Is Constructivism a good compromise between the radicalist views of Empiricism and Rationalism?

I'm not sure I understand the tenets of Constructivism to its fullest extent, but it seems like a logical compromise to both ways of thinking.


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    You can't have a compromise between empiricism and rationalism of the modern varieties because rationalism says we have have non-sensory knowledge about nature and empiricism says we don't. One or the other has to be true, and the other false. But both agree that there is an objective truth to know, and that we can know that truth. By contrast, constructivism is the position either that there is no objective truth, or at least that whatever we think we know is not an objective truth. Constructivism is a far more radical form of skepticism than the other two. Commented Apr 2, 2022 at 0:11

2 Answers 2


Well, a good first step would be to look at an authoritative source. For example, the SEP entry on Kantian constructivism begins with:

The term 'constructivism' entered into debates on moral theory with John Rawls seminal Dewey Lectures, Kantian Constuctivism in Moral Theory wherein Rawls offered a reinterpretation of the philosopher Immanuel Kant's ethics and its relevance to political debates.

According to Rawls, these debates fail to effectively address the political problem of ethical disagreement because they adopt metaphysical standards of objectivity which appeal to the independent reality and truth of values.

Rawls is especially concerned with coordination problems that arise in pluralistic contexts, where citizens hold different and to some extent, incommensurable moral views. The need for objectivity, according to Rawls, is practical: It arises in contexts in which people disagree abput what to value and need to reach an agreement about what to do. He attributes to Kant the idea that we ought to approach objectivity as a practical problem ...

Later, they state:

Critics hold that the constructivist interpretation of Kant rests it's case heavily on the text that seemingly contains realist arguments. In The Critique of Practical Reason, Kant refers to our consciousness of moral law as "the fact of reason" ... We know the moral law as a "fact" and feel it's pull in the guise of the reverence for law.

Realists play up this "fact" of reason, whilst constructivists, downplay it.


I‘m sceptical that classifying ‚constructivism‘ a compromise is the right manner to look at constructivism.

Kant’s work „Critique of Pure Reason“ from 1781/87 seems to me the seminal work of a constructivist epistemology. Kant writes already in the introduction

For it may well be that even our empirical knowledge is made up of what we receive through impressions and of what our own faculty of knowledge (sensible impressions serving merely as the occasion) supplies from itself. (B1)

The idea that our faculty of knowledge supplies from itself the categories for building up empirical knowledge is further expanded in Kant‘s work. The idea is due to Kant that experience is a construction of the mind when processing the raw data from the sensual input. That idea is the base of a constructivist epistemology. The latter has been elaborated in the 20th century by researches from „Radical constructivism“ and the philosophy of mind in general. For a first information see


The text quoted in the OP’s question is more precise when naming constructivism an alternative – not a compromise - to empiricism and rationalism. But one can even consider Kant’s constructivist epistemology a revolution in the field.

Added due to comments: My answer refers to constructivism in epistemology, not considering social conventions or social experience in communities. Constructivism in epistemology emphasizes the contribution of our mental categories in constructing knowledge about the world.

  • -1: I doubt that one can say Kantian idealism is a species of constructivism as the main criteria for constructivism is missing here: a community. It's why the SEP doesn't have an entry on 'Kantian Constructivist Epistemology'. Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 0:37
  • Plus the main debate on constructivism in Kantian philosophy is on his ethics. Have a look at my answer on this question. And in this case, it's Kant's Critique of Practical Reason where the action is and not his Critique of Pure Reason. Commented Apr 3, 2022 at 0:48

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