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Constructivism is an epistemology, a metatheory, a theory of knowledge, the generic definitions of which are centered on the active participation of the subject in construing reality, rather than on reflecting or representing reality. PCP is regarded as sharing a constructivist epistemology, as testified by its philosophical assumption of constructive alternativism. While the philosophical founders of a constructivist view of knowledge are often identified as Giambattista Vico ("verum ipsum factum") and George Berkeley ("esse est percipi"), its success in modern and post-modern psychology is due to von Glasersfeld’s interpretation of Piaget’s work in terms of a radical constructivist epistemology (von Glasersfeld, 1974). By "radical" (contrasted with "trivial") constructivism von Glasersfeld means "a theory of knowledge in which knowledge does not reflect an 'objective' ontological reality, but exclusively an ordering and organization of a world constituted by our experience" within the constraints of reality (von Glasersfeld, 1984, p. 24). Therefore, knowledge does not match reality: it fits it.
The vague definition of constructivism has led many scholars to suggest other distinctions within the area in addition to the above.
Mahoney (1988) distinguishes a "radical" (according to von Glasersfeld) from a "critical" constructivism, and rejects the former on the basis of its presumed idealistic rather than realistic ontological assumption.
Chiari and Nuzzo (1996) argue that the term "constructivism" should be reserved for the approaches that grapple to overcome the realism-idealism dichotomy, and distinguish two broad categories of constructivism - "epistemological" and "hermeneutic". Epistemological constructivists believe that there can be many, equally legitimate constructions of one external reality, whereas hermeneutic constructivists share a view of knowledge as interpretation, an interpretation historically founded rather than timeless, contextually verifiable rather than universally valid, and linguistically generated and socially negotiated rather than cognitively and individually produced.
The place of PCP within these kinds of constructivism, as well as similarities and differences between psychological constructivism and social constructionism, are issues addressed by Raskin (2002).


  • Chiari, G., & Nuzzo, M. L. (1996). Psychological constructivisms: A metatheoretical differentiation. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 9, 163-184.
  •  Mahoney, M. J. (1988). Constructive metatheory: I. Basic features and historical foundations. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 1, 1-35.
  • Raskin, J. D. (2002). Constructivism in psychology: Personal construct psychology, radical constructivism, and social constructionism. In J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges (Eds.), Studies in meaning: Exploring constructivist psychology (pp. 1-25). New York: Pace University Press. (online version at the URL
  • von Glasersfeld, E. (1974). Piaget and the radical constructivist epistemology. In C. D. Smock & E. von Glasersfeld (Eds.), Epistemology and education. Athens, GA: Follow Through Publications.
  •  von Glasersfeld, E. (1984). An introduction to radical constructivism. In P. Watzlawick (Ed.), The  invented reality. New York: Norton. (originally published in P. Watzlawick (Ed.), Die erfundene Wirklichkeit. München: Piper, 1981) (online  version at the URL

Gabriele Chiari & M. Laura Nuzzo

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Last update: 15 February 2004