Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) ranks among the greatest philosophers of all time. Judged solely in terms of his philosophical influence and knowledge, only Plato is his peer: Aristotle’s works shaped centuries of philosophy from Late Antiquity through the Renaissance, and even today continue to be studied with keen interest. A prodigious researcher and writer, Aristotle left a great body of work, perhaps numbering as many as two-hundred treatises, from which approximately thirty-one survive.
The obvious place to begin a consideration of epistêmê and technê in Aristotle’s writings is in Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics. Here Aristotle makes a very clear distinction between the two intellectual virtues, a distinction which is not always observed elsewhere in his work. He begins with the rational soul (to te logon echon) which is divided into the calculating part (to logistikon) and the scientific part (to epistêmonikon). With the calculating part we consider (theôroumen) things which could be otherwise whereas with the scientific part we consider things which could not be otherwise. When he adds that calculation and deliberation are the same, he indicates why calculation is about what could be otherwise; no one deliberates about what cannot be otherwise. Things which could be otherwise are, for example, the contingencies of everyday life; things which could not be otherwise are, e.g., the necessary truths of mathematics. With this distinction between a reality which is unpredictable and a reality which is necessary, Aristotle has laid the foundation for the strong distinction between technê and epistêmê. Then the account turns to action (praxis), where we find the kind of thought that deals with what is capable of change. The efficient cause of actions is choice (prohairesis). The cause of choice is desire (orexis) and reasoning toward an end (logos ho heneka tinos). Thought (dianoia) by itself moves nothing, only thought that is practical (praktikê) and for the sake of an end.
The experience of the 2020 pandemic deals a powerful lesson: A crucial
ability a leader should bring to the table is the capability to figure out what kind of thinking is needed to
deal with a provided challenge. Bring the incorrect kind of thinking to an
issue and you’ll be left fruitlessly evaluating scientific data when what’s
desperately required is a values-informed judgment call.
Mistakes like this happen all the time, because different kinds of human effort need various kinds of understanding. He outlined distinct types of knowledge required to solve problems in 3 realms.
The reason that Aristotle bothered to detail these 3 types of understanding is that they require various styles of thinking– the people toiling in each of these worlds tend towards practices of mind that serve them well, and distinguish them from the others. Aristotle’s point was that, if you have a phronetic problem to solve, don’t send out an epistemic thinker.
Imagine you being a leader of a big business that has obstacles cropping up frequently in all three of these worlds. You also have epistemic difficulties; anything you approach as an optimization issue (like your marketing mix or your production scheduling) presumes there is one absolutely ideal answer out there. As a leader presiding over such a multifaceted company, it’s a big part of your job to make sure the right kinds of believing are being pushed into making those various kinds of decisions.
That’s all the more true for the largest management obstacles in the modern-day world, those that are scoped so broadly and are so complex that all these types of thinking are required by one problem, in one element or another. Imagine, for example, of a corporation dealing with a liquidity crisis. Its leaders need to marshal epistemic know-how to discover the optimal resolution of loan covenants, issuance constraints, and intricate monetary instruments– and the phronetic judgment of where short-term cuts will do least damage in the long run.
Coming back to the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic and the challenges it has actually presented to leaders at all levels– in worldwide firms, nationwide and city governments, and organizations big and little. To be sure, almost all of the world was blindsided by this catastrophe and early bad moves were inescapable, especially provided misinformation at the outset. Still, it has actually now been 10 months considering that patient zero. How can the destruction still be running so widespread– and have segued, untreated, from fatal illness to financial disaster?
Perhaps is that lots of leaders stumbled in the basic action of identifying the nature of the obstacle they dealt with and determining the various type of believing that needed to be offered on it at different points.
In the early weeks of 2020, Covid-19 presented itself as a scientific issue, securely in the epistemic world. It immediately raised the type of questions to which outright right answers can be found, offered enough data and processing power: What type of infection is it? Where did it come from? How does transmission of it occur? What are the attributes of the worst-affected people? What therapies do most to assist? Which instant framing of the problem caused leaders– and individuals they influence– to put huge weight on the assistance of epistemic thinkers: namely, researchers. (If one expression ought to go down in history as the mantra of 2020, it is “follow the science.”)
In the U.K., for example, this translated to making decisions based on a model produced by scientists at Imperial College. At the regular conferences of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies there was one federal government authorities in participation, and early on, he tried to inject some useful and political factors to consider into the considerations.
However, the reality was that, while clinical discovery was an absolutely
required element of the action, it wasn’t enough, since what was happening at
the exact same time was an escalation of the situation as a social crisis.
Extremely rapidly, requires occurred for hard thinking about compromises– the
kind of political deliberation that considers numerous dimensions and is
notified by different point of views (Aristotle’s phronetic thinking). As a
result, leaders were sluggish to begin resolving these societal obstacles.
What should an excellent leader do in such a crisis? We think that the right method with the Covid-19 pandemic would have been to draw on all the appropriate, epistemic knowledge of epidemiologists, virologists, pathologists, pharmacologists, and more– however to guarantee that the scope of the issue was understood as broader than their focus. If leaders had from the outset framed the pandemic as a crisis that would demand the highest level of political and ethical judgment, and not just scientific data and discovery, then decision-makers at all levels would not have discovered themselves so paralyzed– concerning, for example, mask mandates, restrictions on big gatherings, organization closures and re-openings, and nursing house policies– when screening results shown so challenging to collect, assemble, and compare.
This are all very broad strokes, but certainly some leaders balanced completing top priorities and managed the catastrophes of 2020 better than others. The point of this article is not to point fingers but merely to utilise the extremely prominent example of Covid-19 to highlight an essential and under-appreciated duty of leadership.
Part of the task as a leader is to frame the issues you want individuals to use their energies to resolving. That framing starts with comprehending the nature of an issue, and interacting the method which it must be approached. Calling for everybody to weigh in with their viewpoints on a problem that is truly a matter of information analysis is a recipe for disaster. And insisting on “following the science” when the science can not take you almost far enough is a method to immobilize and annoy people beyond step.
This ability to measure a circumstance and the type of knowledge it calls for is a skill you can develop with purposeful practice, but the essential primary step is just to value that those various type of knowledge exist, which it’s your obligation to recognise which ones are required when. Aristotle’s efforts regardless of, a lot of leaders haven’t thought much about levels of understanding and what issues they can resolve.
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