true. Galileo determined it was not. Do we now think that the
geocentric theory is was true prior to Galileo? Of course not. Science
and scientific thinking offers a clear and consistent (albeit slow)
for determining objective verifiable knowledge. If truths were only
"local" then scientific knowledge would have no generalizability which
simply not the case. For example, the notion of selective breeding is
equally applicable for the elk herder in Sibieria as the Massai cattle
herder in Africa etc. Human DNA is human DNA and is not local.


I always expect this kind of argument. That is why I included this
paragraph in my paper:
" The supporters of a realist perspective -- those inclined to
advocate the search for TRUTH -- can immediately fall back on the
vast network of supports, linguistic and otherwise, to counter a
constructionist approach. "You mean that there isn't a chair
there?" "Every society accepts the concept of mental illness, and
you are trying to tell me that _schizophrenia_ is nothing but a
social construction?" "Reasonable people of all cultures all over
the world have averred that murder is _evil_. Why would you take
a _moral relativist_ position to tell us that it ain't necessarily
The examples that this particular critic gave when he tried this tack
are particularly useful in demonstrating the utility of my position. If
the Nazis had been willing to adopt my position, they would have known
that their constructions about genetics and eugenics [which were
supported by some of the most respecte epiricist/rationalists of the
late 18th century] were "local truths," rather than some kind of
transcendental TRUTH. They would have understood that wiping out the
"invalid Marxist philosophies" would not eradicate the demands for
social equality that there always will arise one of those characters
who will attempt to face down the local truths of the society even by
telling people that they are following local truths.
And Galilleo lived in a world that was dominated by realists who
thought that they were communicating with the diety.. I covered that in
my paper....

"Less formally, societies either can respect or can condemn a
prophet who claims to speak as a representative of the prime mover
-- the entity which created all truths. Some seers are allowed to
act as a mouthpiece for that supreme cause: The prophet speaks
only of what is _real_. In special cases the followers of the
prophets can then create cloisters at which their elite interpret
those words of their deity which have been transmitted through
their prophets. Those admitted to study at the holy place may
then emerge as interpreters of _reality_ as created by the deity.
In other cases, a society can deny a would-be prophet the status
of an interpreter of _reality_, and tag him with negatively-valued
labels: _delusional_ or _charismatic cult leader_."

Galilleo would not have had the trouble he had if his patrons and the
ecclesiatic and social rulers of his time had followed Protagoras,
rather than Plato.


[The writer who wrote the above commented on one of the other comments:
>>It is interesting to me that Damon made such an interesting observation
>>based on evolutionary theory (an observation with which I would agree) but
>>then comes to a conclusion that does not follow from evolutionary theory.
>>However his hypothesis is interesting and testable.

The critic means to say, I assume, that "the hypothesis is testable by
applying the methods which I regard as positive epistemological criteria
epistemological values that I [ and many other scholars] have adopted
as our guides to establishing the utility of knowledge.

Constructivist argument simply stated is "That there is no objective
generalizable knowledge, all knowledge is subject to only context".

I certainly will agree that this is a "simple" paraphrase of the
constructivist position.
I, as a radical constructivist, would never say "there is no objective
generalizable knowlege. The whole point of my paper is We should
cease worrying about whether there is such knowledge, since no one has
yet shown us how to access "the assumed world" in order to test our
I propose that we worry about people's constructions, how they derive
them, how the social world contributes to their organization, how some
people attempt to take an elitist position in order to take constrol of
the construction making process, etc. etc.

The problem with this position is that the statement itself is
paradoxical. If
it is true then it is false and as such it offers us nothing.
On close inspection
this argument seems Platonist (i.e. based on universal a priori truth).
The problem for the constructivist is that there can be no essential a
priori truth by definition.
That gambit has been used repeatedly It is only useful if one
operates from a realist based epistemological/ontological position. I
would not claim that my constructivist position is TRUE. I would say:
"this is the way that I have construed the matter of knowledge
I am not concerned about the TRUTH of my position. I wish only to have
others validate my position. I haven't yet said which means of
validation I would ask others to endorse.
If one reads:
Pepper, S. C. (1942). World hypotheses: A study of evidence.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
he/she will find that Pepper says of Contextualists [constructivists]
that they can be accused of "catch me if you can," and I agree with
him. Once one takes a radical constructivist position, it is difficult
to continu to attempt to accuse him/her of taking a FALSE position. I
covered that in my paper, as well.
To accept constructionism is to give up the capacity to
tell another person, "You are wrong!" To reject another person's
construction, the constructionist rejecter (reprimander?) must say,
"I cannot construe this situation as you have construed it."
Thereupon, the participants in the interchange may dialogically
negotiate a fitting construction. A _socially agreed-upon
construction_ then may guide the actions of the group.


relativism is nihilistic and offers no method of determining any
between superstitious belief and verifiable knowledge.
Does the writer assume that my position is one of "extreme
relativism?" What is his construction of _relativism_? Is his
construction of _relativism_ similar to that used by the ex- methodist
minister who taught philosophy in 1946; i. e., "_Relativism_ is
reflected in an epistemological statement which claims that every idea
is as good as any other idea."
That, I assure you, is not my construction of relativism. My
construction would be something like, "Any proposition is relative to
the context in which that proposition was developed. The context
includes, among other things, the inputs they are attempting to
construe, the epistemological values of the dialogue partners, and
their personal construct systems."


If this were the
case in reality then there would be no reason for scientists to do what
they do. Small pox, polio etc would never have been cured or contained.

You couldn't mean that scientists would quit looking for ways of
constructing a system of knowledge which would allow them to
"understand" smallpox if they were convinced that they were building
local truths which "work.?" Do you mean that they would give up
building useful construct systems if they would be convinced to desist
from thinking of their work as a search for TRUTH??


However, we know that science works, i.e. its findings are generalizable
across context, and its hypotheses are falisifiable. When the notion of
objective fact is denied or made only relative then truly dangerous
anti-intellectual behavior can occur.

I would argue that the most serious anti-intellectual activity takes
place when people have the power/ability to claim that they have
discovered TRUTH. Can we possibly count the number of great thinkers
who have faced repression or have died because one of another group has
asserted its access to TRUTH?


A relativistic epistemology
underlies the Holocaust deniers, "if there is no historical fact, then
holocaust is a local narrative that has no more meaning than any other
narrative." We know this not to be the case because of the overwhelming
convergence of empirical evidence.
May I paraphrase:
"We who have accepted mathematical/epiricist epistemological values
know that the anti- holocaust theorists have not developed a validatable
construction of the events that took place in Nazi Germany with
reference to Jews."
We need to take seriously the constructions of the anti-holocaust
theorists, and we need to apprise them of the ways in which we validate
propositions, and exercising our social prerogative to attempt to
convince others to accept our epistemological values we would like
them to accept mathematical/empiricist epistemological values.
That's tough stuff but I take this to be far, far more ethical than
to hole up a band of anti-holocaust theorists and to then threaten them
with extinction because they have adopted a "cult."
As I said in my paper:
In other cases, a society can deny a would-be prophet the status
of an interpreter of _reality_, and tag him with negatively-valued
labels: _delusional_ or _charismatic cult leader_. By yet another
strategy, thought leaders can assert that methods such as the
_scientific method_ can lead only to the _discovery of truth_.


It is my opinion (one offered by Gross and Levitt in their 1994 book
"Higher Superstition: The academic left and its quarrels with science")
that since we live in an increasingly anti-intellectual society, science
and scientific thinking appear more and more separate and alien from the
average person. The power and prestige associated with science is
undeniable. For an increasing number of people (including many of my
fellow academics), to understand science at a deep level seems
unattainable. Attacking it via a relativistic argument is one method
negating the primacy of science.
I assume that at this point the constructivist is to go on his knees
and plead "Mea culpa.
I am truly sorry for my lack of ability to understand the wonders of
I also anticipated this gambit when I wrote in my paper
Or, Mr. Perdito could be granted the
role of a person of a lesser intellect, and then some of his
associates will excuse his failure to see the inaccuracies of
his premises and/or the fallacies of his logic!

How did post-modernist theory come to such prominence? It is a reaction
unremitting social problems within our society. Within the
postion is a recognition of a range of observable and verifiable social
injustices that have existed in the past and sadly continue to the
On this we all can agree.

This is terrific...... The "rationalist/empiricist coming up with "a
good narrative." By which epistemological value/criteria did the writer
come to the conclusion that "on this we can all agree!!!!!!!" Wow Did
he, or did he not, slip into using some of the most ancient
epistemological values (1) Am I telling "a good story," and (2) will I
attain consensual validation of the proposition that emerges from my
narrative building?
Did he subject his proposition to empiricist/rationalist methodology???
It looks to me that he cooked up "a good story" [from his personal
construct system] and he expressed his certainty that others would
validate his conclusion that it is a good story.


Mancuso attempts to launch his argument by presuming, incorrectly, that
Cheny (portrayed as an exemplar of the academic community and as a
government-policy spokesperson) was making the absolute statement that
there is "truth out there" and that the method(s) to discern truth have
been found (and are thus to be respected above all.) The later is an
unfounded assumption and contrary to the spirit of
higher education and, indeed, modern science
Has this writer read the document which I quote?
Attempting to validate my construction of my self as a scholar, I
attempt very carefully represent the work of others that I cite.
I challenge anyone to read the work I cited and refute my
characterization of Cheny's role, position, statements, etc.
It is difficult to separate the innuendo and poor arguments Mancuso uses
merely for effect. ("validation of _truth_" presupposes truth _and_
validation.) He has a social agenda. He wants to reintroduce complete
relativism and chooses to represent it without naming it.

After having called into question my scholarly tactics, the writer then
assumes that he can read motivations into my work.
Again, I have clearly stated my intentions. Anyone who reads my paper
should be able to discern my intentions.

My comments on _relativism_ are found above.

My greatest difficulty is his representation of science, and mathematics
in particular. (He asks rhetorically: "Does a statement become more
if it is reduced to a mathematical formulation, which is, after all,
human invention? ") The statement is clumsy - it is not clear whether he
thinks that mathematics is a human invention or whether a "formulation"
using mathematics is the human invention. Given his philosophy, I will
assume the prior.
I appreciate this writer's willingness to evaluate my
The pronoun -which_ follows the term _mathematical formulation_. As I
understand English grammar, a relative pronoun should follow the noun
which it modifies. Thus, I had intended to speak of mathematical
formulations as "another human invention."

He believes that mathematics is a human invention and therefore, it
has no more credibility than his method of arriving at functional
(tribal) realities as shown in the ludicrous example of two different
tribal methods of counting. He throws away the obvious: language does
not employ mathematics - people communicate through the vernacular:
natural language. They do not compute!

Obvious???? To whom? Using which epistemological values and personal
construct system? Did the writer subject his proposotions to
empirical/rationalist validation?
` "Humans do not compute!!!" REALLY??? TRULY????
Another respondent took up this issue. I will leave in his comments,
at a later point.

But let's carry this one more step. It is not necessary to determine
whether or not mathematics is a human invention for two reasons.
First, mathematics approximates the universe we know (a reality)
so well as to make credible predictions at any scale we have so far

Mathematics approximates the world we know through using mathematical
At this point, let me inform you of my willingness to accept
mathematical formulation as one method of validation. But, I will do
this only after recognizing that mathematical formulations are a human
invention which is used to validate propositions.
At the same time, I reiterate a point I tried to make in my original
"As a consequence of universal acceptance of constructionism
Professor Sapiente would need to take the position that she, like
every other person, at best builds a construction by which she
anticipates the flow of signals. As a professor and researcher,
she has learned to use "a scientific method" to demonstrate the
ways in which she has derived her propositions. If her rhetoric
proves acceptable (McCloskey, 1985), and if her colleagues judge
that her method conforms with current usages, then her peers may
regard her propositions as valid. As a constructionist she would
have no reason to believe that she has "made a discovery," or that
she has "demonstrated a TRUTH" or "a NATURAL LAW."

While this may not be a position you would take, my summary of the
constructivist postion would seem to reflect the pretty standard
post-modernist view of such folks as Bruno Latour (1985)" Science in
action:How to follow scientists and engineers throught society"; Sandra
Harding (1986) "The science question in feminism"; Ken Gergen (1985)
social constructivist movement in modern psychology", American
Psychologist. These authors do, in my opinion, reflect pretty much the
perspectives of Derrida and Foucault. As such the paradoxical quality
their postion remains.

I have never aligned myself with the constructivisit positions this
writer cites. I have comments on the many constructivist positions,
above. I have published other pieces in which I delineate my points of
disagreement with the scholars this critic names.


The use of the word "objective" is problematic. In addition, this seems
disengenous view. The fact that you are writing to me with the
you are using is an clear indication of a tacit belief in
knowledge". Science is not about absolute truth in the Platonic a
sense but simply a systematic understanding of nature using naturalistic
(as opposed to supernatural) explanations. Science is a systematic
and theory (i.e. that which is internally consistent), testing
hypotheses based on experience (i.e. empirical data). Such data is
verifiable or it is not. The results of experimentation allows for
generalization across context or it does not.
Again, such propositions are generalizable across contexts in which the
dialogue partners have agreed to use those epistemological values and


Here I would seem to detect a real antipathy to science which most
constructivist seem to have. In proposing some criteria for validation,
your are tacitly accepting hierarchy i.e. the superiority of one
explanation over another. Your ideological (as opposed to my elitist)
notion that all forms of validation are equal makes no sense. Inherent
the constructivist/post-modernist view is the a priori belief in
egalitariansim, non-hierarchy, etc.
Once a set of dialogue partners have agreed on which epitemological
criteria/values to use, one form of validation DOES EARN HIGHER VALUE.
But, the dialogue partners need not assume that that set of
criteria/values now allows them greater access to TRUTH/REALITY which
are constructs which I would abandon!!!

Science works. Superstitious belief does not.
For whom? In what way? Convince me that I should accept your
constructions. I won't go along with your claims on the basis of a
claim that science "discovers" what is REALLY going on.
The following is comment and rebuttal by two of the people who
responded to my piec.

SORRY! My email window will not accept any more material. I need to
drop the section in which two commentors discussed whether we can regard
people as capable of computing.