Friday, September 22, 2006

Faith and Reason

Pope Benedict's now controversial lecture at Regensburg was entitled “Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections.” It is worth reading the entire lecture (not just the quote to which many have objected).

The timing of his lecture was especially fortunate for me because he was discussing a topic that is the central theme of an encyclical by Pope John Paul II entitled Fides et Ratio, and I have been (haphazardly) working my way throught that document, which provides a good introduction to many interesting philosophical ideas that are relevant to the theme of this blog.

The First Things website at has had numerous posts about Pope Benedict's lecture and the reaction to it.
I found the September 20, 2006, post by Ryan T. Anderson especially useful for understanding the lecture and its philosophical implications.
Anderson's summary of the lecture: "Human reason can apprehend the truth—though not the entire truth—of God and man. Reason isn’t at odds with faith. And the modern university performs a great disservice to the well-being of all mankind in relegating the truths of religion to personal preferences and radically subjective, private beliefs. The resulting impoverished Christianity and shriveled secular reason are unable to sustain a culture or respond to challenges."

Sunday, September 10, 2006


Mark Linville's article in the September 2006 issue of Touchstone argues that relativism
means believing that "all truth claims are relative to the perspective from which they are made."
Therefore, a fact is true only for those who believe it.
Linville shows that, because a relativist must accept this view as true for everyone, he is not relativist.
Therefore, relativism is impossible.

Now, however, consider a much more limited relativism relevant to systems research.
As we try to understand the truth, especially about a complex system like an organization, each individual has their own perspective on the system.
They have their own, limited, understanding of the system.
No one person can have a complete understanding of the true system.
Note that this applies to researchers who try to study the system as well.

It is not my intent to deny that the system exists and certain things about it are true (while others are false).
But we have a multitude of incomplete perspectives that I call approximations.
The challenge, when studying a system, is to synthesize these approximations into a coherent picture of the system.
Meredith's article in Operations Research describes a research approach that takes these approximations into account.
This article uses the term "relativism" to describe this approach.

Unfortunately, it might be possible to confuse this research approach with the more general philosophy of relativism and, moreover, use the merits of this research approach to defend relativism.

For me, the use of different perspectives is a reasonable way to understand a complex system, but there remains only one reality.