Actions and Decisions: Pragmatism Gateway to Artful Analytic Management Philosophizing

Pierre Guillet de Monthoux

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    How management philosophy is conceived depends on if pragmatism is acknowledged or not! After having been under the main domination of management science both research and education has until recently widened its scope from a decision-making to an action-perspective. It seems to be a recent reconnection to pragmatism that makes the 2011 Carnegie report propose to rethink management in liberal arts terms, whilst the vastly influential 1959 Carnegie Pierson report distanced itself from American pragmatism thus focusing on decisions and forgetting actions. Actions may contain decisions and choices but contain more than that. A decision-perspective explains by causal inference modelling choices as calculated or programmed. The action-perspectives strive at understanding intentions of agents by philosophical interpretations of action stories. It is less limited to finding the logics for constructing worlds, to paraphrase Herbert Simon’s favorite philosopher Rudolf Carnap, than embarking on plausible, although not certain, reconstructions of intentions giving meaning to action stories. This can be illustrated by turning to Elizabeth Anscombe’s Wittgensteinian investigation of intentions as Aristotelian syllogistic reasoning. Her constant analytical care to defend a philosophy of action against metaphysical assumptions and taken-for-granted “psychologisms” shows that an action-perspective is as analytic as ever one of decision-making. What differs is that the latter seems constantly attracted by programming inquiry by “scientific methodology” whilst the latter is charmed by philosophical approaches to action welcoming fascinating conundrums, enigmas and human goofs in the reality of managerial practice. Management science wants to reduce management to logics, programs and models for formal decision making whereas management philosophy is closer to spotting the artfully entrepreneurial in actions. The latter points in the direction of engineering tools, the former to appreciate the toys of management as artwork. Finally the argument of Georg Henrik von Wright helps us see that the two are philosophically compatible; for in a pragmatically inspired management philosophy actions may well contain decisions.
    TidsskriftPhilosophy of Management
    Udgave nummer3
    Sider (fra-til)279–290
    Antal sider12
    StatusUdgivet - 2017


    • Decision making
    • Philosophy of action
    • Syllogism
    • Intention
    • Logical empiricism
    • Interpretation