Re: Philosophy underlying LO? LO157

Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. (
Sat, 18 Feb 1995 13:02:31 -0800 (PST)

Replying to LO142:


Thank you for this post. Your bravery in revealing your level of
knowledge is probably balanced by my foolishness in revealing my level
of ignorance. How can we learn if we do not admit first what we do not
know. The fact is that people with out any schooling at all can have far
more profound thoughts than anyone with an education and in fact those
with an education are less likely to think just because they have been
taught to think that they know something when actually they do not.
This is the whole point of Socratic Ignorance. Socrates came to the
conclusion that he was the wisest of men (as the delphic oracle had
called him) because he alone knew he did not know anything.

I guess if I were to summarize where I am heading with my series of posts
it would be that what you call the new "systems" paradigm is already dead
and being replaced by something more profound. I think you have shown
uncanny wisdom by going back and looking at the material from the older
paradigm which saw the world as a clockwork mechanism. I hope to provide
you with a vision of the next paradigm after some philosophicial
preliminaries. Please stay tuned for that. Probably others are better
equipped to enumerate the proponents of the systems paradigm than I so I
will leave that to them.

In your post and in my response the words paradigm and episteme are used
as if they were about the same thing. They are similar pheomena on
different levels of knowledge generation within our tradition. But we
should strive to keep them apart as epistemes are categorizations that
allow us to make distinctions and paradigms are assumptions about things
that use categories that have already been established. I think you are
talking mostly about epistemes here and because you used the word
paradigm I thought at first you were talking about only paradigms. But
once I read more carefully I saw, I think, that you were actually lumping
them together, so I did likewise except for where I attempt to
disentangle them. Much of the literature on paradigms conflate the two
concepts and do not recognize epistemes. This is part of the reason why
usage of the term paradigm is so crazy and paradoxical in some instances.

See my answers to your questions below . . .

Thanks for responding.


Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. :Administrator of ThinkNet {aka DialogNet}
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On Fri, 17 Feb 1995, Joe Kilbride wrote:

> In <Postmodernism -- switching epistemes not just paradigms LO129>, Kent
> Palmer wrote re: the need for a greater understanding of the philosophical
> underpinnings of Learning Org concepts. I agree we need such an
> understanding. Toward this end, I am willing to make my ignorance of
> philosophy apparent. It is actually quite easy for me to do so...
> Recently I have been reading some history of philosophy to better
> understand the philosophical underpinnings of the "old" mechanistic
> paradigm everyone seems to agree we are leaving behind. And so I have
> achieved a layman's familiarity with
> Bacon-DesCartes-Hobbes-Spinoza-Leibniz. In studying these philosophers, it
> does not take long to understand how the mechanistic, "world as clockwork"
> notion came into being and evolved through the 16&1700s into our
> predominant worldview.
> One way to represent the "spreading" of this worldview is:
> Philosophy--->Physics--->In time, all other disciplines
> ---------- ------- --------------------------------
> DesCartes Newton Dalton in chemistry
> etc. Darwin in biology, etc.
> While I realize the above is not "true", as a gross simplification it
> works for me. What is not at all apparent TO ME is when and how the "new"
> paradigm came into being. Arguably, there is lots of related activity in
> the "all other disciplines" column of such a table, so I assume there must
> have been some originators in the Philosophy and Physics columns who
> precede them.
Instead I would say . . .

"Natural "Epistemic and
Philosophy" Ontological Philosophy"

Physics------>Philosophy---> other disciplines
NEWTON KANT/HEGEL Systems Approach much later
LEIBNIZ (key idea (key idea
(key idea dialectical dynamical wholes governed
the calculus) categories) by principles of change)

Kant can be seen as attempting to do in philosophy what Newton did
in physics. Newton was a great natural philosopher who more or
less defined what Natural Science is for us out of the preliminary work of
Descartes and Bacon. Leibniz was on a very similar wave length as Newton.

> Philosophy--->Physics----> In time, all other disciplines
> ---------- ------- --------------------------------
> Ashby? Von Bertalanffy?
> Wiener? Shannon?
> Maturana/Varela in Biology?
> Prigogine in Chemistry?
> Bateson in Anthropology?
> Boulding in Economics?
> Powers in Psychology?
> Shewhart and Deming?
> Forrester and Senge?
> My questions are:
> 1. What philosophers are the originators of this "new"
> paradigm which underlies the Learning Org concepts?

This systems paradigm comes from many disciplines and people
simultaneously but the best exposition I have seen lately is FEEDBACK
Penn Press 1991

One way to think about the relation of philosophy other disciplines is to
realize that there is a progression from philosopher to generalist to
specialist. Many of those you mention are generalists. Basically
philosophers are generally further ahead than generalists and generalists
are further ahead than specialists in the pursuit of our always
transforming knowledge. When we say further ahead what we mean is that
the philosopher is looking for the deepest patterns and thus may see
things that are not apparent to the generalist. Generalists are seeing
intermediary patterns and thus see changes coming further ahead than the
specialist but not so far ahead as the philosopher. Our tradition is
extremely rhizomatic (messy) and the influences are not neat and clean
within and among disciplines. So trying to create a history with nice
neat lines and causal influences is very tricky. About all you can do is
look at general trends. I would say that systems thought is probably the
ultimate outcome of Kant's philosophy as it has been elaborated within
our tradition. If you look at Kant's category table you will notice that
it is a dialectical description of a system. However, it took a lot of
time to unfold this category scheme into what we now call systems theory.
First Hegel had to unpack dialectics from Kant's categories. Then we
needed to find phenomena that could be used to understand the dynamics of
the dialectic in nature so to speak. So if we are just now gaining the
fruits of Kant's philosophy there are probably even more things within
the tradition of philosophy for us to gain if we studied it which we have
not realized in embodiments like systems theory yet.

Many times the order is reversed and it is the natural philosophers that
make the fundamental break through as in the case of systems theory that
came from Newton/Leibniz through Kant/Hegel to become what it is. This is
to say that often it is the specialists that make the discovery and it
filters up to through the generalists to the philosophers who then use
that to project a long way ahead by looking at its general implications.
There is no rigid rules that say causality in the history of ideas must go
in a particular direction.

> 2. Are Kant, Hegel, Santayana, James, Dewey, Russell and
> Whitehead philosophers of the "old", the "new" or some
> "intermediate" paradigm?

When we start talking about philosophers it is a little naive pigeon
hole them in a paradigm because they are speaking generally at a higher
level of abstraction than the paradigm. They are talking either about
epistemes or ontology usually. A lot of times they are way ahead of their
times just because of the kind of problems they are dealing with that are
universal across disciplines. I think it is better to think of the
philosophers in terms of their contrasts to each other. Many times you can
find very advanced ideas embedded in philosophy books of the past that no
one seems to have taken up but later we see that they had very
sophisticated ideas that we can only now appreciate.

> 3. Who in Physics -- Einstein? Heisenberg?

Physics is a rare form of philosophy. Remember that only statements that
lend themselves to disproof are actually physics and all other statements
are philosophical so there is a lot of philosophy in physics. Like the
philosophers it is difficult to pigeon hole physicists because of the
rarefied nature of the problems they are dealing with. Their work tends
to be used as metaphors many times blowing what they studied completely
out of proportion. For instance holograms are a physical phenomena which
has been used and abused so much as to make us sick of hearing of about

> 4. Any additions/deletions to "all other disciplines"?
> 5. If we are now moving beyond the "clockwork", what is the
> metaphor for this new worldview or paradigm?

I will try to address this question in subsequent posts. But are you
aware of the distinction between metaphor and metonymy. Sometimes
metonymies are more valuable than metaphors. In other words the contrasts
in a collage may tell us more than the images themselves in isolation.

I suggest you have a look at Foucault's THE ORDER OF THINGS for a good
explanation of the progression of epistemes. Epistemes are naturally more
metonymic. We need to start looking at the epistemic level -- that covers
multiple disciplines and encompasses multiple paradigms -- in order to
get a broader view of the changes in our tradition. Foucault specifically
ignores the Big Names of philosophy and looks at secondary books of
lesser lights as indicators as to when the episteme had changed. This
strategic move by Foucault shows us that philosophers are not a good
indicator as to the ages and spread of ideas. But there are ways of
tracking these changes by looking at things like textbooks. I remember
reading the first textbook that started with relativity theory and
explained classical theory rather than the other way around. It was only
then that I could understand what relativity meant. Prior to that I could
never get it. Looking backward from our current Worldview, Episteme,
Paradigm or Theory toward the last one we held is about all we can
manage. We cannot effectively look forward. This is why it is so
difficult to predict what will occur. We are walking into the future
backward. This is one of the major points of Igvar Johannson in his book
CATEGORICAL INVESTIGATIONS. Look at Foucault's own book. It is very strong
in its description of old epistemes but fails when it comes to his
attempt to describe the postmodern episteme at the end of the book. There
are a sea of contrasts and it is very difficult to navigate that sea and
lay down a grid on its waves.

> I await increased understanding...

Me too. I hope you will help me understand my own blindspots as we go along.

> _ __________________________________________________
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> (((\ \>|_/->__________________________________________<-\_|</ /)))
> (\\\\ \_/ / Metaphor and analogy can be helpful, \ \_/ ////)
> \ / or they can be misleading. All depends on \ /
> \ _/ whether the similarities the metaphor captures \_ /
> / / are significant or superficial.-- Herbert Simon \ \
> / / The Sciences of the Artificial, 2nd ed., pg. 193 \ \