Difference Between Positivism and Constructivism

Positivism vs Constructivism
 

Positivism and constructivism are two very different philosophical stances; there is a difference between the core ideas behind each philosophy. Both are viewed as epistemologies that present a different idea of what constitutes as knowledge. Positivism can be understood as a philosophical stance that emphasizes that knowledge should be gained through observable and measurable facts. In this sense, this is considered as a rigid scientific inquiry. On the other hand, Constructivism states that reality is socially constructed. This emphasizes that these are two different philosophies. Through this article let us examine the differences between the two stances; positivism and constructivism.

What is Positivism?

Positivism can be understood as a philosophical stance that emphasizes that knowledge should be gained through observable and measurable facts. This is also referred to as empiricism. Positivists do not rely on subjective experiences. In this sense, positivism can be viewed as an epistemological stance in which sensory information counts as true knowledge.

Only the natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, and biology are counted as true sciences according to positivists. This is because they believed that social sciences lacked observable and measurable data that would qualify them as true sciences. Unlike the natural scientist, who relied on objects that could be controlled by a laboratory setting, the social scientist had to go to the society that was his laboratory. The people, life experiences, attitudes, social processes were studied by the social scientists. These could neither be observed nor measured. Since these were very subjective and differed from one person to the other, positivist considered these as irrelevant.

For example, Auguste Comte believed that in sociology, positivist methods should be used in order to understand human behavior. He stated that positivism should not be confined to the natural sciences but should be applied to social sciences as well. However, later on this idea was rejected with the introduction of other epistemological stances such as constructivism.

Difference Between Positivism and Constructivism

Auguste Comte

What is Constructivism?

Constructivism or else social constructivism states that reality is socially constructed. Unlike positivists, who firmly believe in a single truth and reality, constructivism points out there is no single reality. According to constructivists, the reality is a subjective creation. As human beings, we all create our view of the world. This is usually based on our individual perception. Concepts such as gender, culture, race are all social constructs.

For example, let us elaborate on the concept of gender. Gender is different from sex. It does not refer to the biological difference between males and females. It is a social construction. The allocation of specific duties to women and expectations of the female as a delicate, feminine, and dependent creature is a social construction. The expectation of masculinity from males is also a social construct. In this sense, constructivism points out that the reality is a social reality that is subjective and built through consensus. This highlights that positivism and constructivism are two very different epistemological stances.

 Positivism vs  Constructivism

Jean Piaget – a constructivist

What is the difference between Positivism and Constructivism?

• Definitions of Positivism and Constructivism:

• Positivism can be understood as a philosophical stance that emphasizes that knowledge should be gained through observable and measurable facts.

• Constructivism states that reality is socially constructed.

• Dependence:

• Positivists rely on measurable and observable facts.

• Constructivism relies on social constructs.

• •Objectivity and Subjetivity:

• Objectivity is a key characteristic of positivism.

• Constructivism borders more on subjectivity as individuals create their perception.

• Natural Sciences and Social Sciences:

• Positivism is more suitable for the natural sciences.

• Constructivism is more suitable for the social sciences.

• Reality:

• According to positivists, there is a single reality.

• According to constructivism, there is no single reality.

 

Images Courtesy: Auguste Comte and Jean Piaget via Wikicommons (Public Domain)