Of the three constructivist theses before us, the most influential is the thesis of fact-constructivism—which is somewhat surprising given that it is also the most radical and the most counterintuitive. Indeed, properly understood, fact-constructivism is such a bizarre view that is it hard to believe that anyone actually endorses it. And yet, it seems that many do.
According to fact-constructivism, it is a necessary truth about any fact that it obtains only because we humans have constructed it in a way that reflects our contingent needs and interests. This view stands opposed to fact-objectivism, according to which many facts about the world obtain entirely independently of human beings.
Fact-constructivism would seem to run into an obvious problem. The world did not begin with us humans; many facts about it obtained before we did. How then could we have constructed them? For example, according to our best theory of the world, there were mountains on earth well before there were humans. How, then, could we be said to have constructed the fact that there are mountains on earth.
One famous constructivist, the French sociologist Bruno Latour, seems to have decided to just bite the bullet on this point. When French scientists working on the mummy of Ramses II (who died c. 1213 BC) concluded that Ramses probably died of tuberculosis, Latour denied that this was possible. “How could he pass away due to a bacillus discovered by Robert Koch in 1882?” Latour asked. Latour noted that just as it would be an anachronism to say that Ramses died from machine-gun fire so it would be an anachronism to say that he died of tuberculosis. As he boldly put it: “Before Koch, the bacillus had no real existence.”
Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism
by Paul Boghossian