TRUTH AS TROPHY: GORGIAS’ SOPHISM, CONSTRUCTIVISM, AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM Spencer A. McWilliams California State University San Marcos Constructivist

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TRUTH AS TROPHY: GORGIAS SOPHISM, CONSTRUCTIVISM, AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM Spencer A. McWilliams California State University San Marcos Constructivist Psychology Network Conference June 20, 2008 University of Victoria Slide 2 Modernism & Post Modernism Constructivism & constructionism as post-modern critique of modernist, realist view Early Greek Sophism of Gorgias as a pre pre- modern, but decidedly post-modernist view Parallels with constructionist and constructivist psychology Contribution, expand ideas and practices Relation to Constructivism, Social Constructionism & Personal Construct Psychology Slide 3 Foundationalism (AKA Modernism, Realism) Truth, reality as independent ground prior to human inquiry and knowledge Knowledge apprehends the truth that exists in the world There are methods for this apprehension There are modes of discourse for conveying this truth Slide 4 Constructivism (AKA post-modernism) No objective criteria for justifying truth Ideas, beliefs, etc., constructed by humans in context of a community, language, etc. Beliefs represent conventions leading to predictability, order, coordination, survival Alternative explanations always available Environment, biology, society constrain Recognition of our participation enhances our effectiveness Slide 5 Sophism 5 th Century BCE Greece: logic, rhetoric Persuading others of ones point of view Debates, competing views of truth No way to validate, came to see all as = true Rhetorical skill of persuasion determines which ideas become regarded as valid or true Plato (a foundationalist) characterized Sophists as tricksters in his (straw man) dialogues Slide 6 Protagoras Originator of Sophism Man (sic) is the measure of all things, of the things that are that they are, and of the things that are not as they are not That which appears to each individual is the only reality The real world differs for each person Things exist due to human construal Slide 7 Gorgias Junior colleague of Protagoras Famous three part argument Nothing exists If it did exist we could not comprehend it If we did comprehend it we could not communicate it to others Foundationalists view this argument as nihilistic and solipsistic Much new scholarship takes a post-modern view Slide 8 Viewing Gorgias as Antifoundationalist Challenges project of grounding knowledge in criteria independent of human experience Foundationalism: incoherent Meaning of exist: more like to be so Words do not define essential nature of reality Things arent what we say they are Similar to Buddhism, Taoism, Social constructionism Slide 9 Criterion for Knowledge? Cant rely on reason or senses How could we know if Human explanation equals or matches World as it is Would need a separate, independent view to compare these two and tell us if they are the same Slide 10 The Worlds View Our Human View Independent View Slide 11 Communication Could we describe knowledge? Words and sense phenomena different Cannot speak a color Person has to already have experience May not form the same idea we have Cannot transfer mental images Slide 12 Knowing and Communicating Truth? Does Gorgias say that nothing exists, we cannot know truth, and we cannot communicate truth? NO, Gorgias says: Truths are common We know what exists and does not exist We routinely communicate truth DENIES Truth as a property of the world itself Truth as a foundation for what we say Slide 13 How do we determine truth? In the verbal practice of a community Language as a contest (agon) or game Speakers with rival ideas, beliefs, practices Competing to win community approval Follow agreed-upon conventions Words have meaning by how we use them Similar to Wittgensteins language games Slide 14 Truth as Trophy Knowledge & truth emerge from debate Persuade audience of viability or utility Community judges quality, determines victor Share community conventions, rules, assumptions (discourse, evidence, etc.) If new views support conventions, accredited as valid Truth seen as an award to most persuasive case Slide 15 Conceptualizing Truth Not discovery of accurate representation of a pre- existing independent world, but Endorsement of a persuasive argument Truth or Certainty: a highly convincing case that we cannot counter persuasively Absence of disagreement occurs when we dont question a very convincing account Problem: we forget we constructed truth and project the responsibility onto nature! Slide 16 Gorgias & Post-modernism Gorgias view similar to Rortys distinction between the claims that the world is out there the truth is out there Truth applicable to descriptions, not the world. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world is on its ownunaided by the describing activities of human beings (1995p. 109). Slide 17 Gorgias & Radical Constructivism Gorgias perspective similar to von Glaserfelds Radical Constructivism concepts and ideas generated by our own activities responsible for the world as we experience it can consider an infinite number of alternatives fit of ideas determines utility not truth of the world itself Slide 18 Gorgias & Social Constructionism Reality from social interactions, definitions Gergen (1999): game of truth Cultural ritual: description, explanation, theories establish truth telling in a group Rhetorical, persuasive objectives, style Distancing devices: world out there Authority of investigator as superior view Denial of passion, emotions, motives Slide 19 Science & Social Constructionism Social processes determine Scientific Facts Socializing participants into a paradigm (Kuhn) Collective beliefs & conventions of community Gives coherence to enterprise and meaning to specific elementsconcepts, methods, etc. Premises so accepted that the paradigm is not subject to productive debate Slide 20 Scientific methods of persuasion Gergen, 1999 Propose candidates for truth Conscript support, reduce detractors Enroll supporting allies Cite existing supportive texts Approved rhetorical devices: statistics, graphs and figures, apparatus, journals, organizations Scientific fact: enormous interlocking arrangement of assumptions, equipments, writings, and so onin effect, an entire tradition or form of life. (p. 57) Slide 21 Gorgias and Personal Construct Psychology Kellys Personal Scientist metaphor Personal as well as Social processes Constructive Alternativism Anticipation, seeking predictability For the individual, we might view Truth as a prize we award when choosing particular constructions Choice Corollary CPC Cycle Slide 22 Sophist elements in PCP Make the world more predictable, meaningful Within current understanding, assumptions Avoid threat Seek the most persuasive constructions in debate Compelling construction seen as truth Tendency to forget we constructed it Treat truth as characteristic of the event Example: students in construct elicitation activity Slide 23 Choice Corollary A person chooses for himself that alternative in a dichotomous construct through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extension and definition of his system (Kelly, 1955 p. 64) The Elaborative Choice Whenever a person is confronted with the opportunity for making a choice make that choice in favor of the alternative which seems to provide the best basis for anticipating ensuing events (Kelly, 1955, p. 64) Slide 24 Elaboration through Choice Like social constructions (& science), honoring ideas that provide best basis for future action Choice among competing candidates (e.g., To be or not to be, Marriage, Career, Abortion) Our notion of truth as the choice that enables most effective future anticipation Tendency to believe it is the right choice Rightness or wrongness as a quality of the event Slide 25 C-P-C Cycle a sequence of construction involving, in succession, circumspection, preemption, and control, and leading to a choice which precipitates the person into a particular situation. (Kelly, 1955, p. 515) Preemption as truth for the particular situation The most persuasive construction within the context of assumptions and the existing system Provides control and basis for action May come to see as right conceptualization Tendency to see qualities as inherent in event Slide 26 Implications These perspectives help combat tendency to treat compelling, persuasive constructions as characteristics of events or objects Regard truth and reality as human constructions Not represent a way that the world itself is. Take responsibility for world we experience Understand contexts, diversity of views Use as basis for action to advance human interests, goals, and well-being Remain open to alternatives