The Constructivist Preference
Post from January 18, 2017 (↻ June 6, 2021), filed under Philosophy.
When we are presented with conflicting beliefs and ideas, which ones are we to support or assume? That question, in our age of scientism, is usually answered with “those that are true,” or “those that are more realistic,” irrespective of how these terms may be defined.
For anything that cannot be answered with a high degree of certainty I wish to propose that it’s more useful for us, and more advisable indeed, not to desperately look at truth or realism, but for what is more constructive or positive. Although one might label this genuine constructivism, positivism, or plain idealism, I like to call this the “constructivist preference.”
Applying the constructivist preference, which seems close to the pragmatist views of Charles Sanders Peirce and William James (they had suggested to judge the value of ideas in terms of their usefulness), means a careful monitoring of input to choose those statements that, unless there is no prima facie room for error, are more favorable. As that’s close to repeating what we’ve established in the last paragraph, we should inspect examples:
Of “people are terrible” vs. “people are great,” two statements asymmetric as much as unprovable, “people are great” should—here I prefer the normative route—be preferred, no matter how many cases were brought forth that want people to be terrible.
Of “things get better” vs. “things will stay the same” (or get worse), more constructive is certainly the belief that things get better (and we remember Émile Coué when he famously coined the affirmation, “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”).
Of “life is difficult” vs. “life is easy,” no matter the frivolous triviality, the constructivist preference absolutely favors “life is easy.” Following the pragmatists (“what are the practical implications of accepting this as true?”) we know why we prefer the latter.
What led me to this preference have been occasional conversations that contained mere opinion, dark opinion, and one or the other situation in which a participant would cling to something so hard to verify (scientifically: falsify), yet so negative, that one could not bear the damage such person mentally inflicted on themselves, that I longed for something to ground myself, and maybe convince the other: In matters of opinion, and beyond the glass that’s half full, let’s prefer those views that are more constructive.
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead—currently manager for Developer Experience at LivePerson—and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
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