East and West of Information Systems
Strategies and design for information technology:
Eastern or neo-romantic wholes, and the return to Western systems

Version 97-09-26/14-09-30 © K. Ivanov

by Kristo Ivanov, Umeå University, Department of Informatics, S-901 87 UMEÅ (Sweden)

A short version of this paper was published by Ivanov, K., & Ciborra, C. (1998). East and West of IS. In W. R. J. Baets (Ed.), Proc. of the Sixth European Conference on Information Systems ECIS'98, University of Aix-Marseille III, Aix-en-Provence, June 4-6, 1998. Vol. IV (pp. 1740-1748). Granada & Aix-en-Provence: Euro-Arab Management School & Institut d'Administration des Enterprises IAE. (ISBN for complete proceedings: 84-923833-0-5.)



"Furthermore, if we find a man who criticizes the length of an argument while a discussion like the present one is in progress and refuses to wait for a proper rounding-off of the process of reasoning, he is not to be permitted to escape thus with a mere grumble that "these discussions are long drawn out". (Plato, 1961, Statesman, 287a)

Abstract and introduction

This paper introduces a French work on ancient Chinese strategy, as a way of understanding some of the difficulties of the Westerns approach to information-technology (IT) design and strategy. The work integrates two elements into a complex structure: first, a notion of efficacy that is parallel to the Western one used in evaluating the applications of computer technology, and second, certain well integrated notions that are similar or parallel to other fragmented, isolated, and ephemeral notions introduced by later Western research on IT-strategy. At the same time, this Chinese approach also implies ethical problems that touch the core of our notions of democracy and personal responsibility. A reason is suggested for the parallelism between Western and Chinese thought: the increasing secularization of Western thought. In loosing its ethical and theological anchor in Greek philosophy and its development in Judeo-Christian thought, Western design-strategy appears as similar to a simplified Chinese thought. In attempting to evaluate this phenomenon, we find some roots of late Western neo-romantic and post-modern approaches in the Kantian aesthetics of the third Critique. This aesthetics, contains, however, problematic and unconvincing arguments that are fundamental to the secularization of Western thought. By comparing the ethical implications of the Chinese approach with those of Kantian aesthetics, we hope to emphasize the importance of specifying and recognizing the ethical and theological basis of our approach to IT-strategy. Such emphasis is essential for developing and understanding new, enduring and fruitful concepts that enhance a wiser use of IT.

KEYWORDS: action, aesthetics, art, beauty, care, change, chinese, context, creativity, cultivation, decision, design, ethics, evolution, feeling, flexibility, formative context, formative faculties, hermeneutics, hospitality, hypermedia, improvisation, information, inquiry, intuition, judgement, knowledge, meaning, model, philosophy of science, planning, post-modernism, practice, rationalities, rationality, reason, reflection, religion, responsibility, romanticism, sensation, sinology, strategy, sublime, system, technology, theology, thinking, understanding, wholes.

On strategic alignment

A great deal of research about the development and use of information technology (IT) has been performed and reported under the labels of strategy, strategic fit, strategic alignment or design-methodological misfit. In this paper I will roughly equate design and strategy, in view of my assessment that these notions in the available literature have many, often completely different connotations, while authors writing in the area seldom subscribe explicitly to a particular definition that makes any significant difference in their arguments.[1]

In particular, strategic alignment is understood as the proper relationship between key management variables such as business strategy and IT-strategy or master-plan, besides other variables such as organization and culture. It was also originally defined as the dynamic fit between external and internal domains of the business firm such as product-market strategies, administrative structures, business processes and IT.

Later reflection on the status of this research as presented in scientific meetings and scientific literature questions whether it has produced useful knowledge. In presenting a summary of such a reflection below I was inspired by a text by C. Ciborra (1997), from which I edit many thoughts in this first section. As later in paper, whenever it is not clear from the meaning and context, I will include my own personal reflections in square brackets in order to distinguish them from my editing of others' thoughts.

Ciborra finds, and I think rightly so, that the obtained results are ephemeral. They have, rather, the character of "management fads" of the type that supports business consultancy and the obtention of research grants. In fact, IT-infrastructures tends to "drift" uncontrolled, and strategy ends up in tinkering and bricolage despite of talk of bold harnessing of IT-strategy according to rational and conscious plans of action.[2] Management models are mostly sterile abstractions from the rich messiness of the daily common-sense world. Their ideal representations in terms of geometrical diagrams with arrows and boxes depicting key business variables encourage a commando-like attitude that attempts to force impossible or misunderstood ideals upon a recalcitrant reality.

In the meantime, in the real world with its turbulent and unpredictable circumstances managers are busy in muddling through, betting and tinkering. The use of IT itself is characterized by circumstances compelling managers and employees to improvise frequent adaptations and reinventions of the initial system. Opportunistic adjustments must be carried out on the spur of the moment.[3] Technology drifts. Instead of feeling surprise in failures of implementation and treating them as exceptions in our forcing reality into our idealized models we should rely on the basic evidence of raw facts of daily work, intuition and empathy.

Under such circumstances it is, then, suggested that we may do better in suspending belief on what we think we know about strategy, structure, markets, feedback mechanisms etc. and reflect upon what we observe. We should rather keep avoiding to estrange ourselves from the worldly existence and develop a new language to talk on interaction between strategy and technology. New perspectives on the essence of technology, with an enlarged notion of alignment that deals with a hybrid of semi-autonomous actors, would eventually abolish the fundamental separation between technology and society, resulting in an "anthropology of machines". Technology would be accorded a high degree of autonomy being a historically and socially constructed set of beliefs about cause-effect relationships. The researcher studies how the organization reacts and evolves by improvisations. The attention is not anymore centered on the neat world of scientific models, but rather on the match to be achieved live between the new systems and the unfolding work situation.

The new language for conversations about the interaction between strategy and technology would include notions that are alternative to the rationalistic models, plans, decisions, and such. Example of new notions, are care, hospitality, and cultivation. Care is understood to imply more than intentional perception. Through familiarity, intimacy and continuous commitment to the working environment people develop circumspection allowing for situated implementation and for coping with deficiencies and breakdown, surprises and shifting effects of technology and of actions. Care implies also an understanding based on common sense practices where the domain of non-idealized objects immersed in the world naturally mingles with the world, and is the world. Hospitality is said to refer to acceptance and hosting of new IT-applications in face of their unpredictable ambiguous effects. [Hospitality also touches upon issues of love, power and trust, even if, symptomatically, they are barely hinted at, my remark]. Finally, cultivation is said to refer to support for a material that is itself dynamic and possesses its own logic of growth. An example would be the dynamic interaction between current strategy and future technology that arises out of the accumulation of unutilized resources that also are a potential for growth. Cultivation is also seen as the expression of a conservative belief in the power of natural systems, or technical systems seen as "organisms", to withstand our effort to change them and to react by disarming such efforts by breakdowns.

In the light of such a new understanding of the alignment problem, alignment is seen more as the successful translation of the interests of one actor into the behavior of another actor, within a complex network of non-human actors [Latour-"actants"], and intermediaries, so that one obtains shared spaces and communication channels. Research on these matters should not mimic hard science and its scarce reflection and thinking[4], and its no questioning of the basic assumptions. It should rather put questioning and thinking at its focus.

I leave now Ciborra's thoughts. In what follows I shall focus on the last mentioned notion of basic assumptions in questioning and thinking about IT-strategy.

The type of criticism that was directed above against strategy based on idealized rigid modeling that neglects the richness of detail and the flow of changes of reality, has been a recurrent theme in several IT-research approaches during the last ten years. Despite of early attempts in certain branches of the systems movement to sweep-in the political, the aesthetical, and the "ineffable" into the social systems approach (Churchman, 1971; 1979) a great deal of the criticism was delivered as an attack on the alleged "rationalism" of systems thinking in general, presuming an overall, often unspecified notion of the word "system". As an antidote to rationalistic idealizations of reality, new approaches were introduced as alternatives to systems planning or development, such as under the labels of situated actions, work-oriented design of IT-tools or artifacts, actor network theory, design theory, action science, autopoiesis, and other approaches vindicated by new "gurus" in academic and consultancy mixed worlds. Associated new notions were, for instance, intuition or feeling, imagination, fantasy, rationality vs. rationalities in practice, reflective practice, theories-in-practice, empathy, right feeling, sense-of-the-whole or feeling-for-the total-situation, the integrated whole or Gestalt (in place of the older system), to gestalt (at least in those Germanic languages that allow the formation of the verb from the substantive), format (in place of system structure), action, reflection and meaning in action, knowledge-in-action, improvisation, bricolage, tinkering, formative context, shifting and drifting (e.g. in the use of technique), and all this partially overlapping with the earlier mentioned care, hospitality, cultivation.

A common feature of these approaches is that they claimed to oppose "rationalism", and made frequent mention of practice, praxis, experience, common-sense, the world, and such, with no statement of position vis-à-vis the historical classical alternative pole to rationalism, i.e. empiricism. Take the particular case of the critique of strategic alignment considered as one of the latest and most ambitious examples with which I initiated this text. Reference is made to hopefully fruitful alternative notions such as, again, daily work, intuition, raw facts, empathy, daily world, improvisation, circumspection, own logic of growth, reflection, thinking, questioning. Apparently there is no requirement or expectation of any definition or "systematic" relationships between the proposed notions. And what is a notion, compared with the presumably outmoded concept that already is considered to have a too rationalistic flavour, despite of the term also being used, as above, in the new alternative approaches? The rationale for not needing a systematic relationship between the notions or, for that matter, for not needing any foundations, is seldom, if ever, stated, but I think that it may rest on the assumptions of good old empiricism, or its later equivalents like grounded theory. In this direction point also the often recurring claims that the new approaches rely on raw facts, action, practice, common-sense, or even commonsensical practices, so long as there is no reflecting thought upon these notions in the context of historical philosophical debate.

If this attack on so called rationalism does not rest on empiricism or sheer eclecticism, then it is my hypothesis that it either rests on a sort of neo-romanticism or post-modernism along the aesthetical ideas that followed after the philosopher Immanuel Kant's third Critique (of "Judgement") or, then, along Eastern thought as represented by Chinese Taoist and Buddhist doctrines.

The former approach which I called neo-romantic can appear in many forms. It can be, for instance, extremely speculative, sociologistical, and post-modernly subversive (Maffesoli, 1993), or it can be technologically focused and intellectually sharp (Brun, 1976). In both cases it infuses some deeper meaning in the promiscuous Dionysiac communicational "orgy" of the virtual communities of the Internet, and of many of the loosely assembled thoughts in design theory (Buchanan, 1995). Alternatively, this neo-romanticism may have the more philosophical base of certain readings of Kant's third Critique that also stand at the base of the post-modern movement (Derrida, & et al., 1983).

The latter "Chinese" approach, to which the former may be reduced to when it abandons its philosophical grounds, is indeed espoused by several influential exponents of modern counter-Enlightenment that discuss matters of science, morality and politics. A recent survey in The Economist, for instance, mentions in this context the names of writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Roberto Unger, Christopher Lasch, and John Gray, and quotes specifically Gray stating that "[The] prospect of cultural recovery from the nihilism that the Enlightenment has spawned may lie with non-Occidental peoples, whose task will then be that of protecting themselves from the debris cast up by the western shipwreck". (The Economist, 1996, p. 94). This reminds us that the development of IT-research bears, as it should be expected, a resemblance with, or is a reflex of the greater cultural debate in society. It will be noted that, for instance, the doctrine of autopoiesis that has been launched in the IT-field has as its barely stated basic assumptions a Buddhistic ethics (Varela, 1992; Whitaker, 1992, pp. 83n, 106n). At least in the French cultural sphere (and one main exponent of auto-poiesis, F. Varela, has lived and worked in Paris) Eastern thought is indeed "in" as testified by recent published literature (Revel, & Ricard, 1997, being a more popular example). An insight which may have great importance for the further arguments and conclusions of this paper is, however, presented by The Economist (1997a) while commenting the Catholic Pope's visit to Paris on occasion of the 1997 "World Youth Days": "A majority of the French may no longer believe in one true religion. But this does not rule out a continuing fascination with things spiritual, as evidenced by the growing interest, particularly among the young, in the new quasi-religious sects, the paranormal and other seemingly less demanding religions as Buddhism" (my italics). Can it be the case that Eastern approaches are attractive, also for so called intellectuals and scientists, because they are seemingly less demanding for our hopes of solving the serious problems that beset Western thought?

Basic assumptions and the Chinese case

I wish therefore to introduce what I judge to be an extremely interesting work that does not seem to have been observed in the context of IT-research, having been recently published in French by François Jullien, a sinologue who is also at present president of the Collège International de Philosophie: Traité de l'Efficacité, or treatise on efficacy (Jullien, 1996). Here follows an attempt to summarize this account of ancient Chinese thinking that also permeated Marxist thought as developed in the Maoist cultural revolution, and got spread further in the Western world. In this context it is justified to re-issue the author's warning in view of the Western's uncritical enthusiasm in wishing to find in the East, and in general in foreign prophets, patented solutions for the problems of our world: Chinese thought can avoid certain difficulties inherent in our Western way of thinking, but it should not be expected that it will bring a solution for the complications found by Western theory; it is, rather, the case that thanks to the gap between the two we could see better the reasons for such complications (ibid. 52). While awaiting a coming translation of the book into English, those who do not read French can get the flavor of the argument, which may not be seen as an argument in our rationalistic sense, from an earlier related work by the same author that has already been translated (Jullien, 1992).

Chinese thinking (Jullien, 1996, pp. 27-29, my translations)[5] has not constructed a world of ideal forms as archetypes (Plato) or pure essences (Aristotle) to be separated from reality and intended to inform it [cf. the implicit challenge for our notion of information]. Everything real presents itself to such thought as a process, regulated and continuous, following from the sheer interaction of factors at play, that are simultaneously opposites and complementary, the famous yin and yang. Order, therefore, does not come from a model but it is entirely contained in the course of the real ("viability" from Latin via, road, as an alternative to "method", indicating the road) and its immanent internal logic. The notion of internal logic returns in this reasoning (ibid. 54, 86, 101, 129, 150, 222) in equivalent or apparently related vague notions of so called internal coherence, logic of the process, inclination of things, logic of interaction, logic of the situation, logic of regression, logic of development.

Instead of constructing an ideal form that is projected, and applied or forced upon things, an alternative behavior is therefore proposed. It consists of detecting by focused attention [cf. the lately suggested notions of care, and Latin notitia] upon the course of things the favorable factors that are at work in their configuration. This should be done as early as possible while things still are in its "embryonic" stage. Instead of fixating a goal, end or purpose for an action, one lets oneself, then, be guided by the propensity that is immanent in the development of things, and by the so called potential of the situation. [Cf. the notions of formative context, situated actions, and evolution, such as in so called evolutionary information systems, launched in later IT-strategic thinking].

Two coupled notions are, then, found, at the heart of the ancient Chinese strategy: situation or configuration as it actualizes and forms itself in front of our eyes as a relations of forces, and potential that is implied in the situation and is to be exploited in one's favour. [I could not find, however, a real discussion of the way favour or success can be understood or misunderstood as synonyms of goal, purpose, or objective, or of the subtle ways the notion of situation is related to the close notions of circumstance, occasion, or event that are addressed later, ibid. 52, 79, in the text]. In the absence of theoretical explanation, as it is often the case in China, the reasoning is conducted in terms of [metaphorical] images such as the potential resulting from the level differences along a river with varying breadth and depth, etc.

The Western personalized notions of force or strength, and weakness, find their Chinese counterpart in the notion of the impersonal situation or configuration. The Western notions of courage and cowardice find their counterpart in the potential. Likewise the Western notion of action is replaced by the neutral immanent notion of transformation [cf. the later text in this paper about actions with an inherent own action rationality], while agent is replaced by neutrally irresponsible functioning [perhaps pointing in the direction of the coarse pragmatist "it works", akin to the aestheticist "it fits", and also pointing towards post-modern Latour-"actants"]. The Western notion of application (of a theoretical model to the practice of the real world) is replaced by exploitation (e.g. of the potential of the situation). The whole (paradoxically) "system" of subtly interwoven notions amounts then to a doctrine of strategy that can no more be called theory in our Western sense. Its closest resemblance to Western thinking is to be found in Aristotelian intellectual virtue (dianoethics, from Greek dianoia, referring to thinking, thought, understanding) of practical wisdom, or prudence (Latin providentia, foresight; Greek phronesis) but it differs from it in several fundamentally important ways.

For one (ibid 15-17), prudence is neither a science, knowledge, nor an art.[6] Its function does not deal with production [making of artifacts] but, rather, with doing, action or praxis. Its function is not an extension of science. While the scientific part of prudence determines and contemplates what does not change (the metaphysical and mathematical objects) its logistical part takes care of the needs of action by calculating and deliberating (judging) for "the good" in a world that is continuously changing. The difference between the real good and one's own interests [cf. what is favorable or is to be considered "success"] is what also differentiates prudence from skill, craft, cleverness (Greek, metis): prudence is supposed to be ethical skill that is oriented towards the (supra-personal) good. [I would like to add to this the remark that what today is often light-heartedly understood and recommended as bricolage in our IT-strategic thinking, if defective in its coupling to rational ethics, can come closer to smart skill, or even smart-aleckism, than to prudence.] The problem that the author notes is that in Greek thought the gap between skill-metis and prudence, and between practice and theory is not absorbed in the interstice between reality and its model. Aristotle finds himself prisoner in a vicious circle that has been underlined by his commentators. Prudence, he defines, is that practical disposition, accompanied by a true rule, concerning what is good and bad for man. "But where comes this 'true rule' from which must accompany deliberation and serves as a norm, if not exactly from science?...[Aristotle] cannot therefore but define prudence by means of the prudent man himself...By not trusting anymore the transcendence of the norm, Aristotle finds himself suddenly thrown towards the other extreme and condemned to empiricism; because, not having anymore essence in relation to which to define prudence, the latter is no more discernible except through the existence of single individuals...It turns out that it is definitely very difficult to ground the value of this practical faculty [of prudence] that is invoked to fill up the shortcomings of theory" (my italics).

I will return later to this kind of ethical impasse that is also valid for the neo-romantic and post-modern turn inasmuch it is grounded in the Kantian development of Aristotle' prudence, that is, (aesthetic) judgement (Aubenque, 1993). This judgement addresses what elsewhere has been sometimes called the gap between rationality and rational action. The important thing to note is that Aristotle himself gets stuck in the empiricism of common-sense, and that he has trouble to bridge the gap between theory and practice to ethics beyond rather inconclusive references to "the gods" (Aristotle, 1984, vol. 2, 1145a1), This inconclusiveness leaves, then, place for later Thomistic and Scholastic philosophy.

I claim that the same fundamental problem is also found in the Chinese approach despite its appearing much more sophisticated than the ad-hoc juxtaposition of notions such as care, hospitality and cultivation, that were mentioned above, not to mention bricolage and tinkering. For instance, in war strategy, the Chinese approach recommends (Jullien, 1996, pp. 31-32, 40-44, 67-68) not to rely on, or expect, individual virtues of soldiers, like courage, but rather to rely on the potential of the situation by putting them in such a dangerous situation that they get naturally motivated to combat having no other escape to save their lives. What is still more shocking for the Western Christian, liberal democratic spirit, is that from the internal logic of immanence follows the depersonalization of power that is recommended to be invested into a totalitarian and hierarchic, automatic, and ruthless state that we would call of terror.

The reader can compare this with the Chinese Maoist cultural revolution and the "little red book" that seems to have fascinated quite a few power-sensitive Scandinavian IT-scholars who were considering, for instance, "hard contradictions" in systems development so late as at the end of the eighties. Reflecting upon this account I happen to think that we in the West are especially boastful of the traditions of democracy inspired by Greek and Christian thought. Nevertheless we have certainly seen tendencies in Western democracies and in our democratic organizations (unconsciously applying "Chinese" immanent non-ethical thinking?) that power tends to get invested in a depersonalized "bureaucratic" process where authority is supposed to be distributed and it is difficult to claim personal responsibility. This may indeed be the shadow side of too naively understood conceptions of democratic systems where power, whatever the way in which it is conceived, is hidden while one believes in an uncritical interpretation of the claim that authority or authorization is not essential for design, or that "the system is controlled, but no component is the controller" (Churchman, 1971, p. 196). Similar beliefs in a what seems to be a sort of "mystical", if not an "inherently" ethical or neutrally empirical and biologically grounded, auto-regulation are found in autopoietic theory.

All this is also consistent with the terribly "Machiavellian" manipulative use of language that is found as a an integral part of the structure of Chinese strategy. IT-strategic research refers sometimes in moralistic terms about the presumed importance of the Apel-Habermasian idealized communicative action, or about the importance of democratic dialogue and constructive conversations. These are also the presumptive advantages of increased, often remarkably equated to improved, communications through the Internet. Nevertheless something else may be happening with our real communications, something that is hinted at in the following text.[7]

A whole section of Jullien's Treatise on Efficacy is indeed dedicated to a colourful description of how dialogue and communication is used in manipulative ways (Jullien, 1996, pp. 181-197). Pushing to its limits the conception of human relations from the point of view of power relations [as opposed to the Christian view in terms of love and justice], communication is no more a question of rhetoric or persuasion but, rather, of anti-rhetoric or manipulation (ibid., 183-7). Instead of being taught to persuade the other, by showing the correctness, or at least the interest of my advice, I am taught how to influence him, prior to any advices, in order that he later be spontaneously prone to follow me. The emphasis is not put on the organization of the word in terms of discourse, but, rather, on the conditions that are to be arranged in advance between me and him, in order that the smallest word that I utter to him be so welcomed that he accepts it immediately and uncritically. He should trust me to the point of not even getting the idea of interrogating me, still less to debate. While the Greek world is attached to the idea of argumentation and discourse, ancient China is not interested in the procedures of argumentation. One should even talk and debate as little as possible. I should question the other in order to elicit his opinions, feelings and weaknesses and in order to elicit his trust in my support that will later make him vulnerable and dependent upon me. My exploratory questioning will then be followed by my controlling him. In summary (ibid., 190): "I talk, not for telling him, but for making him tell me; and similarly, I listen, not in order to follow him, but in order to impose myself upon him".

I would like to add to this account that this kind of psycho-social killing of debate seems to be present whenever peers with strong visions or convictions about their own judgements do not like to respond to criticism in writing, eschew direct confrontation in meetings, seminars and intellectual discussions. Arguments are, then countered with silence and by responding with the build up of political coalitions that have the ultimate purpose deciding truth, the best, and the most fitting beautiful, by means of "democratic" voting procedures fuelled through mass media and business politics. I repeat that it was for me unbelievable to recognize in this sort of classical Chinese anti-rhetoric the pattern of destructive communication that I myself had identified in some of my experience of strategic behavior in business and universities, calling it "cooperative work: examples of problems" (Ivanov, 1991, pp. 55-76). I had never found such behavior described and commented seriously in academic literature outside the Machiavellian domain, and beyond the playful ethical-religious letters in C.S. Lewis' "The screwtape letters" (1942).

The main point of having this insight at this point of time is to realize that the immanent view of strategy in ancient Chinese thought which is present in modern secularized thinking, in order to form a coherent whole, bears with it particular ethical implications that run counter to what still is our Greek-Hebrew conscience.[8] It will not be easy to achieve something substantial out of any neo-romantic or post-modern talk about, say, care, trust, intuitions about character, and hospitality or acceptance of potentially dangerous strangers in terms of "love thy neighbour", if people more or less unconsciously adopt a manipulative attitude in personal relations and business strategy design that are conceived in terms of power. This also exposes some risks for ethical, if not political, naiveté in much neo-romantically and post-modernly tainted strategic theorizing about technology that cannot bridge the gap between micro and macro technology.[9]

Chinese strategy goes, however, even further, by remarking (Jullien, 1996, pp. 43, 112-115) that all action of indulgence or generosity on part of the manager-designer "prince" is not recommended since it is an inevitable source of dysfunctions in the immanently self-regulated system. In general, one is not supposed to act in the Western deliberative way of a decision process followed by action: "Acting without acting displays an indirect efficacy: it proceeds from a conditioning, and gets implemented by transformation.[10] The model, or at least the privileged example, is the cultivation of plants (cf. China, a people of farmers and not of shepherds). Implementation or realization is not based on ontological levels of being but, rather, on thinking of the real in process, and on levels of happenings, since the notion of event is not entirely appropriate in this context. Also this ordering of the real does not culminate in a form of transcendence like the Good, but, rather in a capacity which stands "at the bottom" of the real and constitutes the ground of the process. Virtue if not to be understood here in the moral sense, as a disposition to act according to the good. Virtue must, rather, be understood in another sense which, without referring anymore to the "ought", is of the same order as effectivity, it has the capacity to produce a certain effect.

Let me pause in order to note that in this sense, virtue comes close to what is understood as pragmatist, and probably also eclectic, power, as pointed out by Churchman (1971, p. 200). This indicates that some branches of pragmatism can come very close to the features of the Chinese thought introduced here. I would like the recall in this context that this may stand at the basis of the strange phenomenon that I have sensed in the context of later theorizing about IT-strategy. In much talk about the importance of "visions" in design and strategic management, there is a non-articulated unwillingness or incapacity of distinguishing and discussing the difference and relation between strong visions and good visions. A remarkable unstated assumption often is that a strong vision and even a sheer vision is also a good vision, or that its strength will make it evolve in a social-Darwinist trial-and-error mode into a goodness that is defined in terms of efficacy or coarse pragmatist "success". The Chinese approach, then, shows some implications of present Western thinking that tends to become "pseudo-Chinese" in view of its neglecting the discussion of its own grounds. I repeat that this seems to be a very serious and dangerous tendency since along with this kind of supposedly Eastern thinking, when we have left the ground of Western "philosophizing", there is a risk of neglecting basic Western notions of human values, human rights, and responsibilities; our superficial knowledge of a culturally distant Eastern thought also misses the dimensions of deep humanity and concerns for the particularly conceived good in that culture. Such neglect will be not compensated by possibly better or more use of technology that is made possible by a presumed artistic design knowledge or smooth and creative strategy. Heidegger does not help: "The cure for the dangers of technology cannot come from technology itself...We need more clarity about goals, but these are not fixed by technology. At this point, however, we might blame Heidegger himself for never having developed an ethical side to his philosophy. Indeed, it could be complained with some justice that from his early thinking onward, he consistently avoided ethical questions" (Macquarrie, 1994, p. 70, my italics). The Heideggerian pre-Socratic critique of technology claiming that "in order to ask for metaphysics, one must have gone beyond metaphysics" will not do, when it excludes both the scientist and the theologian from the ranks of the thinkers, and undermines its own possibility to rely upon the philosophy and ethics that followed Sophocles, Parmenides and Heraclitus (ibid., pp. 50, 58, 78).

The de-emphasizing of the role of the individual's virtues may indeed go along with the de-emphasizing of personal responsibility (Jullien, 1996, pp. 67-69) regardless of the possible pious connotations of fine words like care or hospitality.[11] Jullien, in fact, ultimately notes (ibid. 229) that the Chinese approach exacts an ultimate cost: the surrender of the freedom of the "subject" and what we have learnt to associate with human dignity and human rights, the respect of which represents today an impeachment or at least an obstacle to the West's relations with a misunderstood China.

The danger of what I perceive to be tendencies of unconsciously Chinese thinking is complicated by the fact that it may indeed be partly justified because it addresses obvious and deep failures in Western scientific thinking. A most insightful commentary by F. Jullien (ibid. 68-69) addresses the Western shortcomings in facing chance. Aristotle sees prudence [in place of today's problematic "statistics"] as a way to remediate the perceived inaction of a divine providence. With and after Aristotle, Western thought develops gradually another conception of chance. Chance is no more an effect of providence but, rather, of contingency; no more dependent upon the inspiration of god, but due to the indetermination of matter, [becoming randomness]. In lack of guidance by the god, new opportunities are opened up for human initiative to insert itself in the lacunae or breaks of divine action upon an unfinished world, in the form of deliberation and prudence that leads action to success.

European thought has not ceased to enlarge this gap that is open to the indetermination of things. In dismantling the world of human affairs from the notion of finality, especially after the Renaissance (where contingency was no longer only residual, as it was for Aristotle) this thought was led to associate action much more narrowly with efficacy. In making the human world a world of instability, voted to discontinuity, to the ephemeral, to mobility, without any principle of order which is intrinsic to it or transcends it, [cf. our later Western divinization of change and flexibility, not the least in the context of IT] this thought could conceive efficacy in no other way as a risky intervention [cf. "design" and improvised, intuitive, inspired "action" towards "visions"] which, by its audacity, responds to the unpredictability of things...While the political chaos opens itself to all initiatives, man reacts to danger by the virtuosity [skilled bricolage?] of its innovating action [cf. "creativity" vs. cooperative creation that can rely upon collective dilution of risk and responsibility]. So, at the end of a process of secularization of the ancient idea of creation, it is the act of political foundation [cf. creative innovations and "aggressive" competition with empire-building in business and research] which, voluntary and resolute, and on a strictly human plane, serves as standard to the heroes (Cyrus, Theseus or Romulus - even Moses). By means of his action, man could become the creator or a "new order".

In my opinion this insight is valuable since it suggests the import of the watershed that on the path of religious secularization lead on the one hand to "instrumental reason" with its unreasonable emphasis on method and efficacious action in the Westerns present sense, and, on the other, to the reliance upon immanent thought ("intrinsic" principle of order) that characterizes Chinese thought in its bleak Westerns variants as found in autopoietic approaches or aestheticist post-modern approaches. At this point it is also interesting to note the relation of Chinese notions (Jullien, 1996. pp. 23, 39, 51, 59, 64) to what seems to correspond to our (Churchman, 1971, chap. 3) notion of system and systems approach. The above mentioned idea of indeterminacy, and the difficulty of facing it, is often attributed in this scheme of Chinese thought as dependent upon the capability of managing action in the particularity of the situation but also in its whole. In a diplomatic context the Chinese strategy recommends, for instance, to evaluate more precisely the potential of the situation and its configuration in terms of its partisans, to distinguish its supporters and opponents [clients, stakeholders and conflict of interest], to see what is considered to be "inside" our "outside" [cf. subsystems, resources and environment], its positions of force and authority or hierarchy [cf. decision makers], to rely on "regulation" [cf. Churchman's "Singerian" inquiring systems] rather than particular deliberations, to integrate into the strategic reflection not only questions of organization and logistics, but also economic cost in its late sense [cf. opportunity costs] and the moral and political situation, etc.

The mainly Kantian social systems approach (Churchman, 1971, on anti-teleology, pp. 249ff; Churchman, 1979, pp. 32ff, 52, 89, 188ff) was attempting already in the seventies to acknowledge and to integrate in its strategic thinking both Eastern thought (the Confucian I Ching and the Hindu Bhagavadgita), and some neo-romantic or post-romantic thought like the "Jungian" applications of the philosophy of the unconscious in the spirit of the philosophers C.G. Carus and E. von Hartmann. Those systemic considerations tend to be glossed over in the enthusiasm for Eastern wholes when relying on bricolage, care, hospitality, and cultivation. It is therefore time now to turn our attention to the non-Chinese alternative grounds for transcending the Enlightenment's limitations in Western science and Western strategic thinking.

Neo-romantic and post-modern approaches

The flavor of neo-romantic and post-modern approaches to IT-strategy was exemplified at the beginning of this paper when addressing the attack on strategic alignment. I will therefore address here only very shortly what I choose to gather under these two labels. With the risk of doing some injustices that usually result from such generalizations these labels can be characterized as a partial revival of mainly German romanticism, putting strong emphasis on e.g. intuition, feeling, imagination, and emotion, as well as other such notions.

The tendencies, stated in more "popular" terms without my claiming the use of rigorous parallel terminology, and seen as a matter of degree, appear to me to be the following. Models and theories are replaced by local theories or perspectives, theories-in-use or theories-in-practice, metaphors, narratives, frames of reference, or language games. Concepts or variables and their definitions are replaced by notions and by their adaptive meanings in different situational contexts of literary use (and this is one reason why I try to meet the supporters of the latter approach midway by using so often the word "notion" in this paper). Methods, decisions or Aristotelian deliberative choices are replaced by qualitative methods, opinion surveys and aesthetic judgements of taste directed by feeling or intuition. Experimentation is replaced by practical experience, praxis, bricolage, trial-and-error and improvisation that are grounded on judgements. Knowledge is supplemented and swiftly replaced by private knowledge-in-action, and consequently rationality is replaced by private or sub-cultural rationalities, truth by pluralist situational relative truths, values by situational valuations or creations of values-meanings, etcetera. More generally, politics is replaced by communication, arguments by metaphors and rhetoric, generalization and universality are equated with abstraction and are eschewed in favor of ad-hoc particularization with so-called concrete or illustrative examples. Science is replaced consultancy, scientific results by artifact prototypes and by reflections on their use. Systems are replaced by contexts, by Gestalts, by wholes or even by embryonic wholes. Systems development and implementation are replaced by sheer design visioning, Gestalt-framing or, possibly, evolutionary constructive design of wholes. More generally, aesthetic intuition and judgement is presumed to bridge or, rather, to unify "systemically" theory and practice, espoused theories and theories-in-use.[12]

I do not mean that these replacements, in any degree and situation, are bad or wrong. The point is, rather, that except for certain direct or indirect (through John Dewey's pragmatism) references to Kantian aesthetics and its aftermaths these replacements in science seem to be seldom, and only vaguely, justified or grounded in philosophy or history. The need of justification and philosophy is questioned. The meaning and possible legitimacy of vagueness itself is therefore seldom discussed in philosophical or historical terms despite of having been an object of prolonged and serious philosophical debate. Frank, for instance, (1994, pp. 28ff.), recalls the relevance for aesthetics of such debates about confusion, complexity, distinction that also were acknowledged in the theorizing of the systems approach (Churchman, 1971, p. 19ff).

In any case, there are serious neo-romantic and post-modern attempts that refer to Aristotelian prudence or phronesis in their development towards Kantian aesthetics, phenomenology, or outright post-modern Nietzschean thought. There have been, for instance, serious attempts to take into account and to develop Aristotelian prudence and phronesis (Ramirez, 1995) that match available and generally ignored literature (Aubenque, 1993). What is most remarkable, however, is that none of the more ambitious aesthetic approaches to strategy and design that I am aware of (Guillet de Monthoux, 1993; Ramirez, 1991; Stolterman, 1994) seem to take into consideration, let alone to acknowledge, the criticism that has been directed against Kant's system and, in particular, the Kantian Critique of Judgement. The same seems to be the case with such more particularly IT-oriented approaches (Coyne, 1995; Winograd, 1996). I am not thinking, then, only about the potentially very important but hardly available meta-critique by Kant's friend Georg Hamann who has been considered the forerunner of phenomenology but, rather, the later general criticism by thinkers like Henri Bergson and, especially, Max Scheler. There are also outright non-Kantian alternatives that aim at the same issues as neo-romanticism and, furthermore, in close relation to cultivation, but of the intellect (Newman, 1885, pp. 148 and 151ff on "knowledge and professional skill").

In order not to flood the reader further with too many references I will choose as my point of reference, among many others that address this question, one recent book that on the average is quite respectfully sympathetic to Kant without being uncritical (Frank, et al., 1994). I must warn the reader that I myself have not been able to incorporate this work into my thought to the point of being able to digest and summarize it in a pedagogically or rhetorically attractive way. This has also to do with the fact that it deals with really difficult and advanced philosophical matters that are eschewed even by many professional philosophers who light-heartedly try to apply conceptions of romanticism and post-modernism to the IT-field. I have also met a number of conscientious and sophisticated IT-systems scholars who, probably because of the same difficulties, have a first hand knowledge of Kant's first Critique of pure reason that their try to apply in IT-theorizing, have less knowledge of and interest for his second Critique of Practical reason, but are remarkably confident that they can go on ignoring his third, synthetical one, about judgement. It is also the other way round, that those with sympathies for the aesthetics of the third Critique, do not care much for the first and second. And few scholars, if any, seem to take notice [cf. Latin notitia] of later studies of aesthetic doctrines as exposed by post-Kantians like Schelling, Schiller and Fichte, or by classical aesthetics and design theorists (Francastel, 1956; Panofsky, 1955). For those who need a tutorial on Kant's thought, including the place of aesthetics in order to appreciate better what follows, I recommend Gulyga's review of his work, even if the review seems to be too uncritically sympathetic (Gulyga, 1987).

The preface of the book introduces its contents consisting of three texts that concern uniquely the Critique of Judgement, Kantian masterpiece whose singular destiny justifies a feeling of perplexity. It is noted that while this work has raised the enthusiasm of such remarkable minds as Goethe and Schiller, it was received in a more circumspect way in the circle of professional philosophers. Despite the richness of the work, most of Kant's commentators experienced a feeling of uneasiness. The work appeared more and more disquieting, and became a factor of instability in the whole Kantian building. Inversely, in recent times, and especially in France the third Critique has raised a growing interest and has inspired non negligible works,[13] to the point of attracting the philosophical attention and eclipsing the more traditionally knows aspects of the Kantian problems. In particular, "new readings" of Kant's third Critique stand at the basis of some more ambitious branches of post-modernism and hermeneutics[14] that I associate with Derrida (1983), Lyotard (1991), and Makkreel (1990), and at the basis of the more balanced criticism against post-modernism (Norris, 1990).

Kant is credited by Manfred Frank (Frank, et al., 1994, p. 20-26, 41-47, my translations) with having established in his third Critique a modern meaning of the expression "aesthetics" by which it does no longer characterize a theory of sensibility (the sentiment is sensed, not judged), but, rather, a doctrine of taste. The basic problem of the doctrine and judgement of taste is the justification of its universality [cf. the gap between what some call private rationality versus public rationality]. In the judgement of taste the intuitive multiplicity of the sense is related to a subject who performs the judgement. The problematic passage from the subjective to the universal (rather than to the objective) is supposed to be performed by a "reflective judgement" [cf. Donald Schön's pragmatist use of reflection in his aesthetics of design] that judges aesthetically, and allows us to pass from sensibility over to the level of reflection while looking for a concept.[15] Taste [not equivalent to post-modern style, character and fashion] is assumed to tend towards an objectivity (universality) that, however, is never attained. The judgement of taste is, then neither purely sensible nor purely intellectual, neither individual nor universally valid, but it finds itself in a remarkable in-between. The incommensurability of beauty and concepts requires an explanation of its nature other than the fullness of the sensible. Beauty, and especially the sublime, is designated as a symbol ("Hypotypose") of the idea, that is, a concept not of understanding but of reason, looking for a principle of unity that understanding cannot furnish [cf. mystical intuition]. Reason is therefore supposed to rescue symbolically [cf. "the Whole Gestalt-framing"] the defect of the knowing sensibility in face of the separation between the faculties of sensibility and knowledge.

To be sincere, all this kind of thoughts does not seem to make much sense to me unless they are taken to be mystical intuition. In such a case I would rather prefer an outright coupling to genuine mysticism and theological aesthetics as suggested elsewhere[16]. It seems to me rather disturbing that we may be dealing with a desperate secular reduction of genuine mysticism to a "mystical" aesthetic intuition, let alone seen elsewhere as a so called immediate experience or apprehension of the character of things, sense of the whole or feeling for the whole situation, coupled to the old idea of notitia as "a primary activity of the soul - the capacity to form true notions of things from attentive noticing" [beyond the inaccessibility of Kantian things-in-themselves]. All that is sometimes claimed paradoxically to result from a systematized, if not improvised, "intellectual training and practice" that professes the immodest ambition of it being a sort of intuitive solution to the "systems" problem ("looking for a principle of unity", or wholeness of Gestalt, as above).

Things do not get better in Jean Paul Larthomas' grappling with "The paradox of the aesthetical idea" (Frank, et al., 1994, p. 49ff, 59). The aesthetical idea is compared there with the ideas of theoretical reason (ideas of self, of the world, and of God) and with the ideas of practical reason (of God, of freedom and of immortality). The aesthetical idea is supposed to express a different relation which elevates itself from the "internal intuitions" of the imagination up to an indeterminable Idea that is thought out analogically... a simple sign of a meaning that is possible in that which cannot be expressed [cf. personal or tacit knowledge], and that will be expanded by the continuous evocations of the imagination (ibid., 56). The work of art [cf. the intended task of IT-hypermedial sensory stimulation today] brings a richness of internal intuitions that constitute the aesthetical "matter" of the expression in its evocative power.

Larthomas' commentary to the third Critique goes on recalling (ibid. 59, 63-65) its characterization of the notion of humanity as "capability of communicating in an intimate and universal manner" [cf. Apel-Habermasian communicative action, constructive conversations, and communication in the related virtual communities of hypermedial cyberspace, all seen as an ongoing intellectual and aesthetic training]. This evokes the collective collaborative [rhetorical, co-creative] construction of taste, seen as common-sense of man [cf. our references to commonsensical practice, earlier in this paper] which cannot be obtained by means of general rules. It is the search, and the living-through in the supra-sensible, of the unity in a mode of presentiment, in a sort of aesthetical pre-comprehension, that harmonizes all ours faculties of knowledge [cf. the Whole]. The paradox of the aesthetical Idea consists in offering a counterpart to the intelligible intuition which is not allowed to us, while maintaining itself at the edge of the inexpressible. Art distinguishes therefore itself from all method (such as in allegory and in the emblems), and from all procedure (as in rhetorical metaphor) by its way, which is an abundance of evocations, sometimes endless connotations of the signs, where the analogical transfer effaces itself. The aesthetic Idea (archetype, original model, Urbild) is found as a principle in the imagination while the figure (Gestalt) constitutes its expression (copy, Nachbild). It is a matter of distinguishing the visible form from the internal form that the reflective judgement must consider as principle in the imagination. This imagination is "creative" through its search for a double accord between the exigencies of the Idea and its sensible connotations that can express it indirectly.

One is reminded of what some neo-romantic theorizing at the edge of IT-design has identified in the design process: notions like ideal figures of thought, visions, operative images, and such. Indeed "the poet dares to give a sensible form to the ideas of reason", and IT-research seems to regard the designer of IT-artifact as a kind of scientific-technological poet. The text referred above, however, dealt with works of art and poetry while this very same part of the Kantian philosophical background is adduced in the context of creation or design of IT-artifacts, and is claimed to be relevant to the design of hyper-stimulating new hypermedia. Such hypermedia applications are, indeed, already here (McRobert, 1996), and they challenge our scientific, philosophical and methodological understanding (Ivanov, 1995).

Be as it may, Larthomas concludes (Frank, et al., 1994, pp. 65-66) that even if the "division of the fine arts" is conceived by Kant in the direct extension of his definition of genius [cf. the role of the designer as "hero" in his relation to the restrictions imposed by politics and power], that is, from the point of view of the creator much more than of the spectator, nothing authorizes us to interpret these texts, as Goethe did, in terms of intuitive and creative judgement. The creative sentiment or feeling pushes Goethe to a reading of Kant that is both bold and adventurous when it turns its back to critical decision. The work of art [that neo-romantic design tends to equate to artifacts and, further, to IT-artifacts], has no superhuman privilege of opening our eyes for some sort of "intuitive science" of a third type. [Cf. how design theory can be actually perceived by, especially ambitious researchers in the universities as headquarters of science]. This echoes D. Janicaud's introductory warning (ibid., 9), referring to Alfred Baeumler (1923), that the third Critique affronts directly the problem of irrationality whose possibilities are freed by the Enlightenment's thought from all theological authority: the concrete "aesthetical man" is irreducible to the abstract and universalizing intellect. The exercise of taste, be it done by an artist of genius or by an amateur, presupposes an abyssal freedom that can overflow into the arbitrary and into irresponsibility.

Let's make here a pause in the reading of Frank et al. No wonder, then, that various versions of aestheticism, sometimes under the label of post-modernism, attract the interest of many creative researchers or maestros of designed change. This could be so not only because of the perceived lesser demands of its Taoist-Buddhist undertones, but also because of its bolstering the "abyssal freedom" of the neo-romantic ego. Since it is easy to see that this abyssal freedom needs to be balanced by some sort of vaguely understood "personal responsibility", it is also easy for the inflated ego to delude itself about having, as it were, dialectically self-generated this responsibility from potentiality into actuality.[17] I would like to add that the words about the risk for arbitrariness and irresponsibility indicate the same concerns as those expressed by C. Norris (1990, p. 270) regarding the dangers of aestheticism that follow from unfortunate readings of Kant, in the same spirit as Schiller's Letters on Aesthetic Education. For the rest one should also remember the aestheticist Nazi misreading of romantic and Nietzschean literature, including the Fichtean conception of the functions of the state. With this remark I am not insinuating that neo-romanticism is associated with Nazism in any other way than that both, as well as eugenic sterilization and other fin-de-siècle currents, are correlated with each other in view of common influences and roots at their historical origins. Compare the above with the following most important historical survey of the passage from criticism to romanticism, including a flavour of "Chinese immanence", very close to secularized IT-design approaches, quoted from Jimenez (1997, pp. 162-163, 171-174, my trans.):

Kant had made an effort to limit strictly the powers of reason to the phenomenal world. He had barred, so to say, the question of Being: the Absolute, the Truth, the things in themselves, the noumena, are not reason's business. Knowledge is possible because a subject, equipped with transcendental a priori principles, "informs" the empirical reality. Such a priority accorded to the spirit displays an idealism, but a transcendental idealism. In contrast, Schelling,...Fichte, and Hegel trespass the frontiers established by Kant. They replace Kantian reason, and its overall quite modest ambitions with the proud spirit, avid for knowing the absolute, capable of perceiving the powers and even the thoughts of God. Reasoning is replaced by speculation. Reason, according to Kant, presupposed an exacting method, rebel to the fantasies of imagination, to intuitions, to sentiment. With Fichte and Schelling, the spirit takes over, so to say, the function of reason. This spirit is at the service of a self, of a subjectivity, of a "genius" incarnating individually [the whole of] all the faculties that nature has bestowed upon man, including those which are most contrary in appearance: reason and intuition, intellect, and sensibility...

[For Schiller] it is simply a question of desintellectualizing the Kantian aesthetics, and to displace the Kantian exigencies from the individual over to the collectivity. For instance, to assign to the political State the same ends, or absence of ends, as to subjectivity... [The] regularity of an object, of a work, and the harmony among its component parts give the impression that they only obey their own laws, and that this confers them a sort of "naturalness". They translate a perfect fit of form to matter as if form had been freely produced by matter itself, without constraint or artifice." [My italics]. "So, education by beauty allows to surpass the sensible State, to access the aesthetic State thanks to the "reasonable" mastery of pulsions, and to reach the political State, guarantor of the autonomy acquired in this way. From this passage from one State to the other, the experience of beauty is fundamental: beauty ennobles morally and this progress of morality means a progress of reason. At the end of this process, of the aesthetic education of man, the ideal State is outlined, in which merge the State of reason, the moral State, and the aesthetic State. As I wrote elsewhere (Ivanov, 1996, p. 103n) what is seldom stated in the neo-romantic kind of ethics of personal judgement and conviction, in absence of grand attempts at political-ethical syntheses like Fichte's, is what to do when different actors have opposing personal convictions or rationalities and do not want further debate, argumentation or negotiation. What to do with their so called "plurality of meanings and multiple perspectives" besides hoping that some "aesthetic language" will create consensus or, as it also has been called, "rationality resonance", in the guise of what the Leibnizian universal language was expected to accomplish?[18] My hypothesis is that they will be tempted soon to look for political solutions through support in various sub-communities or sub-cultures, that in the case of research can include publishing support. The Internet can contribute to this trend by facilitating the creation of more or less narrow virtual sub-communities that displace particular researchers' institutional loyalties. Despite the apparent lack of interest for politics, neo-romantic private rationality or subjective ethics turns, then, rapidly into objective, pragmatic faction politics and possibly war. It may also turn into a belief in a whole to be attained through the unifying systematizing power of the state, supposedly equal to society and the people. Similar such functions of the state may also be performed by the strong man and charismatic leader Big Brother, or by the lonely hero, or by the technical-artistic research genius, all of them with the strong (equal to right) vision, whether they be named führer, maestro of change, bricoleur, or other words from foreign languages. "Cooperative" work, computer supported or not, is of no avail here, since it becomes easily a tool for strategic manipulation in the "Chinese" totalitarian way.

I will conclude with the survey of some thoughts by Alexis Philonenko on "Science and opinion in the critique of the faculty of judgement" (Frank, et al., 1994, pp. 67ff). Before continuing, please note the word opinion in the stated title of the essay, remembering that it has already been stated that in design and strategy there is no truth but only opinion about better and worse. Philonenko observes (ibid. 73-80) that philosophy has two missions. On the one hand it has to uncover truth, on the other hand it has to make truth understood. The truth in Kant's theoretical philosophy could do without a connection to the good of practical philosophy. Kant did not establish a link between the true and the good: he did not pass simply from the true to the good, and further to the beautiful. Kant's practical philosophy, however, uncovering the truth of the great ethical principles of duty and freedom, could not do without a bridge that connects at least them, that is, the good, to common-sense and opinion which direct the human soul. "Beauty is the symbol of the good" is indeed what is already claimed by Plato in the Symposium, according to Marsilio Ficino (Plato, 1961, I guess esp. 212a). Nothing guaranteed that the moral law, a general and abstract idea, could be "applied" and touch the human spirit in its finiteness and narrowness. It was supposed that this, the relating between the moral order and moral course of the world could be achieved by intuition in its broad sense. This was the origin of the third Critique. Our life is fundamentally aesthetic but our destination is ethic, and we have to illuminate our life by means of our destination, and the other way round. The Critique of Judgement attempts this, and therefore it is written in a "popular" way with a certain simplicity of language that Kant himself did not deem legitimate for his other works, like, for instance, the Critique of Pure Reason.

Besides its fundamental mission of furnishing ethics with a necessary intuition, Kantian aesthetics brings with it a metaphysical consolation in the form of a conscience of the limits of our "opinionated" earthly existence, despite of its shortcoming in not leaving, for instance, place for love. In its subjectivity pretending to universality, in the vital force of life in the life-world where "to live" is to pretend to concretize the subjective universality, the Critique of Judgement attempts to fulfil the given mission. The necessity of an universal consensus by means of communication, that is conceived as a judgement of taste, is a subjective necessity, that is represented as objective under the presupposition of a common-sense (Frank, et al., 1994, pp. 85-88). The "synthesis", rather than system, of the first Critique must be completed with the "system" perceived through the aesthetic judgement, and this is made possible through teleology that clarifies the world and the destiny of man, and completes itself on religious considerations.

Summary and conclusions

I hope that the reader will note how these difficult and obscure commentaries to the third Critique (which are consistent with my earlier cursory readings of the primary sources) challenge our expectations of really understanding it, and of relying on its ideas for our IT-design and strategies. At the same time, these same commentaries recall several discussions and notions from the last few years that have crept into our theories on IT-strategy. What seems missing in the otherwise-justified criticism of earlier, superficial IT-approaches is this: an explicit awareness of the need for an ethics in its relation to theology and religion (theological aesthetics). This awareness arises from the fact that many notions used in the recent developments are pieces of historical attempts to "systematize" human understanding. These developments go hand in hand with a current tendency to neglect the notion of system as an outmoded remnant of narrow, vaguely-conceived, rationalistic thinking; such notion is paradoxically replaced, for example, by an aesthetic or Taoist integrated Whole.

The attempts to understand genuine Eastern Chinese strategy indicate that its notions, similar to our new fragmented ones, are very systematized. In the context of criticizing "rationality" in favor of neo-romantic "rationalities", or in favor of post-modern constructivist communication, there emerges a requirement at least for those who claim to guide and advise design-practitioners, if not the practitioners themselves: they must be able to systematize new proposed notions in general approaches so as to make explicit their philosophical or historical base. It is insufficient to refer to only some parts of some Kantian Critique, or merely to replace concepts by notions; theories or models by frameworks; and to put these new notions, terms or words in text or in figures where they are circled or boxed, in "systems" of connected arrows and boxes, or are related by means of so-called new languages. "That the meaning of 'input' is only vaguely understood in many systems designs is evidenced by the strong predilection to draw arrows and boxes" (Churchman, 1971, p. 107).

The result of negligence in exploring these problems, for instance, is that the previously mentioned "religious considerations" are not accounted for, since their place in the system ignored. Aestheticist Western thought then pretentiously assumes that it can rely on structures that are allegedly Kantian, without having to worry about the debates and doubts surrounding the third Critique, including its ethical and theological concerns. In a similar way one may think it possible to adopt a sort of Chinese thought - taken as an invalidation of Greek and Christian philosophy - without having to worry about the Chinese ethical or cosmological (not to mention "religious") assumptions. As suggested, much of the attraction of Buddhism, for example, may lie in apparently lesser demands, and the same is probably true for the attraction exerted by the hope of being able to make (even better) science and use of Western high-tech without caring for Western philosophy.

If present tendencies in strategic design are neither Eastern nor neo-romantic thought, they are eclecticism in disguise. This eclecticism can imply at best a return to pre-Socratic thought, while ignoring a substantial part of 2000 years of Western reflections; this eclecticism would also ignore the Scholastic grounds for the Western concepts of law and justice, including the notion of personal responsibility. One should remember that eclecticism is a doctrinaire -ism among others, with its own philosophical and historical background that are seldom acknowledged. Many believe that -isms in general, and pre-Socratic speculation or pragmatic eclecticism in particular, can work and remain ethically neutral; this belief survives so long as such superficiality thought is not challenged politically. Unfortunately, such challenges seldom occur in the presently unpopular Promethean way of "prudence-providence", but, rather with hindsight, as an Epimethean "rationality with and after the action", perhaps in the spirit of Plato (1961, Protag. 320-321e, 361d), who is now rejected in favor of the pre-Socratics including their poetry and drama. Or rather, as it has been formulated in other contexts: the rationality in the actions of a designer does not exist before the actions actually take place. Referring to my discussion above of the political complications of the neo-romantic and eclectic attitudes, an illustrative case may be the recent Swedish scandal (with wide international repercussions) about eugenic sterilization. This scandal involves 62.000 people who were sterilized between 1935 and 1976 (The Economist, 1997b). Despite the apparent "planning" involved, the program's intellectual and ethical effort was insignificant, relative to its duration and import; this discrepancy implies that the program can be considered an improvisation, and unified thought and action directed by the typical design-notions of beauty and economy. If this program were active today its improvised on-line actions would probably have been computer-supported by some carefully designed IT-systems. It is my contention that exactly this kind of superficiality ultimately leads to the ephemeral concepts and management fads that have dominated research on strategy and IT: yesterday pragmatic social engineering seen as art of statesmanship, today Eastern neo-romantic improvisation seen as art of design and strategy. In any case, ephemerality or flexibility for change in a culture can indeed be considered to be a characterization of genuine barbarism and lack of culture.

If we address to critics of strategic alignment the same questioning of basic assumptions that is required for its advocates, we will find that both positions suffer from a lack of systematized philosophical and historical foundations. One conclusion will be that all nominally new conceptual systems must be "systematized", in order to raise them above the triviality of familiar empiricism or from implicit "grounded theory", and to protect them from the fate of ephemeral opportunism of earlier management fads. Not that fads of management of design and strategy cannot be "successful". The notion of fad is related to attractive fashion and to the brilliant rhetoric of a superficially conceived taste. To paraphrase Newman's criticism (1885, p. 198, 129): "If all beauty is truth, virtue being only one kind of beauty the principle which determines it is not conscience, but taste. One who aspires to the character of a man of quality is, then, careful to form his judgement of arts and sciences upon a repertoire of right models of perfection. Such most original mind may be able indeed to dazzle, to amuse, to refute, to perplex, but not to come to any useful result or any trustworthy conclusion; every now and then you will find a person of vigorous and fertile mind, who relies upon his own resources and gives the world, with utmost fearlessness, his views upon religion, history, design, strategy, or, for that matter, systems or any other popular subject; and his works may sell presumed practical success for a while; he may get a name in his day; but this will be all, and his popularity drops as suddenly as it rose."

My initial observation was that current understanding of Chinese thought and Kantian aesthetics displays an intellectual depth, which should inform our rather amateurish notions of IT-strategy. My final suggestion is in close connection with notions that were surveyed at the outset, for instance care, hospitality, and cultivation: these notions should be translated into either closely corresponding Chinese notions (as suggested in the text above) or closely corresponding notions in Kant's third Critique. Other current notions like technological shifting and drifting could be translated, for instance, into a development of the Thomistic "theory of use" (Simon, 1972, pp. 173ff) that suggests a Christian theory of action, for instance in the way of the Catholic Catechism (1996). In all cases the ethical implications would be pursued and related to the essence and theological implications of technology (Mitcham, & Grote, 1984). This process amounts to using the insights from Chinese thought to understand better the problems codified (but not solved) in the third Critique, rather than vice versa. It is indeed necessary to delve into the essence of technology, especially information technology, which probably escapes the frame of Aristotelian practical knowledge and ethics, being much closer in nature to Aristotelian and Thomist metaphysics. A starting point for studies could be Aristotelian discussions about what amounts to methods of design, action in late sense, capacity or "actability", practice vs. learning, thinking and reflection, and aesthetic relevance of forms and mathematics, in his Metaphysics, especially books III-XIV (Aristotle, 1984, vol. 2).

So-called IT-artifacts can, after all, have little to do with Aristotelian or even Heideggerian artifacts. In short, so-called IT-artifacts can turn out not to be artifacts at all, or perhaps they should not be regarded mainly as artifacts. The wish to consider them as artifacts, or even as tools, can be motivated mainly by the expectation that their design could be turned into a vaguely grasped "Chinese" or practical knowledge, and separated more easily from philosophy and Kantian systems thinking with its, despite it all, more rigorous and demanding links to metaphysics and theology as grounds for ethics.

Information seems to be rather a matter of metaphysics which tends to be an unwelcome notion in IT-research intended to support the international competitivity of our national industries. If this is bad news for supposed IT-researchers and practitioners who believe that social science can ignore the relations between technology, philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, and theology, then let it be bad news. The worst thing that can happen seems to be that we might not be able to sell and exploit the results of our research in the form of "aesthetic" fads in the management of IT-design and IT-strategy. In any case, the challenge posed by Chinese thought may be productive, since it poses fundamental questions at its base about our Western metaphysical (and ethical) systemic assumptions. These assumptions may have to be re-accomplished.


I thank David Modjeska for his dedicated review of parts of my text in order to improve my English, and for his (and my colleagues') encouragement. I have not yet been able to incorporate all his suggestions in the present version.


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