Systems thinking, via applied philosophy with Russell Ackoff

Somewhere in my systems journey, I picked up the idea that:

  • science is the pursuit of better answers, while philosophy is the pursuit of better questions.

Russell Ackoff was pursuing the idea of applied philosophy , before returning the to Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Social Systems Science program.

There’s a history of applied philosophy with the history of the systems movement, as described in the memoirs of Russell Ackoff.

Churchman and I designed an Institute of Experimental Method that was intended to conduct interdisciplinary research and problem solving where societies were involved. We took our proposal to the President of University [of Pennysylvania] who showed interest in it. He said he would create such an Institute if we could get the support in writing of three different departrnents. lt took almost a year to get the approvals required. In the meantime the President had retired due to illness and had been replaced by a lower level officer of the University. When we showed him the proposal and conditions for approval that his predecessor had established, he told us he was not bound by agreements made by his predecessor. He showed no interest in our proposal. I took that as a rejection of our idea and saw no reason to remain at Penn even if I could have.

I graduated with a PhD in the spring of 1947. During the summer that followed I accepted an appointment in the Philosophy Department of Wayne University in Detroit. (lt was not then a state supported institution. That came later, after I had left the University.) The Dean of the College had assured me that he would support the creation of an Institute much like the one Penn had rejected. lt was to be called the Institute of Applied Philosophy. [Ackoff 2010, pp. 98-99]

Originally posted in " Science, systems thinking, and advances in theories, methods and practices" | January 18, 2012 at

1 Like

Like the quote very much.

No surprises there.

There has always been a systematic bias against seeking better questions
or as Doug Engelbart put it: systematic bias against “Collective IQ”

Well worth the read, and comment

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