Theoretical Contribution of World Hypotheses to Critical Systems Thinking

[Michael C. Jackson, OBE]( describes *critical systems practice* as [a multi-methodology with four stages](, interdependent and dealt with in turn: > 1. Explore the problem situation > 2. Produce an intervention strategy > 3. Intervene flexibly > 4. Check on progress The practice "retains a strong identity and common themes, recognizable in its commitments to ‘systems thinking’, ‘critical awareness’, ‘pluralism’ and ‘improvement’" from Critical Systems Thinking. [p. 4]

"There are some suitable theoretical contributions that can help us avoid the pitfalls of lack of depth and breadth at the Explore stage and set us on the right path towards sound CSP." [p. 6]

In the earliest (1942) of the four sources cited, Jackson summarizes Pepper's work: > ... ask which experiential gestalts have proved useful to humans in finding their way in the world. An excellent guide is Pep- per's (1942) ‘complete survey of metaphysics’. Pepper's survey reveals just four adequate ‘world hypotheses’, which seek to illuminate the structure of the world. These he labels ‘formism’, ‘mechanism’, ‘contextualism’ and ‘organicism’. He is convinced that >> ... these four keys will open any closet now built that is worth opening. (Pepper, 1942, p. 149) [p. 7] > They have distinguished themselves as ‘adequate’ because they are based on ‘root metaphors’, which, over time, have proved more fertile in depth and breadth than other metaphors. They have generated refined knowledge in the form of cohesive theories supported by an array of observations and evidence and yielding better predictions. > * _Formism_ is underpinned by the root metaphor of ‘similarity’. It emphasizes the regularity of pure forms, structural points of balance and stability, produced by natural laws. Plato's philosophy is an exemplar. > * _Mechanism_ sees the world in Newtonian terms, as made up of objects in space and time determined in their movement by causal laws. Its root metaphor is the ‘machine’. > * The root metaphor of _contextualism_ is the ‘act in its context’. This highlights continuous change, unpredictability and multiple possible interpretations. Pragmatist philosophers, such as Pierce, James and Dewey, are contextualists. > * _Organicism_ is exemplified in Hegel's philosophy. It is underpinned by the root metaphor of ‘integration’. A process can be identified in which fragments of understanding are progressively integrated into an organic whole in which there are no contradictions. > It is comforting to note, at this stage, that all these world hypotheses are reflected in the various systems approaches available. For example, formism in system dynamics and the viable system model and contextualism in soft systems methodologies. Critical systems thinkers, eager to improve social systems, are in a position to respond to the quite different views of reality offered by the four world hypotheses. [pp. 7-8, editorial paragraphing added]

Backtracking in this SRBS article, Jackson cites three other "suitable theoretical contributions" from the 1980s: * [Lakoff]( and [Johnson]( (1980) _[Metaphor We Live By](, * George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. * Mark Johnson is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Philip H. Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Emeritus, at the University of Oregon. * [Burrell]( and [Morgan]( (1979) _[Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis](, and * Gibson Burrell was a Professor of Organization Theory at the University of Manchester, and University of Leicester. * Gareth Morgan is Professor Emeritus of Organization Studies, and Distinguied Resarch Professor, York University (Canada) * [Gareth Morgan]( (1986) _[Images of Organization]( Thus, in contrast to Pepper's emphasis on value and aesthetics in philosophy, Jackson orients towards social systems design alongside Burrell and Morgan's organization studies, while Lakoff and Johnson focus on cognition and philosophy of mind.

Metaphors, as described by Lakoff and Johnson, aren't world hypotheses, yet are often used by humans. > There is no one truth, but > > Metaphor is one of our most important tools for trying to comprehend partially what cannot be comprehended totally. (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 193) > The experiential gestalts provide ‘truths’, which are essential for human purposes and the contexts in which they are enacted. These truths can, of course, vary between cultures because they reflect different experiential domains, although the ‘natural dimensions’ of reality will impose some constraints. This is, as Lakoff and Johnson (1980, p. 181) state, a ‘pragmatic theory’ with some elements of ‘realism’. [p. 7] Unfortunately for those who aren't fluent in philosophy, comparing the different views requires a deeper appreciation of [pragmatism]( and [realism](

Returning to Pepper, Jackson describes his position that the four world hypotheses are [incommensurable](, so that integrating them is wrong-headed. > According to Pepper (1942), > > None of them [the four world hypotheses] can ... support a claim of absolute truth, or certainty. (p. 73) > Nevertheless, they do represent ‘successes of cognition’, the ‘creative discoveries of many generations’, and do contain some knowledge: > > The gears grind, the lights flicker, and the lenses distort. Nevertheless, we do seem to get some idea of our world from these vehicles, and without them we should have to walk pretty much in the dark. (Pepper, 1942, p. 80) > This ‘partial scepticism’, as Pepper calls it, is similar to Lakoff and Johnson's position, although he cannot follow them in using pragmatism to justify the range of experiential gestalts because pragmatism constitutes just one of the world hypotheses. [p. 8].

In the philosophical tradition of pragmatism, Pepper's work approaches a Metaphilosopy of Metaphysics. [Lakoff & Johnson, in their original 1980]( foreword, said "This book grew out of a concern, on both our parts, with how people understand their language and their experience" [p. ix]

> Mark had found that most traditional philosophical views permit metaphor little, if any, role in understanding our world and ourselves. George had discovered linguistic evidence showing that metaphor is pervasive in everyday language and thought-evidence that did not fit any contemporary Anglo-American theory of meaning within either linguistics or philosophy. Metaphor has traditionally been viewed in both fields as a matter of peripheral interest. We shared the intuition that it is, instead, a matter of central concern, perhaps the key to giving an adequate account of understanding. [p. ix] > ... we have worked out elements of an experientialist approach, not only to issues of language, truth, and understanding but to questions about the meaningfulness of our everyday experience. [pp. x]

Jackson is pushing towards preserving the knowledge gained across all 4 world hypotheses, although Pepper resists that. > In Pepper's view, the four world hypotheses demonstrate ‘equal or nearly equal adequacy’. They stand on a par, and we cannot afford to lose any of them. Having four alternative theories supplies us with considerably more information on a subject than any one alone. > * In a nice phrase, he states that ‘four good lights cast fewer shadows than one when the sun is hid’ (Pepper, 1942, p. 342). The four world hypotheses are of unlimited scope and are therefore autonomous and mutually exclusive. We cannot allocate them to different purposes because they all have useful things to say about the same object. Basically, they are irreconcilable. > * Here, Pepper anticipates Kuhn's theory of paradigm incommensurability (Kuhn, 1970, makes no mention of Pepper). > It follows that we cannot use ‘facts’ to decide between them because each interprets the facts according to its own assumptions. Nor is there any higher truth to legislate over the four world hypotheses -- ‘there is no authority but the actual world theories which have achieved ... corroboration’ (Pepper, 1942, p. 347). The only legitimate critics of world theories are, therefore, other world theories. [p. 8, editorial paragraphing added]

The ties at U.C. Berkeley between Stephen C. Pepper and Thomas Kuhn (respectively since 1919, and since 1957) are clear in their appointments, but not in cross-citations.

Jackson echoes the incommensurability of the four world hypotheses as specified by Pepper. > In seeking to employ the four world hypotheses, with their root metaphors, to interpret and act in the world, Pepper (1942) recommends we proceed with _‘rational clarity in theory and reasonable eclecticism in practice’_ (p. 330, italics in the original). Rational clarity in theory is necessary for the sake of intellectual trans- parency and to ensure the future expansion and devel- opment of each of the equally adequate world hypotheses. We cannot afford to lose the insights each of them offers and might bring in the future. Any attempt to reconcile world hypotheses ‘turns out to be the judgement of one of the theories on the nature of the others’ (Pepper, 1942, pp. 105–106). No reconciliation can do full justice to them all. Any attempt to cherry pick from them sows confusion and risks cogni- tive loss, the impact of which we have no means of estimating, compared with having the pure theories at our disposal (Pepper, 1942, p. 148). Thus, Pepper rejects imperialism and pragmatism as we defined them. [p. 8] More philosophical inquiry would have to be done to appreciate the relationship between Pepper's view of pragmatism, and the world hypotheses. Pepper comes from a pragmatist tradition, but presenting a theory of metaphysics is beyond a single tradition.

Jackson then overlays the approach of Critical Systems Practice, over top of the world hypotheses. > In practice, however, we need the benefits all four of the world hypotheses can bring, and we can afford to be more eclectic: > > In practice, therefore, we shall want to be not rational but reasonable, and to seek, on the matter in question, the judgement supplied from each of these relatively adequate world theories. If there is some difference of judgement, we shall wish to make our decision with all these modes of evidence in mind, just as we should make any other decisions where evidence is conflicting. (Pepper, 1942, p. 331) [p. 8] _Judgement_ is less emphasized by Pepper, and is central to the Appreciative Systems of Sir Geoffrey Vickers.

Jackson sees systems thinkers at risk at falling into a trap of applying metaphors that might not be adequate world hypotheses. > There is a final warning from Pepper, which should be heeded by systems thinkers but rarely is. He uses the term ‘hypostatization’ for a process in which concepts can lose contact with their root metaphors and become empty abstractions (Pepper, 1942, p. 113). > * _Wiktionary_ provides an excellent definition of hypostatization: ‘to construe a contextually-subjective and complex abstraction, idea, or concept as a universal object without regard to nuance or change in character’. > This is what many systems thinkers do with the concept ‘system’. It should be obvious to all that the concept has become thin -- used to describe everything from double glazing to the universe. > * In Pepper's (1942) terms, ‘the very emptiness of the con- cept is used as an argument for its acceptance’ (p. 124). > Systems thinkers treat it as if it has ‘a cosmic glow about it’ and demand respect for it in its own right. This can soon lead to earthly scepticism and loss of respect. The concept ‘system’ cannot be provided with a universal definition. The way forward, as Pepper would say, is to return it to its original root metaphors: to understand and use the concept in the context of the various world theories to which it has provided service and which lend it meaning and significance. [p. 9, editorial paragraphing added Those realists looking for ultimate convergence on what a system is (and what it isn't) may have to reflect more on the underlying world hypotheses.

Jackson moves forward from Pepper by a few decades to work on organization theory. > The argument of this section, so far, is that we need all four of Pepper's well-formulated world theories to ensure breadth and depth at the start of a systems intervention. It can be progressed and brought closer to home, if we relate it to two contributions to organization theory. Burrell and Morgan (1979) consider the ‘sociological par- adigms’ that have dominated in organizational analysis, whereas Morgan (1986) reviews the metaphors behind our taken-for-granted ‘images of organizations’. [p. 8] The shift from the theory of metaphysics in _world_ hypotheses to the methods of _social systems_ intervention is underplayed. The rise of ecosystem approaches looks beyond human systems.

### Reference Jackson, Michael C. 2020. “Critical Systems Practice 1: Explore -- Starting a Multimethodological Intervention.” _Systems Research and Behavioral Science_ 37 (5): 839–58. .