The Problem of the Subject in Constructivist Philosophical Models: the Principles of Forming a Typology

Veronika Olegovna Bogdanova & Sergey Valentinovich Borisov

Chelyabinsk State Pedagogical University, Russia

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF



This article is aimed at studying the succession and interinfluence of constructivist philosophical models in accordance with their historical traditions and the problem of the subject. The authors have defined three constructivist philosophical models: constructivist hylomorphism, constructivist eidetics and constructivist hermeneutics. The basic constructs of constructivist hylomorphism are a priori forms of consciousness which serve as preconditions of subjectivity. The foundation of constructivist eidetics is formed by the phenomena of consciousness which subjectify the world. Constructivist hermeneutics is based upon the means of communication which condition intersubjectivity.

Keywords: philosophy, subject, epistemology, cognition, constructivism, philosophism, typology, hylomorphism, eidetics, hermeneutics.


The authors of this article try to solve two research problems: to throw light on the problem of the subject from the viewpoint of constructive philosophy and to present a draft typology of constructive philosophism. The authors believe that the above-mentioned problems are closely connected.

There are many theories that can refer to constructivism. These models are hard to classify since they have been formed at the junction of several scientific fields. I.T. Kasavin distinguishes two groups of constructive concepts: naturalistic and culture-based constructivism (Kasavin, 2008). In his opinion, radical constructivism relates to the naturalistic one, while culture-based constructivism is a part of the methodological one. N.M. Smirnova writes about two types of constructivism: moderate and radical (Constructivism in epistemology and anthropological studies, 2008). In her opinion, the take on ontology (realism vs nominalism) is a distinguishing factor. A.M. Ulanovskiy thinks that constructivism falls into three movements: proper constructivism, radical constructivism and social constructivism (Ulanovskiy, 2009). Other constructive theories are set apart and hard to be classified due to their interdisciplinary nature (Knyazeva, 2006).

The authors do not find the existing classification satisfactory since they lack the common basis and completeness. The review of major constructive theories and their critical analysis has been mentioned in discussions and articles of modern Russian philosophers who published their works in the leading philosophical journals (“The problems of philosophy”; “Epistemology & the philosophy of science”; “Constructivism in epistemology and anthropological studies, 2008”; “Discussing the articles on constructivism, 2009”) and the scientific collection of the Institute of Philosophy of the Russian Academy of Sciences (“Constructivism in epistemology, 2008”; “The constructivist approach in epistemology and anthropological studies, 2009”). These works serve as the starting point for this research, and they lay the foundation for forming the typology of constructivist models regarding their development and interinfluence.


The authors of this article do not make it their point to enumerate all the constructivist theories existing in philosophy. In their opinion, it is more significant to reveal the succession and interinfluence of these theories, and to deeply analyse the most distinctive of them in relation to traditional philosophical problems. This research mainly focuses on the problem of the subject and its specific interpretations provided by constructivism. In this article the authors reveal key constructs which form constructivist theories and serve as conceptual links. These constructs are called the “constructivist philosophical models” and are used as guides for building the draft typology of constructivism.


The typology developed by the authors is built over three basic principles of philosophism: hylomorphism, eidetics and hermeneutics. The terms and basic characteristics of these methods were taken from G.B. Gutner’s scientific work “Hylomorphism, eidetics and communicative practice” (Gutner, 2009). The authors are convinced that this classification of philosophical methods enables them to define the epistemological constructs that serve as their foundation. As a result, it gives an opportunity to track the genesis, interinfluence and succession of constructivist theories as it is exemplified by the problem of the subject. Thus, a new typology has a solid foundation and does not come into clashes with the existing eclectic classifications.

From the viewpoint of classical epistemology, the subject is some absolute giveness, and everything that belongs to the “outer” world raise doubts. Years later this unilateral position ceased to be “clear and apparent” as it had been to R. Descartes. The subject can be regarded as the entity, opposed and isolated from the outer world, from the perspective of its epistemological activity and not its exiting. Due to its mere existing, the subject has versatile relations with the real world and possesses the system of relations with other subjects. Therefore, the variety of subjectivity appears: for example, psychological relation – (I) Individual; social relation – (he, she they) Other; axiological relation – (you, we) Person. In this regard, classical epistemological theory becomes the thing of the past and brand new problems arise: “how to define (find) the subject in absolute giveness of the world and society, and how to explain the genesis of individual consciousness due to this giveness?”; “how to explain the possibility of self-analysis?”; “how can the subject feel the state of their own consciousness?”; “if the perception of the world is done through organs of senses, then what “organs” are used to perceive facts of consciousness?”; “who is the perceiving subject in this case?”.

Scholars enumerate four primary characteristics of the subject: firstly, the subject is a motivated (purposeful and goal-achieving) being; secondly, the subject is engaged in self-reflection, possesses its own image; thirdly, the subject is a free being; fourthly, the subject is a developing being as it exists in changing and unpredictable environment (Problems of subjects in postnonclassical science, 2007). The subject was firstly analysed as a bearer of activity, consciousness and perception in modern philosophy. Earlier it had been regarded as some featureless metaphysical basis of the objective reality. In modern European philosophy, only G. Hegel and his successors supported the idea of the absolute subject, i.e. they considered the individual subject to be a transitive, yet crucial stage for reaching the absolute spirit. On the whole, all the problems connected with the subject and its understanding were identical to the problems connected with the notion “I” in classical philosophy (Lektorskiy, 2009). Most philosophers were absolutely convinced that the subject played a key role in epistemology, only empiricists denied its “privileged” position. When scientists distinguished empirical and transcendental knowledge, they realised that the subject also fell within this division.

From the viewpoint of constructivism, the subject never comes into direct contact with the surrounding world. Its contact becomes possible thanks to a complex system of mediation. Thus, the term “reality” derives from the subject’s creative activity, and is represented as the world of its experience and communication with similar “social and cultural constructs”. This acquisition of the reality is likely a process of its subjectification rather than objectification. Constructivist consciousness receives an ontological status, i.e. it plays the role of “the first” and “the last” instance. However, the cognitive constructs that are immanent to consciousness cannot be revealed and directly examined. They can be discovered indirectly through a cognitive process and its results. The subject-object relations are the system of the constructs that define and refer to one another. For instance, a priori forms of consciousness (I. Kant), the archetypes of collectively-inherited unconscious ideas (C.G. Jung), stable cognitive habits (D. Hume), scientific paradigms (T. Kuhn), social and cultural attitudes-“pre-consciousness” (M. Heidegger, H.-G. Gadamer), language structures (F. de Saussure), social and cultural signs, symbols and texts (structuralists), etc.

The genesis of cognitive constructs, the “formation” of the subject is determined by an adaptive function of perception which guarantees the adaption and survival of living beings. Thus, constructivism defines the value of perception through its sustainability, the pragmatics of language and activity which protect the subject’s interests. Cognitive constructs help to predict certain events and use experience in the future. They turn the subject’s living experience into a stable structure and. As a result, stabilise structures of the “outer” world through their mediatin…Full Text PDF

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