Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A note on a lost and found book: C. West Churchman "The Design of Inquiring Systems"

One of the books that has had the most influence on me is "The Design of Inquiring Systems:  Basic Concepts of Systems and Organizations" by C. West Churchman. The book was published in 1971. I probably got my copy in the early 80s. The reason why I read the book at that time was not primarily because I wanted to, but because my teacher at that time, Kristo Ivanov, who would later become my PhD adviser was a big fan of Churchman.

My copy of the book has long been missing. I do not even remember when I last saw it, but it is many years ago. I have over the years tried to get a new copy, but the book is out of print and used copies are very expensive. But, just a few days ago, I was re-arranging some books in my office and suddenly the book was there! It looks great! It looks like a book that is used a lot. It is full of notes and comments (see image).

Thinking back on the time when I read the book and also met Churchman and heard him talk about his ideas, I am quite sure that I did not really understand what the book was about. Actually, now, even without reading it, just by looking at the List of Content I am quite sure I understand the book much better than ever before.

The basic idea of the book is grand and overwhelming. Churchman  takes on the task of defining the nature of inquiring systems, that is, systems that has as its purpose to create and establish knowledge. He does that by building a typology of inquiring systems based on the ideas of famous philosophers. For instance, he discusses the Leibnizian inquiring system, Lockean inquiring system, Hegel inquiring system etc. What an excellent but extraordinary difficult idea. Then in the second part of the book he discusses or speculates (which is his own term) on systems design. What are the possible issues, questions, limitations and requirements for any design of an inquiring system if we really tried to do it well.

The book was so difficult at the time when I read it. At the same time I loved to read it. I am not sure I really understood it at all. Right now, I am so looking forward to read it again, now that my old copy has magically surfaced.

1 comment:

Stephanie Poppe said...

This book looks right up my alley! I'm glad you have written a snippet on it. I will hopefully be able to pick up a copy sometime soon.