The activity of inquiring into the fundamental assumptions of one’s practice is a philosophical activity. It is philosophical in the most concrete sense, and not in the unfortunate common sense understanding of philosophy as the study of abstractions.
Karl Lewin once said that there is nothing more practical than a good theory. A theory gives us perspective. It is like the light that allows us to see things although we do not see the very light itself. Theory gives us an appreciation of the rules of the game that we are playing. If we do not have an appreciation of the rules of the game that we are playing, we cannot make sense of the rules of the game. We simply do not know how to play.
The virtue of a theory is that it is already, for the most part, in the background of our practice. When playing a game, we should not need to spend too much time thinking about the rules of the game in order to play the game effectively. Indeed, the more we spend time thinking about the rules of the game, the less attentive we are to the trajectory of the ball and so before we know it, the ball has passed us by.
Thomas Kuhn, the father of the modern use of the word paradigm, said that a scientist should not need to spend too much time thinking about their paradigm. It gets in the way of their everyday activities as a scientist. Scientists need to take the rules of their game for granted in order to play it effectively – as does a sportswomen or man.
Kuhn says that it is only in times of paradigm crisis that scientists are challenged to think through the rules of the scientific game that they are playing. And thereby they unknowingly and unwittingly become philosophers. He and many others say: Philosophy is the activity of questioning the rules of the game that we are playing.
However, it is a special sort of questioning of the rules. It is a questioning of the rules in the life world of the scientist. This means that it is not just a questioning of an abstract set of principles. It is much more fundamental than that. It is a questioning of the rules in the context of playing by the rules! It is a questioning of the very fundamental basis upon which the scientist makes sense of the world. It is a questioning of the very rules that have up until this point, guided the scientist and their way of doing science. These rules have formed the basis of the security of the scientist, and of her or his identity.
When these rules are thrown into question, the scientist may find themselves in a vortex of deep anxiety. Thomas Kuhn gives Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Heisenberg and Wolfgang Pauli, those fathers of modern science, as exemplars of people who have had the fundamental rules of the scientific game knocked out of them. They have been thrust into deep uncertainty in order to finally disclose the world in new and different ways. Einstein disclosed the world of relativity and Heisenberg and Bohr opened up the world of quantum physics. Each of them experienced the collapse of the old scientific conventions and, through bringing deep thoughtfulness, new forms emerged.
For most of their lives they were scientists. At crucial periods they became philosophers. And when they became philosophers they came face to face with their own practice as scientists. And this coming face to face was frightening and created a sense of vulnerability. In time it also created the courage of authenticity, of authoring their own work and, in that space, disclosing whole new fields of inquiry.
This book focuses on the way in which such paradigm crises are opportunities for becoming philosophers in-practice. What will be seen in the pages that follow are a group of managers who have become philosophical practitioners through a process of working through ‘paradigm crises’ in the context of their professional practices. Through the working-through of a paradigm crisis, they have each developed new or broader worlds of practice by examining their taken-for-granted theories of practice. This experience enabled them to develop the competencies for working on their practice while staying within their practices. They have developed the competencies or ways of being to become philosophical management practitioners.
We are asking you the reader to be open to a new meaning of the practice of philosophy; one in which philosophy is not simply an abstract set of propositions to be analysed but one through which philosophy enables professionalism. Through each and every chapter of the book we are offering you the possibility to see a process of reinventing a practice, a methodology, even ways of living.
Philosophical research offers a generic set of reflective and reflexive competencies for staying tuned in the twenty-first century. The capacity for responding to paradigm crises is essential for coping in a world of qualitative uncertainty; a world in which our lives seem stable but suddenly without warning, our very practices seem to shatter. This experience is almost commonplace. Like a fish that swims in water, we are seldom aware of the theories in which we swim. It takes much thoughtful and challenging inquiry to become aware of the theory of practice that has guided and shaped our ways of being and doing in our practices. And then slowly, there is the opportunity to rebuild our practice, differently; more coherently suited to what the practice needs.
Experiential philosophy – or more particularly existential philosophy – is that form of research which provides a framework for making explicit the implicit and the taken-for-granted theory or set of conventions which guide our own practice.
Research regarding our own theories of practice is experiential because we are inquiring into our ways of doing things. It is philosophical because we are exploring our assumptions. And we are using our lived experience of being in doubt, troubled and even anxious as opportunities through which to explore the assumptions of our practice. Furthermore, we are opening up new ways of being in practice.
In existential–experiential forms of research, we are ourselves part of the research.
Such experience or existential forms of philosophising are actually a research novelty. Traditional social scientific management research is guided by principles of science. Axiomatic to science is a separation between the researcher and the researched, the thinker and the doer. These stand at an objective distance from each other.
The psychologist Carl Rogers once said that what is most personal is also most universal. Each author in this book is a professional who is provoked by something ‘troubling’ in their practice. This is not research for the sake of doing research. Rather it is research that arises out of deep care and concern for the particular area of inquiry, often after many years of professional practice. Each one of the authors is both courageous and authentic in how they bring their particular voice to their inquiring, their research, their understanding and their expression of what transpired in the process.
When through moments of interruptions in our lived experience we inquire into the assumptions that guide our actions, we are entering into a process of philosophising.
Many may ask: what makes this research? And the answer is very simple: it is through the exploration of the lived experiences of particular practices that general assumptions emerge: assumptions which are neither yours nor mine but ours.
All of the chapters of this book invite you to do more than read and absorb the work of the authors; they call you to explore your own taken-for-granted theories of practice and thereby to enter into the lived experience of your own philosophical activity.
Steven Segal and Claire Jankelson