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The market of behavioral control and other implications of datafication

TSElosophers meeting 22.2.2019 Albrecht Becker, Elina Järvinen, Kai Kimppa, Kari Lukka, Morgan Shaw, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén

S. Zuboff (2015) Big other: surveillance capitalism and the prospects of an information civilization, Journal of Information Technology

Quick summary

Shoshana Zuboff draws the contours of the emerging phenomenon she dubs surveillance capitalism. Its building blocks are datafication and extraction and analysis of that data, ultimately transforming the everyday lived human reality into behavior, which can be through Big Data and algorithmic analysis harvested and capitalized. She walks the reader through a set of quotes by Hal Varian from Google, to highlight how the digital technology becomes Big Other amplifying the reach of capitalism to yet another level.

Key points:

  • Big data originates from five sources: human-digital interactions, sensor technology, surveillance systems, digital transactions and extant databases
  • Extracting data from human actions is one-directional – individuals are harvested for their data in exchange for nighnothing
  • Laws and regulations lag behind because a) they are slower in realizing than the technological affordances and b) reaping the benefits of surveillance capitalism is so lucrative to firms that paying fines can be considered mere investments
  • Big Other creates markets for behavioral control: on the one side there are the producers (like Google) who extract and analyze data to derive behavioral predictions and nudging possibilities, and on the other side the advertisers who buy these to impact their customers
  • Reliance on smart contracts does not increase trust, but destroys the need for trust, as trust is based on voluntary choice

Our discussion

The overall sentiment towards the article was that it addresses and captures a genuinely powerful and worrying phenomenon, which, if left unchecked, will lead to quite a dystopian future. Some of us feared the dystopia more than others. Firstly, it was pointed out that the imperfections of technology will likely hinder the efficiency of Big Other and therefore the behavioral predictions of Zuboff are still far from overarchingly accurate (however it was retorted that the technology does not need to be perfect, just strong enough to wreak havoc). Secondly, some of the insights discuss such technological affordances still quite nascent as done deals (like the use of smart contracts in automatically shutting down a car driven ‘wrong’). Thirdly, some of the arguments rely on such research results which have subsequently been found unconvincing: for example, teenagers are not unaware of the privacy loss, and their continued use is not reflective of ignorance, but of wittingly made strategic choices of transforming privacy into currency.

Those of us who saw the article as foreboding a dystopian future (if not already present), the most difficult question was to define what then would be better? For whom, from what perspective, and why? If my hunger was satisfied before I even acknowledged it (or if my kids were automatically provided food whenever necessary without me needing to bother cooking it), why would it be so terrible? If I were given whatever I needed and wanted in exchange for being a data source, would it really be that unbearable? The answer to this seemed to boil down to the question of free will, our values and preferences about the nature and quality of life.

One of the traditionally considered basic human rights is liberty, and marketizing behavior threatens that, because it is grounded on a set of choices I cannot make for myself: Firstly, I am used as a data source without my (at least witting or informed) consent, and secondly, my behavior is deducted and monetized from this data without my consent. There may be limited options for opting out (the free will can be used in choosing what to do with the food magically appearing by my door), but there are none to predictively choose to not to opt in. However, we also noted that as the convenience level of life increases through involuntary participation in surveillance capitalism as the source of data and target of need satisfaction, the mere abstract notion of free will is not enough to make people-turned-consumers rebel against the emerging system, driven by the agents in the behavior markets. When life is just made easier, why bother?

We also discussed the power of politics. While technology always moves faster than legislation, what kind of power does the political system have in regulating the developmental trajectories, and on what is that power based on? This also led us to discussing the loci of political power; whether it will still be wielded by nation-states, or something else? Here one of us quipped that “at least so far it is the nations that still have the guns”, inferring that the states still possess a level of ultimate power over companies. Additionally, the different political choices made in the US, Europe and China were also discussed: Where the Europeans worry about the human rights (such as privacy and to an extent freedom) and legislate accordingly, the Chinese opt for technological prowess which mandates nonchalance in regards to these. The ensuing trade-offs will play out in the long run.

The fate of trust was also pondered. Zuboff states that automatic fulfillment of contracts leads to disappearance of trust, which is grounded on the choice to trust or not. It was pointed out that maybe the trust is not removed but retargeted: Instead of trust being a choice between the contracting parties, the trust could be directed towards the automated system taking care of transgressions. This was countered by noting that this would be the case only in such cases where one could freely choose to be a part of such a system, choose to trust a system, whereas the whole point of Zuboff’s article is the fact that we are given no such choice in the surveillance capitalism. If we cannot choose to not belong in a system, trust becomes irrelevant. Instead there will be an unwitting confidence to the surveillance system that involves coercion – with very low odds on awareness of, and action against, this coercion.

As is typical for TSElosophers, the discussion flowed intensively and in many directions, some merely loosely connected to the discussion in the article. We again worried about the environmental future of the globe, however also noted that ultimately we humans cannot destroy the globe and life in entirety, only human life and the currently evolved species – give it a few million years and the globe with new sets of life will have bounced back. However, the justification of worrying about, for instance, the quickly declining biodiversity was warranted by the ethical point of view that we humans – while having the powers due our un-ecological life-style – have no right to damage life on our lonely planet to the extent that is now happening.

All in all, the article triggered interesting thoughts and invigorating discussion, and as such, it is a warmly recommended read to anyone interested in gaining one possible comprehensive interpretation of the impact of the current technological advances on the society.

When paying ones’ debt is wrong

TSElosophers meeting 13.11. 2018. Ekaterina Panina, Joonas Uotinen,  Kari Lukka, Milla Wiren, Otto Rosendahl

Debt – The First 5000 Years (chapter 2), David Graeber 2011


The central theme of the book (chapter) we read this time relates to the two stories about how money came about. The more prevalent story tells us that first there was barter, then money and finally debt, whereas Graeber insists that the reverse order is historically more accurate. This led to the following themes discussed at length and depth in the meeting:

  • What is the key point the author wishes to make with the book? We deduced that his main statement is that paying ones’ debt is not always the most moral choice, as there can be circumstances where this commonsensical notion actually causes more harm than good.
  • How can the boundaries between when it is, and when it isn’t “right” to pay debts be drawn?
  • The benefits of debt: debt as an investment implies a faith in a better future.
  • The necessity of this faith in the future – do we need the sentiment of going forward, towards “more”, or is this linear notion of time one root cause of the environmental problems we are facing (considering the finite nature of our planet)?


In the book, concerned about the power of debt to cause inhuman, immoral consequences to debtors (including examples of daughters being sent to prostitution, or people dying in thousands in developing countries as IMF and other creditors have demanded their debts to be repaid) Graeber asks whether it really is so that debts always need to be paid back?

To this end, he trails the historical development of credit. In chapter 2, he reviews the history of money and debt told today in economics’ textbooks. This story goes that first there was barter; then currency or money was developed to ease the economic exchange of stuff; and, later on, credit developed. By juxtaposing the story with anthropological evidence, he concludes that the now common narrative in economics is wrong. Actually, the opposite is true: the order would actually be that credit developed first, and from it, money. Barter in turn has never been a wider-scale social practice.

He claims that only by introduction of money and interest rates did credit become decoupled from considerations of the needs and situations of all involved: what started out as a simple trust-based I-owe-you that helped people to rely on each other in circumstances where someone had a surplus at anothers’ time of need and vice versa, became an industry in itself. The focus shifted to numbers that do not heed the real life circumstances: when trust between the debtor and debtee was removed and interest rates introduced, debt took on a life of its own. He argues that our confusion of debt as a moral duty is just that – a confusion, and that not all debts need necessarily to be paid back.

On the way, he also argues that it was the economics’ story of development of money, and credit that allowed markets and monetary credit to be artificially disentangled from other social institutions and phenomena. This is because the story makes the development of currency and ensuing monetary credit seem like natural, good solutions to practical problems involved in barter, that all of humanity would have done earlier. This would have entailed the understanding that these institutions are natural, somehow, they need to be maintained by police force and law, and that they can be detached from considerations of other aspects of life and morality. This would, in turn, make these institutions further inhumane supporting the idea that debts need to be paid back unconditionally.

The chapter and the book elicited discussion on several tangential topics. We discussed that credit seems to have positive aspects to it. We considered that Graeber did not give a balanced handling to the issue of debt. He concentrated on the immorality in debt relationships,  although monetary debt may also lead to beneficial outcomes. For example, it (1) enables transition of wealth from where it is in excess to where it is scarce; and (2) it enables people to initiate projects that would otherwise be beyond their reach financially. However, Thomas Piketty’s finding in his book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2014) that returns on capital grow faster than returns on labor seems to pose the question that is the function (1) illusionary?

We hypothesized that the transition from a cyclic experience of time to a linear time likely relates to the appearance of monetized, interest-growing credit. There was controversy over what came first: the need to enhance future or monetized, interest-growing credit. It might also be that before monetized credit people got from neighbors what they needed as a kind of a gift and when their neighbors were in need they would reciprocally give what the neighbors needed – and only with the appearance of monetized credit would also the idea of enhancing future, and of linear, progressive time, appear. However, never mind the order, the notions of linear time and the “better” tomorrow seem to be linked.

Graeber’s book inspired us to discuss the relation between markets and well-being. From the anthropological evidence and discussion on alternative distribution and production mechanisms, arose the topic of what are the limits of markets to yield well-being. As Graeber observes, more intimate, familial, “warm” relationships between people do involve exchange of services and goods; but not through money.
Indeed, an effort to “balance the accounts” in such a case so that no
“imbalance” anymore exists between “credits” and “debits” be they monetary or not, seems to be a violation of such a relationship, a sign of a will to terminate such a relationship. He gives an example of a father who asked his son to pay back all the costs associated with the son’s upbringing resulting in the son, after paying the debt back, never to contact the father again. Anthropologically, barter, where one seeks to maximize one’s own benefit without regard to the other, seems to only happen between people who are neutral, possibly hostile towards each other. It, then, seems that salable commodities can never replace such relationships and introduction of money to such exchange violates and destroys such relationships that likely are crucial for human well-being. This notion sheds a different light to for example
contemporary attempts to commodify well-being into salable services: by replacing social relationships with money, also the main component of value in such services, namely the exact social relationships, disappear.

We also discussed ecological sustainability and its relation to interest-growing credit. Is endless growth necessary? Why, when we
see that the human impact on some of the boundaries of our planet are already threatening our existence? But if we lose the faith in the always better tomorrow in aligning collective action to pursue that better tomorrow, how can we replace that as an enabler of collective action? We need to find alternative coordination mechanisms for our societies.

All in all, while the book appeared somewhat confusing and possibly one-sided, it seems to raise worthy issues. After all, as the other side of the debate is amply occupied, this voice of dissent is welcome. We
liked how Graeber exposed the often hidden assumption by which our institutions of private ownership, markets, and interest-growing credit would be the natural consequence of human development towards better, and questions that assumption: there are many other ways of organizing societies and the merits of each may need reassessment. Also, we enjoyed the questioning of the moral supremacy of paying
ones’ debt as it indeed seems that there are cases when paying back the debt is not the “right” thing to do, no matter how counter-intuitive that for a contemporary member of the current socio-economic system may seem.

Pragmatism, once more

TSElosophers meeting 20.9. Kari Lukka, Jonathan Van Mumford, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

In his book “Pragmatism and Organization Studies”, Philippe Lorino (2018) introduces Peircean pragmatism as a position against mainstream representationalism in organizational studies. Representationalism assumes the semiotics of signifier/signified as a dyad, which leads to representation/reality dichotomy. In contrast, Peirce’s semiotics introduces situational perspectives as “interpretants” that dilute the accuracy of any signifiers to “a representamen” (a specimen among others). To put it differently, pragmatism relegates representations to a situational resource among other resources, whereas representationalism claims that “representation determines action; it is the source of action” (Lorino 2018, 33). Lorino credibly uses the early pragmatist concepts to challenge representationalism. However, many other process philosophies have already highlighted challenges to representationalism – also based on other streams of the philosophy of science – in mainstream organizational studies. For example, pragmatism can be viewed generally as aligned with the practice turn in social ontology (Friedrichs & Kratochwil 2009, 713) and the developments in process philosophy (Rescher 1996) are already somewhat reflected in organizational studies, e.g. in strategy-as-a-practice (Vaara and Whittington 2012). One of the issues discussed in this context was the flattening of history by Lorino – as he was at the same time drawing from the “old” pragmatists and the subsequent developments seeded by them, some of the insights that may have been revolutionary (and expressed as such by Lorino) do not seem quite as foreign to the contemporary reader familiar with the subsequent developments as Lorino emphasizes.

Lorino’s (2018) book sparked a lively discussion whether correspondence theory of truth is relevant or irrelevant for pragmatism. Pragmatists emphasize consensus theory on knowledge, but it seems that correspondence theory within the framework of consensus is not necessarily excluded. For Peirce, the main force that creates order and stability in the universal process comes from relational ‘attraction’ (Ormerod 2006), which is difficult to define narrowly. For example, a strong consensus of knowledge is achieved by the imminent destruction of the Earth by an asteroid in Trier’s film Melancholia (see Ch1, Zizek 2014). In Melancholia, the everyday attraction towards vitality changed to the overbearing attraction to heavenly bodies and horror. The consensus became formed without any credible claims to socially constructing of some other kind of reality; there was a strong convergence towards a singular understanding of reality in the context shown us by Trier – and the convergence of views in such a situation may well be in line with representatiolist correspondence.

We also discussed the Peircean “thirdness” in regards to the correspondence theory of the truth. The significant semiotic contribution of Peirce was to highlight the third element relevant in a concept: whereas de Saussure broke the concept into two components of the signifier (the word tree) and the signified (the thing growing from the ground, referred to with the word), Peirce introduced the importance of the interpretant (the one doing the referring to the tree, nuanced by the understanding of the tree by the utterer). In our discussions we pondered that in pragmatism, the correspondence does not necessarily flow in between the signified and the signifier, but is instead located in between the interpretant and the signified – for the one interpreting the growing thing as something that can be referred to as a tree, the uttering corresponds with the contextually created notion of truth. The example found in Lorino’s text about a group of piqueniquers highlights this: in viewing a flat stone it is referred to as a table. In the context of having outdoors lunch the interpretation of stone as a table is true, even though without the context a flat stone does not correspond with the general meaning of the word table.

Regarding scholarly research, Peircean pragmatists are bound to recognize the attraction of correspondence theory. In particular, it has (arguably to remarkable extent) produced beneficial results in (natural) sciences. Lorino (2018, 264) sums up the union of Peircean pragmatism with correspondence as follows: “Science would rather appear as an attempt to formulate beliefs […] in the effectiveness of action – for example, does the management of nuclear safety really avoid major accidents (and this “really” means something here)?” As pragmatists see the employment of the correspondence of theory of truth having less application options than realists, pragmatists focus on the development of useful beliefs instead of bare facts. Although this formulation seems to gnaw the foundation of a scientific worldview, it could be also understood positively: pragmatism potentially extends the scope of science. The scientific foundation of facts as ‘well-justified true beliefs’ are not completely taken away, but rather they are complemented with the consideration that facts are produced in a range of different situations and perspectives. Fact claims are also employed in relatively sinister occurrences, e.g. for manipulation and for adopting superiority.

In sum, “humans do not have doors and windows open to the world: they are in the world; they even are the world (Lorino 2018, 40).” We discussed along the lines of this pragmatist proclamation, especially concerning the human capabilities for connecting with their world. Anthropological studies from non-western cultures illustrate that humans have great potential for a thorough connectedness (Descola 2013). Unfortunately, the connectedness in western culture is often visible only in material terms (Descola 2013): We generally believe that humans have become a relatively advanced instantiation of animal evolution. Spiritual connectedness, however, would mean further avoidance to dichotomize man and nature. Regrettably the attraction towards one dichotomy allies itself often with others, e.g. reality/representation, human/natural and beneficiary/resource and representations on reality are typically used to exploit natural resources for human beneficiaries. These dichotomies come with implicit justifications of human beneficiaries’ superiority. With these dichotomies, it becomes practical and natural to neglect non-human beneficiaries, as well as those humans considered merely as “resources”. TSElosophers support scientific practices that emphasize developing everyone’s sensitivity and respect for their world in a holistic sense. Pragmatism offers one potential starting point in this regard, but also it would need widening of scope to be more helpful in the development of beliefs that would genuinely take into consideration the huge social and ecological challenges of our time and the near future.

Improving, or just escaping, the capitalistic machine

TSElosophers meeting on 11.06.2018, Otto Rosendahl, Kari Lukka, Joel Hietanen

”Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. Chapters 1 (The Desiring-machines) and 4 (Introduction to Schizoanalysis).”

“Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” (Deleuze & Guattari 1977) is a book that needs to be understood in its historical context. Lyotard, Baudrillard and Irigaray had just published books that strongly challenged scientifically rationalistic foundations. Guattari was a creative psychologist, who felt that psychoanalytical tradition of that time was too constraining. Deleuze was the philosopher who wrote down and refined Guattari’s abstractions. Their co-operation produced one of the most complex scholarly best-sellers of all times.

The book starts with building a distinctive and peculiar non-humanistic ontology in order to criticize psychoanalytical practices of their time. A paradigmatic role is given to the unconscious production of “desiring-machines” – a notion that lies at the heart of the book. All desiring-machines are a fleeting part of the universal schizophrenic flow, which they occasionally arrest with neurosis and perversions. Neuroses refer to holding on to one form and perversions to creating a multitude of forms, for example DNA reproduction or DNA mutations.

D&G present capitalism as a (phenomenological) social machine that feeds the desiring-machines and continuously increases their schizophrenic, neurotic and perverse productions. Capitalism differs from territorial and despotic machines, because it runs with an abstract code, i.e. money, which compels increasing desire-production as its requirements develop more flexibly. For example, capitalism provides ample opportunities for thrilling, enjoyable or comforting schizophrenic escapes with experiential consumption, impulsive shopping and social media. Especially social media provides easy and gratifying targets for both neurotic interventions and perverse interpretations, often against the public displays of schizophrenic production. Consider the public outrage that resulted from a Facebook picture of a 12-year old American girl standing victoriously beside a giraffe she had hunted down.

D&G’s method is aimed against preconscious interests of social machines, which repress desiring-machines to celibacy. Celibate joys and sorrows are very real, but neurotically determined by success in producing intensifying quantities in alignment with the social code. An uncommon celibate alternative for quantity production is schizoid thinking: artificial balancing of joys and sorrows (authors suggest Kant as an example). However, D&G’s ontology highlight that even abandoning the “miraculating” social machine does not lead to a discovery of a true miracle machines. Rather, it leads to the production of intensifying abstractions and feelings. Many pitfalls for production disorders wait there as well, such as paranoiac, borderline and histrionic. The last is exemplified by Nietzsche who thought “everything is part of I”, in contrast to D&G’s ontology that posits conscious subject as an insignificant by-product of desiring-machines.

One of the beginning statements that “desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down” (p. 8) slowly starts to make sense. The book is refreshingly outspoken by assigning us all with varying level of mental disorders (whether one is successful or unsuccessful in the production of quantities) and thereby succeeds in alleviating the (phenomenological) external neurotic pressures. For example, Freud’s psychoanalysis was commonly used in the 70’s as a celibacy-inducing mechanism that narrated all problems with childhood and the aim of the treatments were to get people back to producing intensifying quantities. In contrast, Guattari encouraged his patients – a word he detested – to play different games, which let them some detachment from preconscious interests, and attach to and be guided by their unconscious desire-production.

We discussed whether D&G are for or against capitalism. They outline that capitalism compellingly moves towards cosmic death (note: our interpretation to “body without objects”) with intensification of abstract quantities. However, they elaborate few details how to avoid it. Perhaps human consciousness may/should strive, although its ability to do so is strongly questioned, to steer production from the deleterious effects of producing intensive quantities towards well-selected production of intensifying feelings and abstractions. Perhaps consciousness is not able to do better than listen music on the deck chairs of Titanic, because the ice berg cannot be avoided. Accelerationists even argue that why try to turn the ship instead of colliding to ice berg directly.

We concluded that the early parts of the book are more descriptive, but that it gains more normative overtones for the schizophrenic escape with the presentation of their method: schizoanalysis. However, later Deleuze and Guattari clarified that they do not want to speak about schizoanalysis in order not to promote schizophrenic escapes. Hopefully, the combination of desiring machine production could help to create and upkeep influential virtuous abstractions – that are sometimes aligned with and sometimes against the prevailing social machine. For example, the clairvoyance brought by a schizophrenic escape, the neurosis that demands the righteous hero to continue and the perversion that saves the day.

Ps. Just to give a clue of the writing style, here is a relatively clearly written excerpt: “A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. […] He [the schizophrenic] does not live nature as nature, but as a process of production. There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever (p.6).”

Desperately seeking… the boundaries of performativity

TSElosophers meeting on 04.05.2018, Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Jonathan Mumford, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén

“Economics Language and Assumptions: How Theories Can Become Self-Fulfilling”, Ferraro, Pfeffer, Sutton 2005, AMR

“Social Reality, the Boundaries of Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and Economics”, Felin and Foss 2009, Org Science

“How and Why Theories Matter: A Comment on Felin and Foss (2009)”, Ferraro, Pfeffer, Sutton 2009, Org Science

“Performativity of Theory, Arbitrary Conventions, and Possible Worlds: A Reality Check”, Felin and Foss 2009, Org Science

This time the TSElosophers read four articles discussing the issue of performativity of theories from two philosophically different vantages. As such, the quartet of articles provided not only ample insights into the issue itself, but highlighted also the impact and importance of the underpinnings we ground our thinking on, and the lenses through which we view whatever it is we’re thinking about.

To begin with, in their 2005 article, Ferraro, Pfeffer and Sutton (hereafter FPS) addressed the potential embedded in even (by some definition) false theories to shape the external world in ways that make the theories self-fulfilling prophesies; the performativity of the theories. The focus was especially on the impact of economic theories (and their underlying assumptions) on the subsequently emerging behavior of the economic agents because of the society shaping (political) power that economics currently wields. As an example, they discuss how Black-Scholes formula for predicting stock prices that economics developed in the 1970’s, only started working properly after the practitioners started using the Black-Scholes formula as a rule of thumb in their daily trading operations.

Ultimately, FPS identify three mechanisms to make performativity happen: institutional design, norms and language. In essence, they question to what extent people have become the agents described by the economic theories because of the performativity of those theories. And furthermore, to what extent is it the responsibility of us scholars to fashion and frame our theories in a way that promotes a constructive form of practitioner reflectivity – rather than for example simplistically reducing the historically multifaceted (e.g. Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments) concept of self-interest to its dimensions that promote human selfishness to an unruly degree?

The first article by Felin and Foss (hereafter FF) engaged the FPS article in a debate from the perspective of economists: firstly they stated that as the more sociologically oriented organization theorists and economists seldom discuss in the same arena, it is pertinent to raise to the defense of the validity of economics. Secondly, and more poignantly, they pointed out that it is necessary to explore the boundary conditions of when can (and do) the theories become performative, and suggested that only the theories that are more “true” can become such. The main example here was hyperrationality: as one strawman of economic theories posits that humans are self-interest seeking and hyperrational, the reason why the first can be perceived as performative is because it’s possible, whereas becoming hyperrational is impossible – no performativity can change that. Overall, FF insist for a ‘reality check’ for performativity arguments.

In the ensuing retort by FPS, they addressed the weaker arguments of FF through enlisting a plethora of sociological and philosophical performativity discussions, in addition to picking apart the example of incentives introduced by FF: turned out that the application of incentives in the firm in question had actually resulted in less than ideal performance. Subsequently, in the final response of FF, they outright addressed the different philosophical underpinnings of FPS, blaming them for the sin of being on the wrong side of the realist-constructionist debate, and as such undermining the whole validity of science as an endeavor to uncover extant realities.

This final sentiment in the last paper by FF recapitulated the underlying tensions of the discussion aptly: if science is indeed about following the correspondence theory of truth, with the assumption of there being a stable reality with scientific progress approached (the viewpoint of FF), taking into account the ability of the humans to reflect and by reflection change their actions constituting the reality (in contrast with the objects of the natural sciences lacking the ability to reflect and by reflection change) does threaten the assumption of the stability of the underlying (social) reality. On the other hand, focusing only on the agentic powers of the individuals and collectives to construct and shape the social reality (for example by performative theories, as FPS suggest), the correspondence theory of truth is hard to apply, as there simply isn’t a stable reality to which a theory could correspond. The question that FF then ask is, does this mean that anything goes, are there no solid boundaries for our theorizing? To sum, the debate captured a fundamental arguing point is social sciences: are there solid underlying realities that shape and bind the social reality, or are all perceivable social realities just about the phenomenologically flowing chaos we at times structure through language, the actions of the individual agents and collectively emergent social forces and practices?

This series of articles struck a resonating chord in the TSElosophers, as one of the enduring streams of our conversations has been the need to embrace the potential of both realist and constructionist approaches. We see value in understanding the power of social construction and in assessing the potential existence of something somehow definable as “real” – expressed in the call for approaches where moderate constructionism meets moderate realism, heeded with pragmatism in accounting and international relations, and with critical realism in international business and information systems, to name few examples. In regards to the four papers, we deemed it valuable to both acknowledge the performative potential of theories, especially as accompanied with a sense of societal responsibility, and to critically analyze the boundary conditions that define that potential. Why and how do some theories realize that potential of performativity?

However, while both sets of viewpoints and resulting views were eloquently expressed in the papers, we lamented the fact that both approaches were too firmly entrenched in the opposing philosophical trenches – like in the famous ‘Science Wars’ of the 1990s – to actually enable the debate to rise above the battle field in a joint effort of solving the puzzle of performativity. We thought that the four articles highlighted the issue of performativity from several angles, and that without the underlying battle field, the joint effort of these brilliant minds could have resulted in a genuinely relevant understanding of the focal questions about the boundary conditions, potential scope, and mechanisms of performativity. As things now stood, the need of the authors to stand their respective philosophical grounds dominated with the result of select insightful seeds meticulously sown but not cultivated to bear fruit.

Maybe we in TSElosophers should nurture these seedlings further…?

Ethical ascetic practices – or how to resist as an underdog?

TSElosophers’ meeting  on 23.3.2018. Albrecht Becker, Katja Einola, Eero Karhu, Kari Lukka, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Ekaterina Panina, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

Organizational Ethics and Foucault’s‘Art of Living’: Lessons from Social Movement Organizations, Iain Munro 2014

The article by Munro (2014) discusses Foucauldian ‘art of living’ in organizational practice, specifically in social movement organizations (SMOs). Art of living focuses on self-creation, which goes beyond “exploitative neoliberal mechanisms of identity formation” (Munro 2014, 1128). According to Munro, neoliberal discourse reduces the self to a machine that produces, including the production of satisfaction with consumption. SMOs often act to balance the excesses of neoliberalism, which means that the art of living is more pervasive in this context. Munro (2014, 1142) points out that “SMOs provide a rich source of possibility for the development of alternative ethical exercises as well as opening up tactical points of reversibility to dominant neoliberal forms of subjectivity”. SMOs mentioned in the article include Amnesty Intl, Greenpeace, Methodism, Quakerism, Occupy movement and Slow Food.

Munro discovers four organizational practices relating to ‘ethical askesis’: Bearing witness, direct action to create alternatives, care for self, and the use of pleasure. Bearing witness refers to finding ‘the truth’ and experiencing its injustice and oppression, e.g. Greenpeace sailing a boat to nuclear test zone. Direct action stresses the creation and enaction of alternatives. For example, having dumped a ton of dead fish in front of a pulp industry company (i.e. bearing witness with a public dimension), Greenpeace helped the pulp industry to gather actors together to create less chloride-intensive solutions for bleaching paper (Håkansson, Gadde, Snehota & Waluszewski 2009, 49–61). The practice of care for the self is founded upon self-denial and personal sacrifice. This practice is legitimized by comparing it to the suffering of people that SMO members are trying to help, e.g. the Occupy movement’s meager protesting conditions reflects solidarity for the less fortunate. Nevertheless, the ethical ascetic practices also include the uses of pleasure that contrasts with pervasive neo-liberalistic institutions, e.g. adhering to slow food instead of fast food traditions.

The discussion at the meeting of TSElophers dug deeper into the unit of analysis in the article: It seemed that the levels of the individual and of the organization (here SMO) were conflated towards the latter part of the article. It seemed that Munro metaphorically endowed the SMOs the role of Diogenes the cynic, in which case the revealed ascetic practices did indeed signal resistance towards the wider structures in which that agent is embedded. However, if we look at the individuals within the SMOs, the logic doesn’t hold, as the individuals within the SMOs do not resist their organizations (the SMOs), but conform in order for the SMO to do the resistance. That said, we also deemed that as the article leaned more towards a desire to trigger thoughts and discussions than towards an attempt to deliver crystallized conceptualizations, this blurring of the analytical levels – while it led the group to ponder some issues of academic rigour – did not significantly diminish the merits of the article in terms of identifying modes of resistance.

Munro posits that art of living requires self-mastery, which enables reversal of the relationship to an external power. According to Foucault (2005, 252; in Munro 2014, 1134–1135), ”there is no first or final point of resistance to political power other than the relationship one has to oneself”. However, this asketic self-mastery is understood differently by Stoic and Cynic ethics. Stoics established a wider perspective, where askesis translates into mastering others through the mastery of oneself. Hence this type of askesis can arguably be connected to the development of capitalistic institutions. However, Cynics adopted an underdog perspective according to which self-mastery should be used ”as an act of permanent critique of the prevailing social order”. The Foucauldian concept of ethical askesis builds on the latter definition. In sum, the ethicality of askesis for Foucault concerns the practices that aim to transform institutionalized values.

This led the TSElosophers to ponder the potential modes of resistance we could engage in, if the structures resisted were to consist of, for instance, the publish-or-perish mentality often mentioned in our conversations. It was pointed out that criticizing can also be an act of validation, as both conforming to and criticizing the structures render them more visible and thereby increasingly ‘real’. Another way of rebelling against the structures is to disengage from the boundaries they suggest, by aligning ones actions towards other goals than the ones validated through conforming or criticizing. TSElosophers club in itself could be described as a form of direct action that supports alternative research approaches, stressing the meaningfulness of scholarly work beyond the boundaries of whether something is publishable or not.

However, art of living with non-mainstream approaches involves developing one’s abilities in caring for the self as securing just the basic income for living becomes more challenging. Engaging in acts of resistance from the (relative) security of a professorial position is different than resisting the structures from the position of a doctoral candidate dependent on grants. However, we all agreed that while the acts in themselves may differ, resisting – or at the very least, reflecting on one’s own ethical acts – is possible no matter the position.

In regards to for example our university, we also discussed that an ethical asketic could engage in ‘tests’ whether the institutionalized structures live up to their expressed and/or assumed ideals. For example, the expressed ideals of University of Turku are ethicality, criticality, creativity, openness and communality (University Strategy 2016–2020). While everyone recognizes that not all of these ideals are fulfilled, ethical asketism would highlight engaging into the development of alternative solutions – and possibly defending these with explicit references to the organization’s expressed ideals. The insights delivered by Munro in the article may provide ways to think about how to go about this in practice: How would the ethical askesis of bearing witness, direct action, caring for self and using pleasure look like when transformed into practices in our setting?

What we talk about when we talk about good scholarship

TSElosophers’ meeting on 27 February 2018. Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl and Joonas Uotinen

The blog title above, inspired by the classic short story of Raymond Carver (…about love) and the book by Haruki Murakami (…about running) was at the heart of the discussion at the TSElosophers club’s meeting this time. Two working papers were on the table, coincidentally connected regarding their major worries and arguments: “Living in the publish-or-perish culture” by Albrecht Becker and Kari Lukka and “Willful ignorance in empirical organizational research” by Mats Alvesson, Katja Einola and Stephan Schaefer.

The key to the first mentioned paper is the distinction between two different kinds of research processes: one following the “true scholarship logic” and another driven by the “playing of the game logic”. The paper presents an interview based, abductively tuned analysis of how researchers of our time perceive the performance management regime around them and choose their strategies of leading their researcher life surrounded by that. Since the mapping of researchers’ strategies indicated a quite wide dispersion, the outcome of the analysis was somewhat relieving with a view of the general motivation of the study – the worry of the dominance of the harmful implications of the current instrumentalist tendencies in the academe on good scholarship. However, the study still indicates how the “playing of the game logic” is quite strongly supported by many recent institutions (like many kinds of rankings) and emerging local factors (like the strengthening performance measurement hype). Therefore, it is likely getting continuously more foothold and will need determined counter-agency to be sufficiently tamed down. This would be important particularly with a view of junior researchers, so that they would not only learn how to play the game to get published but rather to become good scholars. The role of local performance management systems and practices as well as the visionary agency of academic leaders is argued to be crucial herein.

The second paper discusses and analyzes the idea of willful ignorance in organization and management studies. The piece takes its inspiration in the German Enlightenment era scholar Friedrich Schiller’s inaugural lecture in 1789 as a professor of history in the university of Jena. This speech that was our topic of discussion at TSElosophers previous encounter, distinguishes between “philosophical minds” (who follow the scholarship logic) and “bread scholars” (who follow the game logic). The study specifically focuses on the relationship between empirical data and its analysis and understands willful ignorance as conscious efforts of scholars to repress doubts and ambiguities about their empirical data. Here, willful ignorance is not considered as a sheer lack of knowledge or the fabrication of data. The argument is that it moves between researchers´ inability to resolve ambiguities in their empirical material and a pronounced will not to follow up on these ambiguities and uncertainties with the more or less willful intention to not challenge oneself intellectually too much – and get a publication out instead. The study uses empirical examples and previous published research to demonstrate that there appears to be an inattention to source critique and an unreflective pursuit of formulaic methodologies and career paths in the field of organization and management studies. The research community as a whole needs to stand up to these tendencies to raise the level of quality of research and avoid willfully ignorant research practices from further contaminating the field.

The discussion at the meeting echoed the situation described in these two working papers: Many examples of researchers, research groups and communities having become tempted to follow “playing of the game” kind of logic and “Brotgelehrte” mind-set were brought forth. For instance, one of the club members recounted how his doctoral education was nearly entirely featured by the publication-induced “playing of the game logic”. Another member was frustrated about his experiences of becoming dismissed when he had tried to raise some out-of-the-box type of content issues to the discussion among his colleagues, since the mind-set was so strongly oriented towards just getting something publishable done in a straightforward manner.

One of the challenges of good scholarship comes from research ethics. While this is of course an eternal challenge, the increased dominance of the “playing of the game logic” may make some of the classic ethical challenges even more serious and bring to fore new issues in that regard. Willful ignorance is certainly an old challenge of researchers’ ethics, but it likely is ever more an issue in the academic environment featured by constant rush, gap-spotting research motivations, and straightforward seeking of publications. But it is particularly the rush towards performance results, plaguing the current academic work, that also leads to dismissal of research approaches that would take considerable time, like years-long ethnographic or interventionist field research even in situations where such approaches would be needed to be able to study some complicated research questions, involving the significance of subjective meanings, for instance.

There are also other challenges regarding how important topics and research questions can be explored and reported on in such ways that the interviewed or observed participants of research do not feel having become abused and are treated sufficiently anonymously. The club members yet agreed that the principle “all topics should be able, and allowed, to get explored in research” should be the first and highest guiding principle in research. Therefore, researchers need creative imagination to conduct and report on their research in such a way that the complex set of criteria of good research (importance of the research question, overall research quality, ethical issues…) are simultaneously tackled, without compromising any important aspect concerning the overall quality of the study.

Brotgelehrte or a philosophical mind? On history and on the burden of making choices

TSElosophers’ meeting on the 30th of January, 2018.  Katja Einola, Kari Lukka, Jonathan Van Mumford, Otto Rosendahl, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

The nature and value of universal history: an inaugural lecture, Friedrich von Schiller, 1789

Editor’s note:

While our discussions yet again soared free in ways difficult to replicate in a concise blog, the main theme was the dichotomy of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, captured already by Schiller, and even today witnessed in all such spheres of human activity where passion becomes profession. The following blog by Katja captures the sentiments of our discussions, yet weaves them into a beautiful entity in its own right.

Blog by Katja

The French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre famously exclaimed that we are ‘condemned to be free’. With this he meant that what he considered a basic human condition, freedom, implies that we must make choices – and making choices is often difficult. Especially when our own choices may complicate our lives. Yet, we cannot escape making them. In fact, we make choices even when we decide not to do anything. Just knowing something is inherently wrong or immoral, makes us directly responsible. Being free to choose is at times a heavy burden.

Researchers and academics whose job it is to seek new and challenge existing knowledge make these types of choices every day, more or less consciously. Do I correct the Master’s thesis by reading it diagonally and give a good grade to spare my time (and boost my popularity ratings), or do I really set my mind to making sure he/she gets best possible help to leave the school with the best possible thesis? I have a nagging feeling that my research results do not reflect the reality out there—but do I really have time to go investigate more, dig deeper, since I know I can probably get away with this (and get published)? Performance pressure, budget constraints, personal ambitions and the famous ‘publish or perish’ imperative are pushing many to cut corners in their research and teaching, and scale down their intellectual ambitions to ‘make it’ or remain credible in the modern academia. In particular, juniors who do not have tenure or other form of job security need to make tough choices what their research is going to be about. More research does not necessarily mean better research, even when the System we are part of (or trapped in) guides us to choose quantity over quality, speed over reflection. In fact, an increasing amount of voices within the field of organizational and management studies, feel that much academic research today is low on substance and meaning.

The more things change, the more they stay the same’, goes an old saying. In 1789, the German Enlightenment poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright, Friedrich Schiller, a protégé of Goethe, delivered his inaugural lecture on universal history at Jena University. Students flocked in to listen. His concern for what he must have thought was at the time a tendency to weak research and unambitious researchers, more at the service of their careers and ‘masters’ than knowledge, was so strong that he started his speech with a careful distinction between what he called ‘Brotgelehrte’ (bread-fed scholars) and the Philosophical Mind. Schiller used the very beginning of his speech to warn the young, pure minds with thirst to know, from ‘being wasted unworthily by fraud and deception’. I use Schiller’s words here directly to explain the distinction between the Philosophical Mind and Brotgelehrte to highlight their relevance in today’s academia (and because I cannot think of a more eloquent way to transfer their meaning):

The course of studies which the scholar who feeds on bread alone sets himself, is very different from that of the philosophical mind. The former, who, for all his diligence, is interested merely in fulfilling the conditions under which he can perform a vocation and enjoy its advantages, who activates the powers of his mind only thereby to improve his material conditions and to satisfy a narrow-minded thirst for fame, such a person has no concern upon entering his academic career, more important than distinguishing most carefully those sciences which he calls ’studies for bread,’ from all the rest, which delight the mind for their own sake. Who rants more against reformers than the gaggle of bread-fed scholars? Who more holds up the progress of useful revolutions in the kingdom of knowledge than these very men? Every light radiated by a happy genius, in whichever science it be, makes their poverty apparent; their foils are bitterness, insidiousness, and desperation, for, in the school system they defend, they do battle at the same time for their entire existence. On that score, there is no more irreconcilable enemy, no more jealous official, no one more eager to denounce heresy than the bread-fed scholar.

Then comes the other part of the speech in which Schiller delivers a passionate account of how he thinks the whole history of mankind has inevitably led to the Age of Reason that finds its peak of sophistication in the Holy Roman Empire and Germanic civilization, purified from corruption by the Protestant Reform. Travellers who had visited the ‘margins of civilization’ overseas, only inflated this hubris with their rendition about the ‘savages’ they found.

In some places, there was not even the simple bond of marriage, as yet no knowledge of property, and in others the flaccid soul was not even able to retain an experience which repeats itself every day; one saw the savage carelessly relinquish the bed on which he slept, because it did not occur to him, that he would sleep again tomorrow.

After thousands of years of war and barbarism, a new era of Reason and Peace led by Europe was dawning.

How many wars had to be waged, how many alliances concluded, sundered, and become newly concluded to finally bring Europe to the principle of peace, which alone grants nations, as well as their citizens, to direct their attention to themselves, and to join their energies to a reasonable purpose!

Now what do these travellers tell us about these savages?

With the benefit of the hindsight, this part of the speech is naïve, euro-centric and to a large extent, incorrect. Indeed, being historically embedded means also to be myopic to the present– a tendency that will hardly be avoided by the 21st century man either.

Let us now return to the Brotgelehrte-Philosophical Mind distinction, the part with pressing everyday importance to us, today’s researchers. There is no easy separation between the two types – and classifying researchers or research according to these categories seems unproductive. I suggest instead that we take these as rhetorical types and make them more visible in our discussions as we practice our science and art. Who do we ‘serve’ in the classroom and when we conduct research? Knowledge — or something else – morally dubious, corrupting our community and deceptive of our audiences. For me the question is about an existential choice – choice not made easy for todays’ practicing academics.

Katja Einola

Three worlds

TSElosophers meeting 27.11.2017. Katja Einola, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén

Three worlds – The Tanner Lecture on Human Values, Karl Popper 1978

Blog by Otto

Popper’s three worlds ontology analyzes objects’ physical (world 1), mental (world 2) and/or cultural (world 3) representations. He argues that these worlds are not reducible to each other, and notes that he is a realist in relation to every of these worlds. Popper frames his argument against “monistic materialists or physicalists”, who concentrate only on explaining phenomena as they would belong to the world 1. They have neglected that culture has effects in world 1; the culture affects our minds, which leads to physical effects. It is quite insufficient to explain culture only by physics or psychology.

We discussed about how three worlds can be combined with pragmatistic approach, and especially with inter-subjectivity. Inter-subjectivity relates to the extent of shared understandings, so it can be understood as a bridge between the subjective mental world and the objective cultural world. Popper criticizes dualists, who grasp worlds 1 and 2, but do not consider how important the cultural world is in forming our subjective notions. For example, a notion of free will is important for many world 3 objects such as the justice system, but it also affects individual behaviors. In contrast, a pragmatist is not concerned whether human free will corresponds with reality, but that the object of free will has effects to other objects.

We compared humanism and post-humanism, which is grounded in pragmatism (e.g. Wolfe 2010). Popper is defending humanism, as expressed by the sub-title: “The Tanner lecture of human values”. The world 3 realism built upon the world 1 and 2 realisms effectively means that there are objective values that are inter-subjectively constructed based on the physical nature and especially the human nature. Popper posits that without the human instinct for long-term survival the artificial intelligence (yes, he mentions AI in his 1978 lecture) would not have a need to become conscious. A realist might ask what is the difference between the definition of AI becoming conscious and AI algorithm developing its own internal objects? A pragmatist might ask what are the differences between the effects of granting the AI the status of consciousness and granting that the AI behaves conscious-like? In general, the evolving information technology seems to be in the process of connecting more and more intelligences to the same system. It leads to further intensification of inter-subjectivity, which lends more weight to Popper’s philosophical argument about the importance of world 3.

Ironically, it undermines the inherent anthropocentrism of “three worlds” and thus its ability to defend humanism, because the non-human actors seem to be claiming a bigger role in the world 3 evolution.

Otto Rosendahl

From “theory of everything” to theorizing about everything

TSElosopher’s meeting 16.10.2017. Joonas Uotinen, Kari Lukka, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Katja Einola, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén, Eero Karhu

Integral Perspective on Happiness, Joonas Uotinen, 2015

Editor’s note:

As one of the themes in TSElosophers is to provide an agora for contemplating one’s own work with people interested in philosophical issues, this autumn we have been reading material written by TSElosophers. Subsequently what has emerged is the insight that in discussing one’s work, it is difficult to only keep to what has been written, as the thinking evolves and develops continuously. This was pronounced in our previous session where the discussions were only tangentially attached to the reading material. The following blog by the author illustrates the discursive width of our meeting nicely.

Blog by Joonas:

TSElosophers meeting was about advances in consciousness studies, happiness, and their possible implications on social sciences, economics in particular. Possibly an interesting go as it included discussions on the latest hot topics in the West, of consciousness, happiness and buddhism.

As a context to my essay (Uotinen, 2015) on the possible implications of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (Wilber, 2000 and Wilber, 2009, f. ex.) to happiness, I presented a short introduction on consciousness studies. At the heart of the consciousness research is the existence of consciousness itself(1).

Here I referred to Chalmers (1995) where he, interestingly, claimed that the tools of our contemporary science can not solve the “hard problem” whatsoever. The hard problem is the emergence of consciousness itself. He, then, proposed that the consciousness appearing non-reducible, it should be taken as new fundamental phenomenon on par with mass, electromagnetic charge and space-time, for example. He proposed that we should turn towards such psychophysical theories in science.

Ken Wilber’s Integral theory appears to be just such a psychophysical theory that, while not using the same concepts as Chalmers does, takes experience as a non-reducible and maps the relationships and dynamics between the material and the experience.

Wilber tried to integrate the knowledge of all humanity to obtain an integral view; something more completely true, literally.

Some elements of his theory in very short:

  • Experience can not be reduced to objective materia but is undetachable from it.
  • Experience together with the rest of the universe lead onto a developmental trajectory for the both of them (experience evolves and being part of the universe so does universe). For example, he refers to western developmental psychologists’ experiments where they found that a child’s ability to understand that others have a different experience about the world, appears around the ages 3-4. This would hardly happen if no other being or materia was there (in which case it is likely the child would not be either). This only shows the necessity of the rest of the universe to be there for the existence of mind or its evolution and thus they seem inseparable. This echoes the contemporary extended mind theories; also in part by Chalmers (Clark & Chalmers, 1998).
  • The developmental trajectory spans from elemental physical particles to the mentioned developmental step of the mind all the way to enlightenment of the mind, that is the transcendence of dualistic thinking into a non-dualistic thinking.
  • The developmental trajectory takes the form of a holarchy: each consequent “step” contains the preceding one but is something more. Each preceding thing is a holon of the consequent thing(2). For example, to begin to form social roles, a child first needs to understand the aforementioned differing experience of the others.

My article “Integral Perspective on Happiness” (Uotinen, 2015) examined the implications of Wilber’s Integral theory to happiness. While mostly being a conceptual analysis between the theory and the happiness discussions, the article also cautiously touched on whether the implications seem to have any truth in them. Without further details presented here, the following topics were covered:

  1. happiness, culture and ethics of ecological sustainability,
  2. Examination of enlightenment as THE happiness basing on Integral theory, Aristotle, Buddhist texts, Western studies of buddhist thought, and other philosophical classics on happiness,
  3. How Integral theory possibly gives further content to and expands Aristotle’s happiness theory through adding developmental psychology and different wisdom traditions, such as buddhism, to it,
  4. Juxtaposition of Aristotle’s happiness conception (eudaimonia) and enlightenment and
  5. The implications of Wilber’s Integral theory on social sciences, economics, in particular.

The discussion

The topics elicited varied, eager and interesting discussions. The following comments were expressed or topics touched:

  1. Why would not science be able to explain the emergence of consciousness one day?
  2. It was suggested that the existence of experience as additional to materia and development of the mind reflects discussion on free will.
  3. How such ideas on happiness as enlightenment, eudaimonia, or just the word happiness reify the idea of some yet unattained goal thus making the distance to that goal more visible. This causes misery in itself.
  4. The problem and danger of paternalism and cultural colonialism in Wilber’s ideas and in ideas of developmental steps of the human in general,
  5. Being about something ethereal, spiritual, mental, happiness should not be discussed amongst sciences or academia whatsoever.
  6. Another view was presented as well: that material well-being and mental well-being should not be seen as separate in the first place.
  7. Perhaps we should not focus on happiness but on how to coexist together on this planet.
  8. That all disciplines, economics in particular, should be aware of that which it does not take into account or that which it does not care about, specifically with regards to happiness and well-being.
  9. Harari in his book “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” suggests that the ability of Homo Sapiens to believe in imaginary narratives enables collectively aligned action. The ability for narratives gives rise to shared values such as morals and happiness ideals.
  10. Unlike in Ancient Greece and the middle ages where moral development and happiness were seen as more inseparable, today there is often the view that morality opposes one’s true, “natural” desires and wants, one’s happiness. Often, the morality of the middle ages is seen as imposed by the church in order to control the masses.
  11. People have beliefs about others’ aims in life or happiness conceptions and about the beliefs that others’ have about others. But are these beliefs true? For example, it may be believed that people involved in business only want money and sometimes these assumptions can be even made within academia and yet when these people are actually asked, very different answers appear.
  12. From thinking what are theories for, the idea came that they are to bring momentary senses of control which lead to experience of harmony. Happiness is experience of harmony.

The topics are too vast for blog. I shall, however, try to make few post-discussion comments on the topics discussed. Points 3 to 9 all seem to relate to something that today seems to often surface when happiness is discussed: skepticism about the concept itself. This seems to stem from two different directions: (1) there is skepticism as to whether happiness can be solved (and therefore discussed), and (2) the fear that if such a concept was formed, it will start to oppress other views and thus other people’s ways of life and, possibly even constrain individual liberties. The (2) seems related to cultural relativist views which I partly discuss in chapter 7 of my article.

Happiness discussions, then, seem to closely align with the discussions on truth. While all people do have differing views on the reality, it seems a fully relativist approach leaves us stranded with regards to how to lead our lives as individuals and as a society. In it, we have but a panoply of possible ways of understanding the world, the self and different life paths and we have to choose from them without criteria that would make some of them better than the others. This appears to relate to Schwartz (2000) discovery on how increased freedoms (opportunities) of the Americans over the 20th century seems to have made them worse off at least in terms of some mental disorders. It appears we need something more and it appears there is something more to this.

Good works on and possibilities towards this direction, to my understanding, are Buddhist thought (not the religious versions but the self-exploration versions), the famous Finnish academician Erik Allardt’s work (f. Ex. Allardt, 1993) and the late discussions on it in, for example, Hirvilammi (2015), the novel empirical research on virtues globally by Martin Seligman (f. Ex. Seligman, 2004) and the possibility of forming a Gross National Happiness Index for Finland in lines with Bhutan (Ura et al., 2012).

With regards to the hard problem and its significance to happiness discussions, it appears to me now, that as long as we see consciousness and experience as truly existing phenomena, regardless of it being reducible or not, the question actually may not be of significant importance to happiness discussions.

There was also valuable criticism on the article. The truthfulness of the content of Wilber’s theory was not discussed(3), there were some deduction errors or conceptual and referential unclarity(4), and the story in the paper was unclear and the conclusions unbalanced in terms of how much discussion was given to each of the conclusions.

I think some of the most interesting avenues that Integral theory seems to highlight in Happiness discussions is the connection between the developmental levels or trajectories discussed by many Western developmental psychologists and Eastern wisdom traditions. I have not encountered such a view amongst the new happiness discussions within Academia.

Joonas Uotinen


Allardt, E. (1993). Having, loving, being: An alternative to the Swedish model of welfare research. In Nussbaum, M. and Sen, A. (1993). The quality of life, 8, 88-95.

Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal of consciousness studies, 2(3), 200-219.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. analysis, 58(1), 7-19.

Harari, Y. N., & Perkins, D. (2014). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. London: Harvill Secker.

Hausman, D. M. (2011). Preference, value, choice, and welfare. Cambridge University Press.

Hirvilammi T. (2015). In search of sustainable wellbeing. Integrating ecological issues into wellbeing research. Helsinki: Kela, Studies in social security and health 136, 2015. ISBN 978-951-669-971-7 (pdf)

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2008). Systems Intelligence–A New Lens on Human Engagement and Action. SAL, Helsinki Univ. of Technology.

Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat?. The philosophical review, 83(4), 435-450.

Schwartz, B. (2000). Self-determination: The tyranny of freedom. American psychologist, 55(1), 79.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.

Ura, Karma; Alkire, Sabina; Zangmo, Tshoki; Wangdi, Karma (2012). An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index (PDF). Thimphu, Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology. Shambhala Publications.

Wilber, Ken, (2009). Kaiken lyhyt historia (Helsinki, Basam Books)


  1. Chalmers (1995) pointed out that many consciousness articles actually miss the whole target of explaining the emergence of consciousness, though this was the task they set out to accomplish, and, unaware, instead of touching the actual problem, end up explaining how some function within consciousness or experience works, a function such as integration of knowledge, for example.
  2. Over the developmental trajectory, the ways of thinking change and move towards greater wisdom and a better match between the universe and one’s conceptualizations of it. Over this process a holistic way of thinking for example appears. Holistic thinking, thinking in terms of wholes within wholes is something that is researched for example in the Systems Intelligence Research group in Aalto University (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2008). It is part of systemic thinking.
  3. While it is true the truthfulness of Wilber’s theory was not directly discussed and the work was mostly conceptual analysis, I did touch cautiously upon the possible truthfulness of its implications for example in chapter 6, pages 102-103.
  4. For example on page 99, paragraph on the right, lines 4-9, from what Kraut (2008) says does not follow that the case truly is so. In this particular example, I believe I should have talked about our understanding of Aristotle’s theory and not Aristotle’s theory per se.

On knowledge building

TSElosopher’s meeting 13.9.2017: Kari Lukka, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Otto Rosendahl, Katja Einola, Joonas Uotinen, Milla Wirén

Methodology chapter “On knowledge” from the WIP dissertation “Strategizing in the new normal”, Milla Wirén

This posting is structured little differently from the article based ones, as this consists of my personal thoughts about the insights gained from the valuable discussion on my ongoing thesis work, especially in regards to its philosophy chapter.

Our TSElosophers discussion was for me representative of the very best feature of academic work: being able to discuss one’s thoughts, often at the same time quite complex and formless, with people who understand the yet-shape-seeking-intent and are able to give constructive thoughts about how to realize and communicate that form-seeking intent. I cannot express how valuable it was for me that the TSElosophers took the time and effort to read my sketches and think things aloud with me.

The first insight I gained arose from the discussions of proportionality: the emphasis, in terms of both word count and discursive depth, should be on the issues really contributing to the formulation of the overarching message. Now the writing process itself has been taking the driver’s seat in the sense that the parts that it has been most fun to write are the ones most extensively discussed. This also relates to the implicit messages any text sends: is my aim to show off or to actually make a point? To be more blunt, I should focus my philosophical attention more directly to the key point: instead of finishing the credo with the outcome of moderate realism and moderate social constructivism I could use that existing discussion as a springboard from which I could then dive deeper into explaining what does this combined moderateness mean in my context and how does it relate to the insights drawn from pragmatism.

To summarize the take-away number 1, my writing should be guided by and focused on the message I wish to convey, which means wrenching the “art” of writing for writing’s sake off the driver’s seat.

The second theme of discussions was something that seems to act as a cohesive within our small group: how can we make science that challenges and seeks to expand the boundaries of our chosen disciplines? In our respective domains, man-made boxes as they are, some worldviews, methodologies and focus areas dominate over others, which is only natural. However we all seem to share the notion that pushing beyond those boxes would enrich the research in the focus areas of our domains. The emerging question is therefore quite foundational: how do you introduce something new in a way that makes a positive impact and actually results in expanding the awareness? How much do you need to adhere to the accepted wisdom of the domain, how much novelty can you introduce without being judged as a freak? Going too far with the novelty backfires as it will be met with sheer resistance, however just playing by the accepted rules denies the opportunity to problematize the inherent assumptions which we all see to some extent in need of problematizing in our own fields.

Summarizing the take-away number 2, how do I take into consideration what is generally acceptable in my area of research (international business), and how would I, if I’d so wish to, introduce radically new insights in a way that has positive impact?

As always, our discussion flowed richly in many directions, creating several more specific moments of revelation. To list, we had an interesting discussion about how determinism and causality are different things even though they are often treated as the same: determinism is a form of causality, but causality doesn’t mean determinism – causality, especially viewed through counterfactual analysis, and free will do co-exist. Additionally it was suggested that as I am actually doing deductive-normative theoretical work, I should be explicit in pointing that out – a tip I welcome, as I had not considered coming out of that closet quite as explicitly, deductive-normative theoretical research not being too fashionable in our field keen to avoid the perceived “ivory-tower” approach, favoring the quantifiably empirical, applied take perceived “more useful” to the practitioners. We also discussed how to use hermeneutics, which I have treated as an explanation for my methodology that is essentially based on very old-fashioned reading and thinking; hermeneutics might have also wider utility in my context, which I need to explore more. We also found the distinction between a method and domain theory very useful in explicating the loci of our contributions in general. In my case, I’m trying to create a method theory through which I could question some of our domain theories.

It was not the first time I was told to “stop reading”, but I think that when this suggestion came up as a semi-joke in our discussions it could actually be translated to the question of what should I be reading? A relevant point, as it is true that my reading has thus far been maybe more guided by what I find interesting that a strict focus based on the need to have material for drawing my bigger picture, arguing the message I wish to convey. Towards that end, I received many interesting reading suggestions, and personally understood some areas where I do need to dig deeper in order to argue my points in the specific context of international business. However, as the key point of my ongoing work emerged through the understandings gained from my eclectic reading, I do see the double edged nature of a domain-specific focus: viewing what is known in specific context doesn’t tell what knowledge there might be elsewhere, however arguing any point within a context requires extensive enough understanding of what is actually known within that specific box.

My sincere and heart-felt thanks to all participants, it was a pleasure, as always. Let’s keep this up – I wish to be able to reciprocate the help I received through continuing the discussions about the themes you are finding pertinent in your endeavors.


Ethical teaching of ethical thinking

TSElosophers meeting 8.6.2017
Otto Rosendahl, Kari Lukka, Jonathan Van Mumford, Milla Wirén

Behavioral Ethics and Teaching Ethical Decision Making, Minette Drumwright, Robert Prentice, Cara Biasucci, Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education 2015

Quick summary:

While the identification of four stages of the process of ethical behaviour (awareness, decision-making, intent, action) was applauded as a potentially fruitful opening, in the discussion the TSElosophers questioned the instrumental approach of behavioral sciences in the context of ethics. Can ends justify means? However, understanding the decision-making processes of individuals may yield insights to educators aspiring to educate ethically thinking individuals, but these behavioral insights should be complemented with philosophical discussions and treated with respect, not as tools of manipulation – even for the best of reasons.


The authors posit the view that philosophical teaching of ethics in business schools should be complemented with behavioral ethics, which leans on psychology and sociology. Drumwright, Prentice and Biasucci (2015, 438–439) argue that “most ethical mistakes in business are not made because people have not read enough Kant or Bentham (Abel, 2008; Jennings, 2005). Insider trading, earnings fraud, tax evasion, foreign bribery, and other common white collar crimes do not present vexing philosophical quandaries”. Instead of Kant and Bentham, behavioral ethics highlights that people have tendency to believe that they are more ethical than they really are. This easily leads, Drumwright et al. argue, to people bypassing ethical deliberation even in dubious circumstances because they have a feeling that most or all of their actions are ethical.

Behavioral ethics education raises the moral awareness (ability to recognize ethical problems) of students by positing the view that most decisions are made instinctively and there are cognitive limitations that make ethical action difficult for even the most well-intentioned people. However, awareness of behavioral biases does not automatically lead to desirable action. Raising the “moral awareness” is just the first, albeit critical, step to moral action.

The authors present a four-step process for behavioral ethics which consists in (1) recognizing the ethical problem, (2) formulating an ethical response, (3) desire to act ethically and (4) doing the right thing. Formulating an ethical response is challenging especially due to self-serving bias, i.e. a person’s failure to see unethical behavior if the action serves their self-interest (e.g. Langevoort 1997). Other biases include e.g. incrementalism, where a person’s small infractions gradually change into larger ones (Tenbrunsel & Messick 2004), conforming to the unethical practices in the environment (Gneezy 2005; Robert & Arnab 2013) and tendency to make a different decision depending a framing of the situation as a gain or a loss (Tversky & Kahneman 1985). The third step is more straight-forward as, Drumwright et al. argue, “most people wish to act ethically, at least as a general rule and up to certain limits” (p. 439). The final step, doing the right thing, requires a feeling of responsibility, feeling able to act and having courage to act in the situation. Reading the article might lead to an erroneous impression as if the eternal issues of ethics could be solved by merely adding to our knowledge – this is certainly not a valid position. For instance, knowledge of behavioral biases can be used for non-ethical purposes. The article implicitly recognizes, even at least seemingly in an acceptable vein, this by referring to company marketing practices that abuse behavioral biases in order to trigger envy between consumers to increase their desires of purchasing a good (p. 436). The paper could have seriously discussed the potential issues of people without an ethical stance “to do the right thing” getting to know more about behavioral biases.

The article could have built bridges between philosophical and behavioral ethics ­– or at least mentioned it as an avenue for future research. For example, four steps of behavioral ethics would benefit from traditionally virtuous character traits: the first and the second step especially with prudence, the third step with benevolence and the fourth step with courage. So, theoretically it would be promising to combine virtue ethics and behavioral ethics in teaching in order to increase students’ moral agency, i.e. capability to act with reference to right and wrong. However, teachers’ work to enhance character has not been found to strongly improve ethical actions (DeSteno & Valdesolo 2011). Similarly, Drumwright et al. (2015) could not provide strong evidence that teaching behavioral ethics would improve individual ethics. On a more positive note, teaching behavioral ethics could at least raise the moral awareness of students, thereby providing them a defense mechanism against manipulative practices.

TSElosophers received this paper rather positively, but there was a doubt whether the teaching at TSE includes enough even the philosophical teaching of ethics – which is fundamental regarding the questions at stake in this paper – not to mention behavioral ethics. Do we have a general course where students would learn to compare, contrast and apply the three major orientations in moral philosophy, namely Kantianism, consequentialism and virtue ethics? Of course, there are some ethical courses such as “Ethical questions in business” but their orientation to philosophical or behavioral ethics is challenging to specify from the course description. Also, the issues that behavioral ethics puts forward are taught in some other courses, such as in the “Behavioral economics”. Therefore, we would emphasize that in the context of TSE, the main issue would be to evaluate the comprehensiveness of both philosophical and behavioral orientations to teaching ethics and, additionally, consider the balance between them.

Theory about theory calls for practice

TSElosophers meeting 26.5.2017
Otto Rosendahl, Jonathan Van Mumford, Kari Lukka, Milla Wirén

Building Theory about Theory Building: What Constitutes a Theoretical Contribution?
Kevin Corley, Dennis Gioia, Academy of Management Review, 2011

Quick summary:

While extensively written, the article can be summarized to the following key points:

– theory can be either revelationary or incremental, and contribute to either scientific or practical knowledge

– current theorizing focuses too much on the scientific contribution and pays lip service to the practical utility

– in order to bridge the gap between theory and practise, the “best minds” in the profession of academia researching the profession of management should be employed in anticipating themes that will become relevant, and produce theory around those emerging themes to provide the vocabulary with which those themes can be discussed

– this would advance management science from upholding institutions to performatively contributing to the development of the business sphere


The article defines theory as “a statement of concepts and their interrelationships that shows how and/or why a phenomenon occurs”. More importantly, it asks what is a theoretical contribution and creates a 2×2 matrix for theoretical contributions which includes originality (revelatory, incremental) and utility (practically useful, scientifically useful). First, this article mentions that revelatory and scientifically useful articles are easy to publish. Then, it argues that a change is needed “in the guidelines of authors and reviewers” so that the authors would be “rewarded for developing more pragmatically useful […] theoretical contributions”.

This needed change is illustrated many times with different concepts pointing to the same direction: “adaptive role of academia”, “pragmatic utility”, “projective futurism” and finally “prescient scholarship”. Thus, the length of the article could have been condensed to a lot less than 15 pages. However, this style might have better impact for those readers unfamiliar with the previous discussion. We can contend the writing style has not been a failure since the paper is currently cited 641 times according to Google Scholar.

It is easy to agree with the article’s claim that courageous attempts to increase pragmatic utility should not be overlooked. The article leans to the traditions of American Pragmatism and states that “knowledge should be treated as a process” and it should be treated as “a recursive dialog between theorists and reflective practitioners”. This paves the way for prescient scholarship, where researchers aim to anticipate and theorize future problem domains. The sense-giving practices of the prescient scholars should be able to affect both the academic and the practitioner discussions. As the authors note, “the best way to predict the future is to influence the conversation about what it could or should be”.

Although the authors positively painted a future where researchers could have a better societal impact, we need to criticize the underlying assumption in the article. Contrary to the authors, it seems that even scientifically revelatory articles are not easy to publish. To put it differently, researchers are more bogged down by the incentives of the current publishing system than the article admits: it is mostly incremental articles that get published. According to Alvesson and Sandberg (2013), articles that try to challenge too many assumptions easily get rejected as they feel absurd to the reader. In practice, the reviewers often reject revelatory scientific contribution attempts by referring to the negligence of existing scientific discussion about the topic within the field. This sounds too much like rejecting a manuscript just because it is revelatory.

In sum, this article is ambivalent. There are certain ironies in it: although it touts that revelatory theoretical contributions are easy to publish, it only presents an incremental theoretical contribution; although it advises researchers to take a wider scope, it delimits the conclusions of its own valuable thoughts. Some of us recommend reading it; some of us recommend not reading it.



Yes, science should discuss at least the contemporary issues, and when groundbreaking, even anticipate novel pertinent themes. However the underlying tones of the article reveal an intriguing assumption: is it really so that if we just managed to harness the “best minds” of academics into shaping the emerging discussions through sensegiving, the world would be better off? Do we (or those deemed the “best minds”) really hold such truths that would validate this mission?

On the other hand, I admire the writing style of the article, as it is clearly cleverly designed in a way to elicit citations. It consists of catchy oneliners, like “lost before translation” (referring to the gap between the issues of interest amongst scholars or pracitioners) and “lost in translation” (referring to the inability to communicate the relevant insights from one field to another), provides a nice 2×2 matrix to quote, and addresses the everlasting discussion about the gap or bridge between theory and practice. As such, it reads as a pop rendering of the theme elsewhere discussed with more depth.

While it may be that the wielders of a hammer tend to see all problems as nails, I cannot escape the feeling that essentially this again pivots around the sticky theme we’ve been discussing from several angles at TSElosophers: what is science really about? What is the relationship between performativity and objectivity, or normativity and positivity, and what side should we aspire taking? Should we really bring in the third tenet of J N Keynes (1891) dismissed by Friedman (1953), called for by eg Colander (1992), the applied science – would that clarify the role of our endeavours? Would it help, if we really could box in the positive approach aimed at revealing how things are and work, the normative approach of how should things be and progress, and the applied approach bridging the two by making a statement about what we want (based on normative science), and assessing and creating the methods (based on the foundations deducted by positive science) through professedly applied science?

Personally I actually struggle with the normative part: based on what grounds can we create the scales of desirables (eg Thompson 1967, March 1982) that would not be narrowly context-bound? It is the lack of this discussion I find the most troubling part of the Corley&Gioia paper. They call for more applied approaches, however not explicitly engaging in the discussion of the accompanying normative element that inherently preceeds – or should preceed – this aspiration. But maybe I’m just too far from the supreme “best minds” to understand the benefits of the supreme wisdom that could be diffused throughout the more mundane endeavours of the rest of mankind – if the divine minds should only choose to do so.

Treading the line between researcher and consultant

TSElosophers meeting 21.3.2017
Jonathan Van Mumford, Otto Rosendahl, Henning Christner

Conducting and publishing design science research: Inaugural essay of the design science department of the Journal of Operations Management, Joan van Aken, Aravind Chandrasekaran, Joop Halman 2016

Quick summary:

This essay, written by members of the Design Science department of the Journal of Operations Management, is an explanation of, and call for, academic submissions using design science research (DSR) as a research strategy. The aim of DSR is to conduct field research aimed at finding solutions for real world problems (or to achieve real world opportunities), and, from this research, generating ‘generic designs’ which form mid-range theories that can be then contextualised to problems in other contexts. These generic designs are repeatedly tested and redesigned to establish ‘pragmatic validity’. The authors suggest that through DSR a stronger partnership between research and practice can be achieved in the social sciences as already is exists in fields such as medicine and engineering – thereby counteracting the “ivory tower” syndrome that often separates academia from practitioners. In effect, the essay advocates for researchers to tread the line between researcher and consultant in developing research driven designs of best practice.

Longer outline of discussion:

The authors describe DSR as being a separate paradigm from that of regular academic research (which they label “explanatory research”) inspired by engineering. Explanatory research aims to uncover explanations for universal truths, usually about average relations between cause and effect. On the other hand, DSR aims to improve the present and, as such, shares some similarity with consultancy. Unlike consultancy, however, DSR does not aim merely to improve local contexts through case-specific designs, but follows the academic aim of producing generic knowledge applicable across various contexts within a particular domain.

The concept and rationale of DSR as a research strategy is straight forward:

  • The researcher goes into the field and works towards solving an existing problem in a particular context (in the case of the essay, this will be an operations management context);
  • From the proposed solution to the problem, the researcher can then draw up a generic design for the solution and field test it to establish it has “pragmatic validity” (does it work?);
  • The innovative generic design is based upon a design proposition which is an explanatory account, identifying the contexts in which the design is useful, the mechanisms involved, and the connection between actions and outcomes;
  • The generic design, formed from the “high ground of theory” can then be applied in the “swamp of practice” through contextualisation to other particular contexts to create new case-specific designs.

Unlike engineering and medicine, which derive from the natural sciences and involve physical systems, DSR in the social sciences involves creating designs for social systems. Therefore, the main potential issue with DSR in the social sciences comes from the effects of human agency.

While this essay is targeted at specific field of operations management (OM) which the authors note, “is widely regarded as a problem-solving discipline, seeking to create knowledge by interacting with the real world”, our discussion was more general. We contemplated questions such as can, and if so should, such a DSR research strategy be utilised in our various disciplines? This led to broader questions of whether or not there is too large a separation between theory and practice, and what is our goal as researchers of social science? One primary issue we had with this mixing of research and practice is that the two sides of the coin ask very different questions. As was mentioned in the article, research aims to explain certain universalities about, or patterns within, the social world (why and how does something happens), while practice is more aimed at finding solutions for problems or planning courses of action (what and how should we do something). If we are to confound the two approaches in a single research activity, do we run the risk of chasing two rabbits and catching neither?

As for the question on whether or not we, as researchers, should intervene more directly in matters of practice and management, we do agree that inciting social change is often an important goal of the social scientist. However, the goals of practitioners and researchers are often divergent. Most businesses are motivated by their bottom line, but helping firms achieve profitability and efficiency does not always equate to what is best for society and is not always the goal of the researcher. While researchers can, and do, take part in consulting, and while such cases sometimes do generate the data for research (i.e. through ethnography, action research, participant observation, etc.), the development of theory is still clearly separate from the development of managerial practice. Does this mean that we raise high above the swamps of practice, looking down from our ivory towers, contributing nothing more to society other than the occasional theoretical proclamation? We think not. Research feeds into practice through teaching, policy papers, opinion pieces, public seminars among many other channels. Could this be done better? Always. Is design science research the answer? Mostly not, although we recognize that it is sometimes useful to collect empirical data with interventions.

Strawmen of “mainstream” and pragmatism

TSElosophers meeting 8.3.2017
Milla Wirén, Kari Lukka, Otto Rosendahl, Jonathan Van Mumford, Henning Christner

On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance International Relations Researchand Methodology, International Organization 2009
Jörg Friedrichs and Friedrich Kratochwil

Quick summary:

The article criticizes the mainstream social science methodologies that subscribe to the ontological realism and the correspondence theory of the truth. It proposes adopting the philosophical underpinnings of pragmatism to fulfill the purpose of social science: to enable orientation in the social realm(s). The following key themes were discussed:

  • In its purpose to induce change in the prevalent “positivism” dominated methodologies, the authors succumb to reducing the “mainstream” into a strawman, ultimately ignoring the rich streams of other alternative approaches
  • Is the role and importance of theory mainly instrumental? Can theory be evaluated only through the practical insights that it provides, or is there any inherent value in the theoretical (episteme, scientific) knowledge building?
  • In defining the “wrong” and “right” methodological approaches, don’t the writers actually suggest a level of realism they argue against?

Longer outline of discussion:

The article is well written and makes its points eloquently, with skillful use of examples. However, the version of pragmatism promoted raised some eyebrows in our discussion. We interpreted the methodological suggestions as based on instrumentalism: the purpose of social science is to have a purpose of solving an issue (“enabling orientation in the social world”), which makes this approach a soulmate of the Flyvbjergian (2001) approach. As our group consists of individuals who value theoretical knowledge (the episteme) as the main aim of science and its key resource in conducting, for instance, social science that matters, this approach was not easily swallowed.

We agree on the notion of social ontology: the reality we perceive is constructed through our perceptions, to an extent even in the natural sciences, but monumentally more so when we’re dealing with the “intersubjective meanings and value relations” constituting the social realm. However, unlike Friedrichs and Kratochwil propose, we find the epistemological approach of grounding our knowledge in consensus (either internally in a given group or externally enlarged) questionable: any theory, by its very nature, requires at least some correspondence to whatever is in the context considered more true than something else – while fully acknowledging that any such correspondence can be shown to be faulty by subsequent theorizing. While we seem to slightly disagree about the existence of objective truth(s), to be a theory, the string of concepts needs to assert a certain level of existingness – otherwise there simply are no theories, just idiosyncratic concepts and perceptions instrumentally molded to suit a purpose.

To our reading the authors render both the “mainstream” research and the pragmatist alternative(s) into strawmen: the first adhering to naïve realism and the second to following the “anything goes as long as it (by consensual agreement) fills a purpose” interpretation. However our notion of pragmatism is different: fundamentally it shies away from taking a firm stand on the ontological nature of reality, but merely suggests that only within the realm of intersubjective, in interaction with surrounding elements, is the understanding of the object in question formulated. Put simply, the object may or may not be objectively something, but the way we intersubjectively make sense of it is what we ground our actions on. The strength of pragmatism lies not in the answers it provides to the ontological questions, but in the epistemological avenues it offers to “knowing” about the object via following the actions that result from that “knowing”.

The eloquent simplicity of the article is both its merit and downfall. It succeeds in acting how it preaches, namely existing because of a purpose, and the tone of the article well suits the aims. However in its parsimonious rendering of both the “mainstream” and pragmatism, it succumbs to logical inconsistencies and – in our minds – the grave sin of unappreciation of episteme. Had they followed the logical outcome of the socially constructed ontology they tout, they wouldn’t have been able to take such a strong stand towards how science should and should not be carried out.

It seems that we have a recurring theme in our readings about the “raison d’être” of science – a pertinent theme as most of us come from highly practitioner oriented disciplines. Is science ultimately glorified problem solving or is there a more “immortal and divine” quality to it?



I would like to question: is the knowledge (the episteme) the main aim of science? Instead, I very much subscribe to the Aristotelian idea that practical wisdom (the phronesis) is the primary virtue – in science and for the scientists. However, contrasting with Flyvberg (2001), I would define practical wisdom differently. Practical wisdom is not only practical relevance. Instead, it is the primary virtue which includes all other virtues (also the production of new knowledge) in a balanced manner (i.e. unity of virtues). What I’m trying to say here is that the main aim of science might as well be to constitute virtuous scientists – and the rest will follow.

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