Against the Technical Rationality of Positivism LO26970

From: Artur F. Silva (
Date: 07/09/01

Replying to LO26930

Dear At:

>I am looking forward to your series because I have enjoyed the first
>delivery very much. One of the reasons is, funny enough, that finally
>someone else will begin to write longer contributions than me ;-)

Yes, I was sure you would like that ;-)

>I have a simple description (hopefully accurate and yet not too cynical)
>for "technical rationality" = "follow the recipe".

You are reading my lips. I will came to "recipes" in one of the next

>The first philosopher who articulated
>Positivism is A Comte. Positivism, even presently, means that the ONLY
>sure knowledge is that gained from empirical data by measuring physical

I admit that in physics sure knowledge or scientific knowledge must be
obtained through experience or at least be confirmed (or not falsified, to
use Popper's words) by experience. My question with positivism is its
unscientific claim that the same methods must be applied to obtain sure
knowledge in social subjects, and even in politics and moral...

> >In all this process there is a 'paradigm' that we
> >almost never question: given a problem, university
> >research will find a solution; some are good, some
> >not so good but they will always improve the
> >situation (at least, they will change it :-)
>Perhaps it is a "paradigm", but I think more of it as the Mental Model
>of "the professional expert has the best recipe."

I am using paradigm as Kuhn uses it (with many meanings, btw). He never
used mental model, but I agree that a paradigm is always a "mental model
shared by a community" (of practitioners, namely). Please note the

>Artur, you quote Schon, in his 'The Reflective Practitioner' (RP, 1982),
>who wrote:
>. I have become convinced that universities
>. ARE NOT devoted to the production and
>. distribution of fundamental knowledge in general.
>I myself work in an university. I agree with this conviction in the sense
>of any university AS AN organisation. But I also disagree because in
>my university not a day goes by without a post graduate student or
>professional visiting me, lamenting this very sad state of affairs and
>trying to overcome its lethal consequences with their own creativity.

Schon was speaking of the university as organization; of course, there are
creative people between the teachers and students of the universities. But
I believe that creativity would show much more if it were not limited by
the positivist paradigm...

>I am today more sure than ever that knowledge can live
>only in the mind of a person. Thus knowledge cannot be translocated
>from one person to another like a blood transfusion or like going to a
>gasoline station and fill the car's tank. (...)
>Allowing information from one mind to be translocated to the mind
>of another person is a most dangerous practice. It can easily destroy
>the spiritual health/harmony/ecology of that person's mind. It does
>to the mind what "fast foods" and "ready made pills" are increasingly
>doing to the body. Only when a person's mind has the necessery tacit
>"kernels" to "digest" the information on the outside of the mind in an
>organised manner, will that information be beneficial. These tacit "kernels"
>of indwelling knowledge have to emerge within the mind of that person
>through authentic learning.

I agree. And that is the problem of many universities and professors that
are still "imparting knowledge/information". But I would argue that this
way of "imparting information" (and testing it) has a more fundamental

It makes very difficult for the students to generate a "second order"
kernel that is most needed today - not the kernel to understand the
paradigm (mental model) implicit in what is being teached today, but the
one to allow for the change of any paradigm to another (and hopefully a
better one) in the future. All the question of individual and
organizational learning disabilities, namely in what concerns double-loop
learning (always implying a change of paradigm) cames from the lack of
that second order kernel.

Students are invited to learn the currently accepted paradigms, not to
construct new ones, nor to change from one to another. Learning how to
learn is basically "learning how to change" old models into new ones.

And, believe me, it is not easy to teach that to students that had already
some years of university, always being exposed only to one accepted model.

>(The adjectives "tacit" and "indwelling" which I have used above, has
>been done carefully in the sense which Polanyi would have done.)

I have noticed that ;-)

>please do not consider my reply as critique.

I have not considered that; on the contrary. But you may criticize what
you want. I have proved already that I am able to accept when someone was
right and I was wrong (ok, I will not use win and lose any more, as
Winfried doesn't like...).

>Artur, also
>do not feel compelled to reply to my contribution. It is far more important
>to complete your grand undertaking for the benefit of us all. Consider me
>merely as your shadow following you where ever you are going.

I will be delighted to have you as my shadow, indwelling in my posts. And
I will not feel obliged to answer to all comments. If I do that, I will
never finish the series. Thank you for understanding.



"Artur F. Silva" <>


"Artur F. Silva" <>

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