Concerns with the way systems thinking is used in evaluation | Michael C. Jackson, OBE | 2023-02-27

In a recording of the debate between Michael Quinn Patton and Michael C. Jackson on “Systems Concepts in Evaluation”, Patton referenced four concepts published in the “Principles for effective use of systems thinking in evaluation” (2018) by the Systems in Evaluation Topical Interest Group (SETIG) of the American Evaluation Society.

The four concepts are: (i) interrelationships; (ii) perspectives; (iii) boundaries; and (iv) dynamics.

At 16m36s into the recording, the debate turned to Jackson for a response.

[16m36] Thanks, Barb. I’m concerned with the way in which we use systems thinking in evaluation. I’ll try and pick out some issues that I see with the Systems Concepts approach, which means the use of interrelationships, perspectives, boundaries, and dynamics in evaluation practice.

[17m00s] And to make the case for what I think is the clearer guidance that Critical Systems Practice can give.

[17m09s] A problem with the concepts is that they don’t reflect the full range of systems thinking or the full range of systems approaches.

[17m20s] They’re actually a relatively narrow set of concepts if you look across the systems field.

[17m30s] If you were to take one of the best known system thinkers, Peter Checkland, he comes up with a notion that the key consistent concepts are communication and control (cybernetic concepts) and emergence and hierarchy.

[17:47] Patrick Hoverstadt, who is the the chair of System and Complexity in Organizations, the UK professional body for systems thinking, comes up with 33 systems principles in his recent book The Grammar of Systems.

[18m05s] I think it’s not doing systems thinking justice, and possibly not doing evaluation much good, just to stick to four concepts out of the very many that exist in systems thinking, all reflecting upon different systems approaches. So that’s my first point.

[18m26s] My second point is that I feel that the the concepts can be interpreted very differently by different people, according to their existing world views, and that concepts on their own, separated from the world views or the historical theoretical traditions which make them meaningful, are actually relatively empty, and meaningless.

[18m56s] You have to see concepts within a system of signs, a language game, which gives them meaning.

[19m07s] So for example, the concept of interrelationships in System Dynamics, that means causal relationships in feed forward and feedback loops.

[19m18s] In Soft Systems Methodology, interrelationships refers to the relationships between different stakeholders and their particular world views.

[19m30s] And so totally different to meanings there. And I could say the same for all of the concepts.

[19m36s] So boundaries in System Dynamics means all those things which you regard as endogenously influential on the system.

[19m48s] Boundaries in Critical Systems Heuristics means what values are, what facts are included, in a particular decision to change something some way, and which are excluded, and what the impact that has upon stakeholders.

[20m05s] So, unfortunately, I think the the concepts are pretty meaningless unless you take them back to their root metaphors or the intellectual traditions from which they emerge.

[20m14s] Now the danger of that, for me, is that the people who are using these concepts are likely to interpret them according to their existing world views.

[20m25s] And as we know, the tradition in much of evaluation and in much management theory is to go back to the mechanistic perspective.

[20m33s] And I feel that people will have no difficulty whatsoever interpreting these concepts according to a mechanistic worldview that they already have.

[20m43s] Therefore, I argue that the clearer guidance offered by the range of systems methodologies which are Incorporated within critical systems practice can provide clearer more precise guidance and is a better way of using systems approaches and evaluation.

Most listeners would not be aware that, with root metaphors, Michael C. Jackson is referring to Root Metaphors described by Stephen C. Pepper, or Root Metaphor Theory.


Quality Criteria for Action Research | Herr, Anderson (2015)

How might the quality of an action research initiative be evaluated?

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We have linked our five validity criteria (outcome, process, democratic, catalytic, and dialogic) to the goals of action research. Most traditions of action research agree on the following goals: (a) the generation of new knowledge, (b) the achievement of action-oriented outcomes, (c) the education of both researcher and participants, (d) results that are relevant to the local setting, and (e) a sound and appropriate research methodology. Based on these goals, we have identified indicators of quality for action research studies. In Table 4.1 we show how these goals are linked to validity criteria. [p. 67]

Goals of Action ResearchQuality / Validity / Criteria
1. The generation of new knowledgeDialogic and process validity
2. The achievement of action-oriented outcomesOutcome validity
3. The education of both researcher and participantsCatalytic validity
4. Results that are relevant to the local settingDemocratic validity
5. A sound and appropriate research methodologyProcess validity
Table 4.1 Anderson and Herr’s Goals of Action Research and Validity Criteria

Outcome Validity. One test of the validity of action research is the extent to which actions occur, which leads to a resolution of the problem that led to the study. Greenwood and Levin (2006) call this criteria workability and link it to John Dewey’s notion of pragmatism. Watkins (1991) points out that “many Action Research studies abort at the stage of diagnosis of a problem or the implementation of a single solution strategy, irrespective of whether or not it resolves the presenting problem” (p. 8). Brooks and Watkins (1994) suggest skillfulness as action research’s equivalent to credibility for naturalistic inquiry or validity for positivist research. Action researchers must be competent at both research procedures and moving participants toward successful action outcomes. [pp. 67-68]

Jacobson (1998) uses the term integrity to discuss his criteria for good action research. Integrity must rest on “the quality of action which emerges from it, and the quality of data on which the action is based” (p. 130). Thus, outcome validity is synonymous with the “successful” outcome of the research project. This, of course, begs the question raised below under democratic validity, that is, successful for whom? Outcome validity also acknowledges the fact that rigorous action research, rather than simply solving a problem, forces the researcher to reframe the problem in a more complex way, often leading to a new set of questions or problems. This ongoing reframing of problems leads to the spiraling dynamic that characterizes the process of most action research over a sustained period of inquiry.

Process Validity. This asks to what extent problems are framed and solved in a manner that permits ongoing learning of the individual or system. In this sense, outcome validity is dependent on process validity in that, if the process is superficial or flawed, the outcome will reflect it. Are the “findings” a result of a series of reflective cycles that include the ongoing problematization of the practices under study? Such a process of reflection should include looping back to reexamine underlying assumptions behind problem definition (Argyris et al., 1985). Process validity must also deal with the much-debated problem of what counts as evidence to sustain assertions, as well as the quality of the relationships that are developed with participants. [p. 68]

Here, some criteria might be borrowed from naturalistic inquiry, depending on how evidence is defined. The notion of triangulation, or the inclusion of multiple perspectives, guards against viewing events in a simplistic or self-serving way. Triangulation also can refer to using a variety of methods—for example, observation and interviews—so that one is not limited to only one kind of data source. Process is not, however, limited to method. In narrative and essayist forms of inquiry, there are distinct criteria for what makes a good empirical narrative (as opposed to fiction). Connelly and Clandinin (1990) warn that “not only may one ‘fake the data’ and write a fiction but one may also use the data to tell a deception as easily as a truth” (p. 10). (For an elaboration of validity criteria for narrative research, see Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Heikkinen, et al., 2007.) [pp. 68-69]

Democratic Validity. This refers to the extent to which research is done in collaboration with all parties who have a stake in the problem under investigation. If not done collaboratively, how are multiple perspectives and material interests taken into account in the study? For example, are teachers, nurses, social workers, or CEOs using action research to find solutions to problems that benefit them at the expense of other stakeholders? Are patients, clients, students, and community members seen as part of the insider community that undertakes this type of research, or are they viewed as outsiders by action researchers? Even when collaboration takes place, how deep does it go and how wide does it extend? While process validity depends on the inclusion of multiple voices for triangulation, democratic validity views it as an ethical and social justice issue.

Another version of democratic validity is what Cunningham (1983) calls local validity, in which the problems emerge from a particular context and in which solutions are appropriate to that context. Watkins (1991) calls this relevancy or applicability criteria for validity (i.e., how do we determine the relevance of findings to the needs of the problem context?) (p. 15). Drawing on Bronfenbrenner (1979), Tandon et al. (2001) use the term ecological validity, or the degree to which the constructs and products of the research are relevant to the participating group.

Catalytic Validity. This is “the degree to which the research process reorients, focuses, and energizes participants toward knowing reality in order to transform it” (Lather, 1986, p. 272). In the case of action research, not only the participants, but the researchers/practitioners themselves must be open to reorienting their view of reality as well as their view of their role. All involved in the research should deepen their understanding of the social reality under study and should be moved to some action to change it (or to reaffirm their support of it). The most powerful action research studies are those in which the researchers recount a spiraling change in their own and their participants’ understandings. This reinforces the importance of keeping a research journal in which action researchers can monitor their own change process and consequent changes in the dynamics of the setting. While this criteria overlaps with process and democratic validity, it highlights the transformative potential of action research, which makes it so appealing to many critical pedagogues, organization and staff developers, and change agents.

Dialogic Validity. In academic research, the “goodness” of research is monitored through a form of peer review. Research reports must pass through the process of peer review to be disseminated through academic journals. Many academic journals even provide opportunities for researchers to engage in point–counterpoint debates about research. A similar form of peer review is beginning to develop within and among action research communities. Many action research groups are forming throughout North America, as action researchers seek dialogue with peers. In addition, refereed publishing venues for action research have increased dramatically in the last decade. This is particularly important for those doing action research dissertations, since those who take academic jobs will need to publish their work. [p. 69]

Dialogic validity is similar to democratic validity but differs in that the focus is less on broad inclusion than on the validation—both during and after the study—that methods, evidence, and findings resonate with a community of practice. To promote both democratic and dialogic validity, some have insisted that action research should only be done as collaborative inquiry (Torbert, 1981; Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Others simply suggest that action researchers participate in critical and reflective dialogue with other action researchers (Martin, 1987) or work with a critical friend who is familiar with the setting and can serve as devil’s advocate for alternative explanations of research data. When the dialogic nature of practitioner inquiry is stressed, then studies can achieve what Myers (1985) calls “goodness-of-fit with the intuitions of the practitioner community, both in its definition of problems and in its findings” (p. 5).1

  • 1 Bray, Lee, Smith, and Yorks (2000) provide another approach to doing collaborative research while carving out individual dimensions of the research.

All of the above validity criteria for action research are tentative and in flux. [p. 70]

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Herr, Kathryn, and Gary L. Anderson. 2015. “Quality Criteria for Action Research: An Ongoing Conversation.” In The Action Research Dissertation, 2nd ed., 63–79. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

Western Union and the canton of Ticino, Switzerland

After 90 minutes on phone and online chat with WesternUnion, the existence of the canton of Ticino in Switzerland is denied, so I can’t send money from Canada. TicinoTurismo should be unhappy. The IT developers at Western Union should be dissatisfied that customer support agents aren’t sending them legitimate bug reports

I initially tried the online chat, and was unable to find a way to reach an agent. From Canada, calling into Western Union Customer Care at 1-800-235-0000 only led to a suggestion to call Western Union Switzerland at +32-02-639-7109, that is not a toll-free call. The agent was unable to connect me directly.

Waiting on hold, I then tried the online chat again, and managed to reach an agent. I let the agent on the phone off. After some newbie questions, the online agent asked for a screen capture of the problem page, that I uploaded into the chat window.

After having started the chat session with a clear definition of the problem, the agent denied that this was a server software issue.

Although I offered to send a screen shot of the problem, the agent didn’t seem to want that. I created a screen capture, anyway.

In the end, the agent informed me that I couldn’t have a recipient in Chiasso, Ticino, Switzerland!

After this, the agent stopped responding, and I noticed the countdown timeout approaching.

A complaint from a customer is an opportunity to welcome learning. This is my first time using Western Union, and I’m not impressed.

Chiasso (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkjasso]LombardCiass[ˈtʃas]) is a municipality in the district of Mendrisio in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland.

Aesthetics | Encyclopaedia Britannica | 15 edition

Stephen C. Pepper was a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edition, that was released in 1974 (and seemed to be the current resource through 2012).

A critical review of the Aesthetics entry specifically mentions Pepper. The section on Aesthetics doesn’t seem to follow the “clans” with a British orientation, with American and/or Continental points of view.

One of the articles that overrides to an admirable extent the clannishness exhibited thus far is the entry on “Aesthetics” by Stephen Pepper and Thomas Munro. The discussion not only includes the historical and contemporary options of the West, but also considers in some detail the interpretations presented by the Orient, the special province of Thomas Munro in this work. This is the only article in the systematic section that gives substantial attention to the Orient, a direction future editors of the Encyclopaedia should be encouraged to follow as a matter of policy in an increasingly global society. And at the same time, the article exhibits more than casual acquaintance with work being done in the sciences on aesthetics. Pepper recommends the study of aesthetics, among other things, as a case study for the philosophy of science, for it is a discipline in process of breaking away from philosophy to become a specialty in its own right. [p 727]

Philosophy is thus viewed as general comprehension and the seat of future specialties. Pepper basically divides approaches to the field into naturalist-hedonistic theories which have been developed in the direction of the scientific approach, and “non-scientific” approaches. The latter category begins with Kant’s analysis of the insight into deeper values afforded by the genius through the harmonization of understanding and sensibility. It includes contextualist emphases upon the qualities that are the objects of experience, organistic emphases upon the wholeness of experience with its objects, formistic emphases upon imitation of the object, expressionist theories, mystical theories as well as linguistic analytical theories. The Oriental section underscores the mystical interpretation, though Munro goes out of his way, by repeating it several times, to claim the possibility of a naturalist interpretation. Pepper’s conclusion calls for an integration of the varying non-scientific approaches with the scientifie, since the aesthetic ought not only to be studied “from without,” but most especially lived through and reflected upon “from within.” [pp. 727-728]

Two deficiencies in an otherwise excellent article might be noted. The limitation of Plato’s notion of art to imitation omits the distinction between imitative artists and divine artists in the Phaedrus and fails to consider Plato’s own practice in myth-making at the end of the Republic. Secondly, Pepper’s description of the limitation of Gestalt theory to dealing with the object does not give any attention to the Leipzig Gestaltists Felix Krueger, Wilhelm Stern, and Philipp Lersch who focused attention upon the status of feeling. But these are minor limitations in an otherwise admirable exposition. [p. 728]


Wood, Robert E. 1977. “Philosophy in the New Encyclopaedia Britannica.” The Review of Metaphysics 30 (4): 715–52.

#aesthetics, #stephen-c-pepper

Root Metaphor: The Live Thought of Stephen C. Pepper (1980)

For scholars seeking references to the articles published in special issue of Paunch (1980) on the work of Stephen C. Pepper, the pursuit will seem elusive. Fortunately, the editor in chief, Art Efron, put the contents on the open Internet. Although he’s Efron has since retired and the web pages are gone, the content has been preserved on the Internet Archive!

This issue of Paunch is devoted entirely to the philosophy of S.C. Pepper. Eventually all twenty of the essays will be available at this site including the painting by Hiroshige, “The Shono Station.” The essays will be individually listed on this page but can also be accessed through the Table of Contents by clicking on Paunch link at the beginning of this paragraph.

“Work Related to Pepper”, at
Utagawa Hiroshige (1933) Driving Rain at Shono (Station 46) from the series Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido [described at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and displayed on Flickr as “Shono, 45è station du Tokaido (Musée Guimet / MNAAG, Paris)” by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra as part of a temporary exhibition “Sur la route du Tokaido” in 2019.

The 221-page issue was reviewed in a variety of philosophy journals.

This special edition edition of of Paunch magazine magazine presents essays on Stephen C. Pepper’s theory of root metaphor, developed in in World Hypotheses, and its extensions to aesthetics aesthetics and art criticism. [p. 90] [….]

The order of presentation of these essays generally follows Pepper’s original view, beginning with the general theory of root metaphor in metaphysics, then moving to more special applications in aesthetics. Arthur Efron in a 42-page Introduction indicates that Pepper’s attempt was not to devise a metaphysical theory, but to determine a procedure for testing truth claims, a method for understanding any metaphysical theory. And Pepper clearly saw here no sharp division between philosophy, psychology (especially psychology of visual perception), and physiology. Pepper, Efron claims, “is the only one to argue consistently that actually there are only four or five relatively adequate views” in metaphysics. Relations may be found here, however, with Irwin Edman’s Four Ways of Philosophy, which was published in 1937, the same year as Aesthetic Quality. There is no question that Pepper was in close contact not only with Dewey but with Edman as well—Columbia University’s professor of “Philosophy of Art and Theory of Criticism.” Elmer H. Duncan writes about why he believes “Pepper should be considered one of the greatest philosophers of this century” (p. 64). Of the general commentators on Pepper’s theory of root metaphor, only Charles Hartshorne is seriously negative. [p. 91] [….]

It is clear that the hope of many of these writers is to help rectify the eclipse of Pepper’s metaphysical and aesthetic theory by the domination in recent decades of analytical philosophy. But the suggestion in many places that the significance of Pepper’s thought is to be found in its practical application—not only to art criticism, but to psychology, gerontology, the teaching of humanities, or even to library science (see p. 34) — bypasses the kind of logical argument needed to defend the significance of Pepper’s thought on a philosophical level. The telling criticisms of Hartshorne or Yanal remain unanswered by notes of practical usefulness.

Harrell, Jean G. 1980. Review of Root Metaphor: The Live Thought of Stephen C. Pepper, by Arthur Efron and John Herold. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 39 (1): 90–92., .

Pepper’s work in aesthetics was closely linked to his contributions to value theory and to metaphysics. In value theory he extended the cognitive naturalism of Ralph Barton Perry in conjunction with the purposive behaviorism of Edward Tolman. In 1947 Pepper presented his value theory in compact form in A Digest of Purposive Values, and elaborated it in comprehensive, technical detail in Sources of Value (1958). His textbook, Ethics (1960), offers a social adjustment theory of morality; it contains, in compressed and elementary form, his general theory of value based on the concept of the selective system as the unifying principle. In metaphysics, Pepper’s book, World Hypotheses (1942), is a minor, contemporary classic. Against the anti-metaphysical positivisms of his time, Pepper treated metaphysical theories as world hypotheses, and traced their origin to root metaphors drawn from ordinary experience. He then argued that there are only four adequate world hypotheses – formism, mechanism, organicism, and contextualism; and, further, that these world hypotheses are equally adequate and autonomous. Then in his 1961 Carus lectures, published as as Concept and Quality (1967), Pepper advanced a fifth world hypothesis — selectivism — as his own. [pp. 66-67].

Despite the quantity and quality of his works, Pepper, like so many of his philosophical compatriots, has been neglected by the contemporary American community of professional philosophers. Perhaps the present volume under review will usher in a period of deserved critical appre- ciation of Pepper’s thought, although it is noteworthy that its editors, Arthur Efron and John Herold, are not professional philosophers, but an English professor and a professor of literature and music appreciation respectively. Nonetheless, the volume of essays they have assembled and to which they have ably contributed will reward the attention of philosophers. Arthur Efron introduces the volume with a long essay (pp. 5-53) which provides not only a probing interpretation of Pepper’s thought but also a helpful overview of significant commentary on it, including the contents of the volume under review. For a judicious assessment of Pepper’s continuing value, Efron’s essay is highly recommended. [p. 67]

Reck, Andrew J. 1981. Review of Review of Root Metaphor: The Live Thought of Stephen C. Pepper, by Arthur Efron and John Herold. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 17 (1): 65–69. .

In the poetry collection of the University of Buffalo is a collection of “Paunch Magazine records (Art Efron)” with the note, “This collection has not yet been fully processed”.

Paunch, the journal of literary criticism founded by longtime UB English faculty member Art Efron, endured for 37 years and became a home for radical ideas and different genres.

Efron, who retired from UB in 2005 after more than 40 years on the faculty, will share behind-the-scenes stories of Paunch ….

Wuetcher, Sue. 2016. “Efron to Share Behind-the-Scenes Stories of Paunch.” Research News. UBNow (blog). May 16, 2016. .

#contextualism, #paunch, #stephen-c-pepper

Stephen Pepper’s “World Hypotheses” | TOK-SOCIETY-L@LISTSERV.JMU.EDU | 2018

A rich discussion on “Stephen Pepper’s World Hypotheses” was begun in January 2018 on the Theory Of Knowledge listserv at , led by Steven Quackenbush at the University of Maine, Farmington

2018-01-07 First episode at;533b5a05.1801

2018-01-24 Season 1, Episode 2 at;cb6d2f1b.1801&S=

2018-01-21 Season 1, Episode 3 at;c93812d7.1801&S=

2018-01-28 Penultimate Episode at;a36f9d53.1801&S= , with Conceptualism.pdf at–089e082767f0df56290563e1c630&T=application%2Fpdf;%20name=%22Contextualism.pdf%22&N=Contextualism.pdf&attachment=q&XSS=3

2018-02-04 Season Finale at;5f06bad6.1802&S= , with Organicism.pdf at–94eb2c14aa7c2c95a0056469034f&T=application%2Fpdf;%20name=%22Organicism.pdf%22&N=Organicism.pdf&attachment=q&XSS=3

#conceptualism, #organicism, #stephen-c-pepper, #world-hypotheses

Archive of Work related to Stephen C. Pepper ~ 1989 | Bill J. Harrell

In reading Daley (2000), I noted the following footnote.

I would like to thank Bill J. Harrell, recently retired professor at the department of Sociology and Anthropology at S.U.N.Y. Institute of Technology, for his time and helpful claficiation relative to the work of Stephen C. Pepper. In addition I refer the read to Harrell’s web page at ( [sic, dead link, available at ] where he has assembled articles related to Pepper’s work in a variety of disciplines, a Pepper list for communication between researchers using Pepper’s ideas, and more. Also, refer to the Stephen C. Pepper homepage organized and maintained by Bill Harrell at ( [sic, dead link, available on Internet Archive] (p. 62)

The Stephen C. Pepper archive, apparently last updated in 3/89, was available until 2007, at

On the page “Links to Webpages Related to S.C. Pepper” at is a mention of a special issue of The Journal of Mind and Behavior,

The “Work Related to Pepper” page at has some resources that aren’t readily accessible anywhere, including:


Daley, Michael C. 2000. “An Image of Enduring Plurality in Economic Theory: The Root -Metaphor Theory of Stephen C Pepper.” Doctoral dissertation, Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. .

Stephen C. Pepper Home Page
#paunch, #stephen-c-pepper, #world-hypotheses

Kairos and chronos in medical practice | Hippocrates ~ 300 BCE

Attributed to Hippocrates is the use of the term kairos in observational methodology, and the presentation of significant findings.

Hippocrates uses timing and time issues continually throughout his medical works. His most famous statement on kairos occurs at the beginning of his book called Precepts. It has been translated as: “every kairos is a chronos, but not every chronos is a kairos.” I will quote it more fully: [p. 98]

  • Time [chrónos] is that wherein there is opportunity [kairós], and opportunity [kairós] is that wherein there is no great time [chrónos]. Healing is a matter of time [chrónos] but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity [kairós]. However, knowing this, one must attend in medical practice not primarily to plausible theories, but to experience combined with reason. For a theory is a composite memory of things apprehended with the sense- perception. For the sense-perception, coming first in experience and conveying to the intellect the things subjected to it, is clearly imaged, and the intellect, receiving these things many times, noting the occasion, the time and the manner, stores them up in itself and remembers. Now I approve of theorizing also if it lays its foundation in in- cident, and deduces its conclusions in accordance with phenomena. ( Jones I.313 – 15)

Kairos here is clearly aligned with experimentation, with experience, with incident, with phenomena. It is opposed to theorizing separated from these contacts. This solid declaration placed medical methodology on the path which it has fairly steadfastly pursued in Western civilization since that time. Hippocrates also defines “theory,” insisting that it is intimately tied to and re- liant upon the particular context of observed experience. The process of the- orizing is thus made more complex, but certainly not cut off from the realities of normal experience. The definition’s proximity to the statement on time and the theoretical weight of timeliness in the definition further prove the importance of kairos in the overall outlook of Hippocrates. [p. 99]

Just to be scholarly, Hippocrates is generally reported as a institution, rather than a person.

Although Hippocrates is generally accepted as the father of medicine, few have recognized, or even realized, the extent to which he is responsible for the discourse of science more generally (and some might even claim, of history as well). Perhaps the reason for this oversight is the lack of agreement about the connection between the historical figure of Hippocrates and what is generally called the “Corpus Hippocraticum.” There is no doubt that an historical physi- cian named Hippocrates existed, but the ability of scholars to prove (or dis- prove) his authorship of certain medical texts throws his reliability into doubt (Levine, 19; Prioreschi, 231). For this reason, when I refer to “Hippocrates,” I am not referring to the doctor born on Cos in 460 b.c., but rather to the Hip- pocratic Collection gathered c.300 b.c. by the Alexandrian Medical School. These texts are what has come to represent for us the notion of Hippocrates and Hippocratic medicine. Beyond the issues of textual assignation, however, are the very innovative ideas which Hippocrates left for posterity. [p. 97]


Eskin, Catherine R. 2002. “Hippocrates, Kairos, and Writing in the Sciences.” In Rhetoric and Kairos: Essays in History, Theory, and Praxis, edited by Phillip Sipiora and James S. Baumlin, 97–113. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. .

Autopoiesis as in the contextualist root metaphor | Mancing, Marston-William (2022)

Autopoiesis, as coined by Humberto Maturana, is in the contextualist root metaphor of Stephen C. Pepper, rather than the organismic root metaphor, say #HowardMancing and #JenniferMarstonWilliam @PurdueLibArts .

The reference to Pepper comes through Diane Gillespie, working in cognitive psychology.

In place of mechanism, Gillespie proposes the worldview Pepper calls contextualism. The root metaphor of contextualism, she notes, is the historical event:

  • For the contextualist, experience consists of total events that are rich in features… . Because the event takes up the knower in the known, contextualism is an interactive, dynamic worldview. Moreover, nothing in the event is permanent or immutable because each particular changes with the flux of time. The contextualist focuses on the richness of experience and on shared meanings that arise out of interaction with others. Truth lies in the process of taking up the whole context of the event … And so meaning is embodied in our experience of the world. (18)

In contrast to Gardner’s (1985) definition of cognitive science, with its emphasis on empirical methods and its strong cognitivist orientation, Gillespie defines the field as one which “poses fundamental questions about knowing and acting, about how we come to understand our experiences in the world” (1). [p. 283]

The philosophical orientation is clarified.

Contextualism is always explicitly situated in the real world and in the actual activities of living organisms; as Pepper indicates (1942, 141), it is closely associated with pragmatism. If cognitivism ignores or removes context to isolate mind from body and body from environment, a contextualist approach does exactly the opposite. contextualism always maintains a sense of the past, both the historical past and the past of an individual’s personal experiences. [pp. 283-284]

Referring to the inspiration for autopoiesis by Matarana, the contrast with an organismic root metaphor is described.

Pioneering proponents of our embodied reality were the neurobiologists Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela. Following up on their earlier collaborative work (1980; originally published in Spanish in 1973), the two collaborated on The Tree of Knowledge (1992), an introduction to the biology of understanding built around the concept of autopoiesis. Maturana has described how he coined the term that became central to his and Varela’s work:

  • It was in these circumstances that one day, while talking with a friend (José Bulmes) about an essay of his on Don Quixote de la Mancha, in which he analyzed Don Quixote’s dilemma of whether to follow the path of arms (praxis, action) or the path of letters (poiesis, creation, production), and his eventual choice of the path of praxis deferring any attempt at poiesis, I understood for the first time the power of the word “poiesis” and invented the word that we needed: autopoiesis. This was a word without a history, a word that could directly mean what takes place in the dynamics of the autonomy proper to living systems. (1980, xvii) [p. 285]

It is interesting that this Contextualist biologist finds inspiration in literature, something that no bona fide Cognitivist would consider doing.

For Maturana and Varela, the paradigmatic model of an autopoietic system is the living cell, which constantly makes and remakes itself in conjunction with its surroundings. In contrast to most traditional work in biology, Maturana and Varela contextualize the organism within its environment. The result of this contextualization, they propose, is the need for the autopoietic (i.e., self-organizing, or self-making) organism to “bring forth” its cognitive world; that is, to create its own pragmatic understanding of its relation to external reality. Thus cognition becomes self-defining action: “All doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing” (1992, 26); “to live is to know (living is effective action in existence as a living being)” (174). As we will see below, these ideas echo throughout the recent work of numerous contemporary biologists, psychologists, and philosophers. Further, the similarity between this concept of biology and Bakhtin’s contextualized, dialogic, emergent approach to language also becomes clear.

An animal, unlike a machine, is an “autopoietic system” in the sense that “it pulls itself up by its own bootstraps and becomes distinct from its environment through its own dynamics, in such a way that both things are inseparable” (46–47). This organism-environment inseparability comes about by means of a process Maturana and Varela call “structural coupling,” the result of “recurrent interactions leading to the structural congruence between two (or more) systems” (75).1 For human beings, everything we do is part of “a world brought forth in coexistence with other people” (239). Maturana and Varela insist—completely obviating the validity of any subject-object, mind-body, self-other, or nature-nurture dualism—that knowledge is “enactive,” that “human cognition as effective action pertains to the biological domain, but it is always lived in a cultural tradition … for cognition is effective action; and as we know how we know, we bring forth ourselves” (244; see also Varela 1992). [p. 286]

Philosophically, autopoiesis in a contextualist root metaphor illustrates how an authentic systems approch is not reductive.


Mancing, Howard, and Jennifer Marston William. 2022. “Contextualism.” In Restoring the Human Context to Literary and Performance Studies: Voices in Everything, edited by Howard Mancing and Jennifer Marston William, 281–306. Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance. Cham: Springer International Publishing. .

#autopoiesis, #root-metaphor, #stephen-c-pepper, #world-hypotheses

Mastodon design decision on Quote Toots

Refugees from birdsite missing #QT #QuoteTweet might reflect on conscious design decisions made in Mastodon core, that could be modified in a specific instance. This means that if a poster REALLY wants QT, he or she has the option to move to an instance where that is supported.

Original 2018 Design Decision at

Pointer from discussion thread from 2000 on Quote Toots

Just because birdsite declares a unitary design approach doesn’t mean that Mastodon developers haven’t thought about a feature.

Another feature that has been requested almost since the start, and which I keep rejecting is quoting messages. Coming back to my disclaimer, of course it’s impossible to prevent people from sharing screenshots or linking to public resources, but quoting messages is immediately actionable. It makes it a lot easier for people to immediately engage with the quoted content… and it usually doesn’t lead to anything good. When people use quotes to reply to other people, conversations become performative power plays. “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!” When you use the reply function, your message is broadcast only to people who happen to follow you both. It means one person’s follower count doesn’t play a massive role in the conversation. A quote, on the other hand, very often invites the followers to join in on the conversation, and whoever has got more of them ends up having the upper hand and massively stressing out the other person.

Twitter forces you to choose between two extremes, a protected account and a fully public account. If you have a public account, all your tweets are visible to everyone and infinitely shareable. Mastodon realizes that it’s not something you might always want, though

Where retweets carry the veneer of an endorsement, a quote tweet can do so much more—particularly given that Twitter, in its infinite generosity, engineered the format so that the quoted tweet doesn’t count toward the character limit. The result is that you can go long above whatever you don’t like. But it’s often the short tweets that contribute the least.

… wrote #ClaireMcNear

A fork of Mastodon is Fedibird, with features more like Twitter.

The lead developer is @noellabo .

The Fedibird site looks to prefer Japanese writers.

If anyone knows of English language Fedibird instances, perhaps we could help others to find them.

Reposted from .

#mastodon, #twitter