Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Practical (design) reasoning explained (Martha Nussbaum)

After quite many years I am re-reading an essay by Martha Nussbaum. The title is "The Discernment of Perception: An Aristotelian Conception of Private and Public Rationality" (to be found in the book "Love's Knowledge--essays on philosophy and literature" published in 1990). This essay helped me a lot when it was first published and it has influenced my thinking over the years in so many ways. It is therefore great to re-read it carefully now, many years later and realize that it is even better now.

Even though the title of this essay may scare some people with its complexity and reference to Aristotle, the essay is in my view one of the best texts ever written about practical reasoning and judgment. It is an essay that resonates perfectly with anyone who is reflecting on design practice and how designers reason, think and make judgments.

Nussman discusses why practical reasoning is not possible to understand with some simplistic (scientific)  form of logic. She builds her argumentation on the writings of Aristotle and his "attack on scientific conceptions of rationality". She summarizes her intention at the beginning of the essay by stating:

"I shall suggest that Aristotle's attack has three distinct claims, closely interwoven. These are: an attack on the claim that all valuable things are commensurable; an argument for the priority of  particular judgments to universals; and a defense of the emotions and the imagination as essential to rational choice."

Nussman then goes through these claims and explains how they lead to a definition of practical reasoning that is distinct, understandable and useful. This understanding of practical reasoning fits extraordinary well with the reality that designers face, when dealing with overwhelming but insufficient information, in their dealing with particulars and not universals, and having to rely on imagination and accept being influenced by emotions.

Just read it!!

------------------------------- Addition --------------------------

Ok, today I found my notebooks from earlier years and randomly pick one up, and randomly open up a page. At the top of the page I had written: "Good idea for an article, based on the notions of private versus public rationality by Martha Nussbaum."

Then a note (translated from Swedish): "No one has pushed this [rationality] far enough, not Churchman, not SSM [Soft Systems Mthodology]. Everyone is trying to start with how the world is, while Nussbaum starts with how people are. An article idea: How to manage systems design: the conflict between private and public rationality."

So why did I read Nussbaum yesterday and why did I happen to see that page today? Synchronicity...

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