Scientism vs designerism

Rereading Richard J. Bernstein I can now see clearly why my first encounter Beyond Objectivism and Relativism was such a revelation and relief to me as a designer:

But we must realize that “individually the criteria are imprecise: individuals may legitimately differ about their application to concrete cases.” Furthermore, when the criteria are “deployed together, they repeatedly prove to conflict with one another.” Kuhn seeks to make sense of rational disagreement in theory-choice, disagreement that cannot be resolved by an appeal to precisely formulated determinate rules. Kuhn also claims that over time such disagreements can be and are rationally resolved by the force of arguments in the relevant scientific community. But even here it is misleading to speak of proof (if our model of proof is a deductive argument). Rather, the cumulative weight of the complex arguments advanced in favor of a given paradigm theory, together with its successes, persuade the community of scientists. “Such a mode of development, however, requires a decision process which permits rational men to disagree, and such disagreement would be barred by the shared algorithm which philosophers have generally sought…. What from one viewpoint may seem the looseness and imperfection of choice criteria conceived as rules may, when the same criteria are seen as values, appear an indispensable means of spreading the risk which the introduction or support of novelty always entails.”

Often in the name of scientific rigor, the kinds of rational arguments offered by designers in support of their judgments are dismissed as subjective. When you realize these attempts at rigor are actually scientistic misnorms to which working scientists do not conform (and that if they were to conform to these misnorms scientific progress would halt) designers have a way to disarm those who wish to suppress innovation in the name of objectivity and rationalism.

I am also seeing some fascinating parallels with Roger Martin’s mystery-heuristic-algorithm model for the evolution of knowledge. He sees heuristic as a step on the way to perfection of knowledge in codifiable algorithm. Years ago I argued with him on LinkedIn that algorithm is not always a desirable end, and in fact in some cases this stripping away of individual interpretation and judgment can harm an employee’s ability to connect with customers. But I can also see that Martin was applying some prejudices of the folk philosophy predominant among business managers.

Now I have a paranoid theory that Design Thinking is a sort of cargo cult — the methods and the symbols used by designers dropped into the business world, but stripped of the designer folk philosophy that permits those methods and symbols to produce quality work. It is a designeristic misnorm — a fanciful antithesis to business scientism…

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