Correspondence Discourses


Correspondence Theories of Truth


Correspondence between objective fact and subjective understanding

Principal Metaphors

The specific metaphors of Correspondence Discourses vary from one theory to the next. However, broadly speaking, they tend to cluster around the following:
  • Knowledge is … external, objective truth
  • Knowing is … internal, subjective understanding
  • Learner is … a mental entity in a physical body
  • Learning is … internalizing
  • Teaching is … transmitting


Ancient (entrenched in the language)


Correspondence Discourses are perspectives on learning that assume a radical separation of mental (or internal, or brain-based) and physical (or external, or body-based) – otherwise known as:
  • Dualism (Cartesian Dualism; Psychophysical Dualism) (René Descartes, 1530s) – the suggestion that the universe comprises two distinct types of substance:
    • res extensa – extended, space-occupying, divisible substance, which includes that body
    • res cogitans – thinking, not-space-occupying substance, which includes the mind
  • Ghost in the Machine (Gilbert Ryle, 1940s) – a phrase coined as a critique of Cartesian Dualism, whereby the mind is frames as a nonphysical “ghost” that occupies a mechanical body
  • Mind–Body Problem (Body–Mind Problem; Mind Control) – confusions, incongruities, and paradoxes that arise from the assumption that the mind and body are separate phenomena. Associated constructs include:
    • Problems of Interaction (Mental Causation) – regarding the Mind–Body Problem, the particular conundrums around an immaterial mind or soul (with no mass, location, or shape) might compel a physical body to move
  • Mind-Brain Identity Theory (U.T. Place, 1950s) – the perspective that “mind” and “brain” are the same – that is, that “state of mind” can be equated to “physical state of the brain.” While seeming to address the assumed dichotomy of the Mind–Body Problem (see above), Mind-Brain Identity Theory relies on a cluster of other dichotomies, such is internal/external, individual/collective, and self/other.
  • Parallelism – Starting with the (problematical) assumption that the mind and body occupy separate realities, Parallelism is the suggestion that they operate in a such a well-coordinated fashion that they can appear to be in unison or to be a unity.
This assumption of a separation sets up the need for a correspondence between what’s happening in the real, objective world and what’s happening in one’s inner, subjective world. Most Correspondence Discourses are developed around object-based metaphors (e.g., knowledge seen as a thing, a commodity, bits of information, a fluid, and/or a product/outcome). Consequently, learning is commonly interpreted as a discontinuous, accumulative process, of learning one thing and then the next. Typically, Correspondence Discourses rely on linear/direct imagery, rigid binaries/dichotomies/dualisms, and Newtonian mechanics (contrast with Coherence Discourses). Indeed, some associated discourses rely explicitly on Newtonian mechanical notions, including:
  • Logical Atomism (Bertrand Russell, 1920s; Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1920s) – the view that knowledge is the totality of discrete and non-reducible (i.e., atomistic) facts
  • Mechanistic Theory (Mechanical Concept of Mind; Mechanistic Approach; Mechanical-Man Concept) – the notion that human functioning, including consciousness and sociality, can be understood in terms of mechanical processes – that is, that physics is sufficient for making sense of human activity
Further, many Correspondence Discourses are developed around classification systems, taxonomies, and typologies that are based on multiple distinctions, and virtually all rely on the following processes:
  • Reification (Concretism; Hypostatization; Objectification) – the conceptual shift involved when an abstract phenomenon (e.g., event, thought, concept, value, belief) comes to be treated as a physical object – that is, a form that one might infer is stable and knower-independent, and something that can be acquired, shaped, manipulated, measured, relayed, etc.
  • Literalization (Dead Metaphor) (Richard Rorty, 1980s) – the rendering literal of a figurative device, in a way that makes it difficult to be conscious of or to recover the original figurative meaning.
An upshot of framing knowledge in such terms is that learning becomes a matter of collecting knowledge bits – a detail that is evident in the Achievement Metaphor, the Attainment Metaphor, the Construction Metaphor, and virtually every entry in the Coherence Discourses region of the map. A further upshot is that correction of false knowledge is framed in terms of replacing the bad knowledge bit with a good one, meaning that most Correspondence Discourses are also Replacement Theories:
  • Replacement Theory – a descriptive term, used across many disciplines, that can be applied to any theory in which change or progress is seen in terms of one form replacing or displacing another. At the moment, Replacement Theories concerned with learning are usually seen as naïve and uninformed – since new opinions, ideas, facts, or interpretations cannot tidily replace old ones. Rather, they interact in much more complex ways – through, e.g., processes of co-mingling, or blending, or repression.
To illustrate, perhaps the most common instances of the notions of Reification, Literalization, and Replacement in discussions of learning are evident in the following constructs:
  • Learning Objectives – specifications for learning that are typically used to frame lessons and select teaching approaches. As evident in this description, Learning Objectives are most often framed by the Acquisition Metaphor – that is, they are stated in terms of “getting some thing.” Common types of Learning Objectives include:
    • Behavioral Objectives – a term used by proponents of Behaviorisms to signal a preference for stating Learning Objectives in terms of observable and measurable behaviors
    • Performance Objectives – a notion used by proponents of Technology-Mediated Individual Learning to refer to criteria to be met by human users in order to proceed
  • Learning Goals (Learning Outcomes) – typically considered as broader that Learning Objectives, these are usually understood as more aspirational ambitions that are most often framed by the Attainment Metaphor – that is, they are expressed in terms of “getting some where.”
  • Learning Objects (Content Objects; Digital Objects; Educational Objects; Information Objects; Intelligent Objects; Knowledge Bits; Knowledge Objects; Learning Components; Media Objects; Reusable Curriculum Components; Reusable Information Objects; Reusable Learning Objects; Testable Reusable Units of Cognition; Training Components; Units of Learning) – prominently associated with E-Learning, these are self-contained digital packets of information that deal with clearly defined topics. Typically, Learning Objects include elements of content, context, practice, and assessment, and common forms include podcasts, e-books, videos, and electronic presentations.


Different Correspondence Discourses have different issues, but all rely on a troublesome mental/physical dichotomy.


  • Behavioral Objectives
  • Dualism (Cartesian Dualism; Psychophysical Dualism)
  • Ghost in the Machine
  • Learning Goals (Learning Outcomes)
  • Learning Objectives
  • Learning Objects (Content Objects; Digital Objects; Educational Objects; Information Objects; Intelligent Objects; Knowledge Bits; Knowledge Objects; Learning Components; Media Objects; Reusable Curriculum Components; Reusable Information Objects; Reusable Learning Objects; Testable Reusable Units of Cognition; Training Components; Units of Learning)
  • Literalization (Dead Metaphor)
  • Logical Atomism
  • Mechanistic Theory (Mechanical Concept of Mind; Mechanistic Approach; Mechanical-Man Concept)
  • Mind–Body Problem (Body–Mind Problem; Mind Control)
  • Mind-Brain Identity Theory
  • Parallelism
  • Performance Objectives
  • Problems of Interaction (Mental Causation)
  • Reification (Concretism; Hypostatization; Objectification)
  • Replacement Theory

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Correspondence Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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