Differentiating enworldment design

Over the weekend Susan pressed me for details on how an enworldment can be intentionally changed. How does enworldment design differ from Stoicism’s mental toughening-up exercises, or new age self-helpers who advise us to tell ourselves a new story? It was helpful to be forced to get concrete, and to make some contrasts with transformational methods with which enworldment design might be compared or confused.

Difference 1. Enworldment design is morally unopinionated. It does not pursue any single ideal. It could be applied to help a person become more serene, openhearted, generous, evangelical, etc., or their opposites, or none of the above. The goal is a matter of the unique person and that person’s context.

Difference 2. Enworldment design is epistemologically open, but rigorous. There is no single truth to learn or discover, but a plurality of truth possibilities. These possible truths are multiple, overlapping and exacting, based on what concepts are adopted for developing truth. But this is not an arbitrary relativism, because, while there is no single truth, the possibility of untruth is pervasive and incessant — errors, mistakes, lies, etc. harm truths and make them fail in practice in various ways.

Difference 3. Enworldment design is not willfully imposed on the world, but is instaurated within the world, with the active participation with whatever worldly entities enworlded in the project. The world is taken as a collaborative partner, with its own complex and largely mysterious tendencies and constraints which are discovered in the course of design, which might even change the very goals of the design. When worldly entities cooperate with the enworldment, truth happens. When worldly entities balk, disappear or sabotage the enworldment, untruth happens. (This, by the way, is my ANTsy flavor of pragmatism.)

Difference 4. Enworldment depends on the destructive and reconstructive power of inquiry. Truth is not some objectlike, noumenal thing preexisting out there which we try to unearth by digging through the phenomenal bracket, until we can pull it out, clean it off, inspect it and have it as what it is and always was. That crude description is closer to (though still very far off the mark) reality, which can never be contained by truth. Truth is only the relationship a person has with reality, and those possibilities are myriad. And those possibilities are fragile. All it takes is looking harder, and truth will always break apart, clearing ground for something new. But if that clearing is investigated, harder and harder, something new is always there. Sometimes the new thing is worse than the old thing, but that, too, can be cleared and replaced. So, evaluation, rejection, restarting, discovering, experimentally developing, testing — this is how the work proceeds.

A corollary to difference 4: Because no truth can withstand scrutiny, the fact that a truth has not withstood it does not obligate us to abandon it. Instead, we should ask questions about tradeoffs. Does the critique render this truth useless, now?  Does it expose a flaw that would make it malfunction under certain circumstances? Was the truth durable enough for our purposes, and we just broke it for no good reason, like a kid taking apart a toy? Is there a tougher or more interoperable concept readily available we can swap out? A concept is an instrument that does some things well, and other things less well, not a mystical status of a belief. And just because you can break an instrument, doesn’t mean you should break it, so critique judiciously.

Difference 5. Truth possibilities are myriad, but so are truth impossibilities, which is why honesty and good craft are indispensable. As with all design, truth to materials is paramount. Self-delusion, wishful thinking, subjective fudging (overstraining and abusing the mind’s famous flexibility) are all vices that will compromise an enworldment’s integrity, and make it produce untruth instead of truths.

Oh no. Out of time. I’m just going to list the other points in raw form so I don’t forget them.

Difference 6. Enworldment design uses design methods. One of these methods is to take the experience of the design, rather than its artifact as the ultimate goal of the work. And good thing, too, because an enworldment’s artifact is arrangements of tacit processes to which direct access is impossible. The processes can be learned (and are learned in successful reading of philosophy or religious scripture), but what was learned appears only in how one behaves or speaks, never given explicitly.

Difference 7. Enworldments should be useful, usable and desirable.

Difference 8. Enworldments are separated by massive, intensely unpleasant vacuums of incapacity — perplexity, faltering and indifference. Crossing these gulfs of nothingness is what separates the men from the boys.

There’s so much more. I really have to stop now, though.

2 thoughts on “Differentiating enworldment design

  1. Thank goodness you have Susan as your muse/goad! This post on enworldment makes it so much more concrete for me. So concrete, that I immediately began thinking about concrete examples of concepts that may overlap with the concept of enworldment and designing enworldments.

    One of the first such concepts was “culture” and “cultural design”, as in “How do you design a culture?” (Can one even “design” a culture?). As I am wont to do, I googled “how to design a culture”. The search results were mostly bizspeak posts about “designing” better corporate cultures or cultures of innovation. But one post mentioned something intriguing:

    “When we design, our designs generate behaviors that in turn shape our collective experiences through culture. The concept is fairly simple but the feedback loops are all — encompassing: essentially all of the things that we design and that surround us, from our language, to our dwellings, our cities, tools, aircrafts, bedrooms, kitchens, religions, sports, design us back. It all feeds back. And this feedback has been coined Ontological Design by Anne-Marie Willis, a professor of design theory at the German University in Cairo.”

    (PS the post also has a slick embedded YouTube video breathlessly extolling “ontological design”.)

    I downloaded Anne-Marie Willis’s paper (I’m emailing it to you), and I think I hit paydirt! I think there is a LOT of fruitful overlap between your emerging concept of enworldment and the concept of “ontological design”. Let’s discuss in our next call.

    In the meantime, I’d like to understand better the relationship between your concept of enworldment and the concept of culture. The label “culture” is applied to everything from corporate culture, Boy Scout culture, national culture (eg is there an American culture), USMC culture, scientific culture, etc. Let’s take a presumably simple one, say scouting culture. That is embodied in a set of texts, oaths, events (Jamborees, troop meetings), practices (obtaining merit badges, camping), objects (uniforms), titles (tenderfoot, eagle), etc. To what degree is that an enworldment? How is the Boy Scout enworldment different in scope/scale/purpose/etc from the Marine Corps enworldment, or the American enworldment?

    Another concept overlapping with enworldment is the concept of a scientific theory as articulated by Kuhn, with its paradigm, practices, entities, instruments, texts, etc. Compare and contrast with your concept of enworldment.

    Interestingly, despite its long history of development, ontological design still feels underdeveloped and marginal. This 2018 post summarizing it shows that not much seems to have happened with it: http://compendium.kosawese.net/practice/ontological-designing/ . And Willis apparently hasn’t written much about it since her 2006 paper (and it is her most cited paper by far!): https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=xlFf6doAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate

    One other observation/question. You mention TRUTH a lot in your post. Why? I don’t see why enworldment needs to be so entwined with truth. Davidson taught us that most enworldments are mostly true, or true enough that their truth is pretty much taken for granted by those in them. So why make truth such a central issue? Why not just focus on clarifying what enworldments are and how they emerge and how they can be (better) designed? Bringing truth into the picture may just be a distraction.

  2. I never saw her ontological design, but I knew her name from my Philosophy Design reader. There’s a knot of design philosophy people down in Australia orbiting Tony Fry.

    Regarding Kuhn — my thinking is heavily influenced by him and the connections between his work and the hermeneutical circle. Thanks again, Richard J. Bernstein.

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