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Functional Synthesis of Viewpoints: a conceptual model based on purpose


Functional Synthesis of Viewpoints

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Short Summary: A conceptual model is described to supply a context within which the increasingly isolated fields of knowledge and experience can be related without jeopardizing their autonomy. This is achieved by defining a space such that every viewpoint held in society is uniquely determined and related within that space in terms of its purpose and its ability to organize its subject matter. The properties of the space are such that developmental, directional, unitary and convergent features are emphasized with regard to society as a whole, groups and individuals. The final model effectively constitutes a map of functions or modes of experience by which individuals or groups can relate themselves to other viewpoints. An audio-visual display is described which could illustrate the model and an experiment to validate it is discussed. [NB 0.5mb pdf) ]. This paper was one basis for the much later Functional Classification in an Integrative Matrix of Human Preoccupations (1982) used as the basis for the subject classification of the Yearbook of International Organizations and the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential
Introduction (separate document)
Part I: Development of an initial classification of viewpoints (separate document)
-- Problem
-- Definitions
-- Argument
Part II: Development of model (separate document)
-- Viewpoint Model
-- Noosphere Model
-- Combined Model
-- Nature of Space in Model
Part III: Application of model (separate document)
-- Mental Experience
-- (a) Society
-- (b) Individual in Society
-- (c) Change of Discipline
-- (d) Individual and Noosphere
-- Physical and Emotional Experience
-- Audio-Visual Facility to Clarify the Conceptual Model
-- Experiment to Validate the Conceptual Model
-- Comment
Appendix I: Typology of Explanations


This paper is concerned with the difficulty created by the progressive divergence of viewpoints in society. Holders of many viewpoints find it increasingly difficult to see the relevance of other viewpoints and there is no accepted context through which they may be related. Disagreement is most often considered 'irrationally' as being due to the other party's erroneous viewpoint - which is after all a 'rational' conclusion in terms of the holders viewpoint (cf. R. 'Ardrey's discussion of 'territory', ref. 3,4). A context is required in which the 'rationality' of one viewpoint can be transformed into that of another. As things stand, each node of experience as formalized in fields of knowledge and, activity, is becoming increasingly isolated from its neighbour. This isolation, and the desire for autonomy, has tended to oppose any form of functional synthesis of knowledge and experience within society as a whole, as well as to prevent any recognition of convergence of interests or appreciation of a common sense of direction. This problem is reflected in the individual's difficulty in integrating his consequently fractionated experience to achieve, some sense of unity, and the difficulty in establishing a personal sense of direction in harmony with that of society to give him a maximum sense of fulfillment.

The importance of these problems has been discussed by, amongst others, Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley, E. Cassirer, Trigant Burrow, and Colin Wilson (see references). S. Strasser (ref. 19, pp. 191 and 201) emphasizes one aspect of these problems in one field whilst discussing the functional loss of modern science: '...different communities of researchers do do not understand one another because they dp not want to understand one another....The various croups of theorists...fall apart into all kinds of clans which live in an atmosphere of mutual distrust, aversion and scorn... The man of science.... is no longer able to find a connection between what he thinks and does and the activities of other specialists of entirely different orientations. The end result is that he no longer knows exactly what he is supposed to be doing, for understanding what his special science really is, requires a standpoint lying above this special science itself.' To the extent that these inter-group problems result in a disruptive effect on society, we also need, in Ardrey's terns, to be able to hold a synthetic viewpoint to promote the ends of society as a whole.

The purpose of this paper is to show that viewpoints can be related through a conceptual model based on the purpose for which the viewpoint is held. 'Purpose' is treated as the purpose for consciously fulfilling a particular organic or psycho-social function, not as the goal or final cause of an act, nor as the unconscious basis of action.

A purpose-related concept (e.g. direction, intention, relevance, motivation, etc) seemed the ideal key to such a model. The only element common to a multitude of different modes of experience and treatments of data is that each is undertaken for a purpose. Every other element may or may not occur, or will be defined differently - but it is always possible to obtain agreement that for a consciously chosen experience there was a purpose in choosing it, rather than some other mode. The nature of the purpose may be defined differently, but it is always present. A sense of direction seems to be the one concept which a wide-variety of disciplines have in common, in one form or another. Therefore, in order to develop the relationship between each field of knowledge in a model, a factor must be introduced to indicate the purpose resulting in that field. G.W. Allport (ref. 1, pp. 237-8), referring to the elements of the personality, states that 'The justification of any scheme of analysis is always to be found in the purpose for which the analysis is made. A system of elements is 'true' in so far as it fulfills the avowed intention of the analyst. The principal reason why psychologists do not agree with one another in their lists of elements is that each is animated by a slightly different intention. Until the purpose of an analysis and the psychologist's aim are clearly specified (as they seldom are) it is not possible to argue about the suitability of one set of elements or another. For certain purposes it is fitting to view the mind as a congeries of ideas, for other purposes, as a network of neural arcs, or as a system of vectors, or as an hierarchy of sentiments. 'We submit that analogous statements can be equally applied to any differences of opinion in and between other fields of experience.

A comprehensive model must therefore supply a context for all purposes in order to link all the consequent modes of experience. There is however one very important restriction which avoids the apparent conclusion that an unordered, relativistic or pluralistic model would be satisfactory. The latter would be too general to be of any value.

An individual's purposes arise from the necessity to maintain and further those functions governing his existence as a biological and social entity. There is therefore always a pattern of organic and psycho-social functions which he must perform or, by delegation within society, have performed for him. The totality of such delegations by all individuals results in the functional organisation of society. The restriction on the unordered collection of purposes above, is that an individual must be able to organize himself so that all his functions are performed, no matter to what degree he specializes. There are therefore only certain permissible combinations of functions open to him and the pattern of functions in society is similarly restricted.

Apart from the stabilizing aspect of functions, man also seems to be involved in the shaping of his environment into a state of greater order which is more satisfying to him. In effect one function is to progressively stabilize his position in time. But as a result of the progressive organization of man's environment due to the action of millions of individuals, man has long reached the stage where he is forced (aided by the population and information explosions, and the tension of modern life) to improve continually the organization of old organization. This developmental process of convergence on a hypothetical maximum of organization or unification (consistent with the stabilizing function requirements) must be incorporated in the model - both in the case of the long-term development of society and in that of the short-term development of the individual to maturity.

The additional criteria, in constructing the model are based on those detailed by Sir Julian Huxley as necessary properties of a satisfactory 'idea system' (ref. 12, 13). The model should:

  • emphasize the functional importance to society and the individual of each field of knowledge and experience
  • facilitate the individual's efforts to define his purpose and locate the position within this pattern which will give him maximum personal fufillment as a responsible member of society
  • recognize the succession of idea systems necessary to unify experience as the individual and society develop
  • recognize the importance of 'outdated' concepts in development and education
  • facilitate the planning of future development
  • recognize the trend toward increasingly general and unitary concepts whilst maintaining the autonomy of individual specialities
  • facilitate communication between isolated specialities
  • facilitate the adaptation of new concepts in every field of knowledge to human life and its problems
  • stress not only intellectual convergence of interests, but a physical convergence (as is evident in the physical integration of society, e.g. internationalism, communications, world trade, etc)

A most important criterion is that the conceptual model should be representable in a physical fora to facilitate visualization, comprehension and education.

While I believe the final model to be original, most of the ideas incorporated therein have been developed or mentioned by, amongst others, Sir Julian Huxley, P. Teilhard de Chardin, R.G. Collingwood, E. Spranger, and H. Read (see references).

PART I - Development of an Initial Classification of Viewpoints (separate document)

PART II - Development of model (separate document)

PART III - Application of model (separate document)

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