Concept and synthesis

(Below is a post I wrote in June 2022. I didn’t publish it for some reason, but reading it now, it seems interesting enough to release.)

In December 2005, I posted a philosophical typology on LiveJournal:

A philosophical typology

  • What is its principle of organization? Is it systematic or organic? In other words, does articulation or construction predominate, and to what degree?

  • What is its scope? How much does it admit as relevant, and how much must it prune out as irrelevant, in order to close its horizon?

  • What is its range of action? Is it analytical (destructive), synthetic (constructive), or both?

  • What is its terminus of meaning? In other words, where does it ground its assertions? In the perceptions of primary experience, in the assumptions of science, or does it avoid grounding and merely posit in circles?

  • What is its attitude toward existence? Negating, neutral, affirming?

  • What kind of resolution to problems is sought? An articulation, a proof, an application, something else?

I look for some other qualities, too, but they are mostly just earmarks to help settle the questions listed above. The most important earmark: is the philosophy monodualist, and if so, what is the nature of the duality (or dualities) the philosophy selects as significant?

That is the earliest use of the concept-synthesis dichotomy I can find. It appears I was reading S. L. Frank at the time. I need to go back and see if I got it from him.

This dichotomy was a resolution of a perplexity at the heart of the worst design project (and the worst year) of my life. I found myself completely unable to talk about or argue for some existential necessities for doing design work — necessities that are apparently felt as real by some — but, for others, are not experienced at all. For them, talk about these necessities is talk about nothing, about imaginary nonsense. Sadly, these “others” seem to thrive in business and get promoted to positions of authority, especially in technology. For me, though, nothing is more real than these existential necessities. Being forced to work without it, in a milieu where they were not even real enough to deny, sucked me into the deepest, most hopeless state of despair I’ve ever felt.

Around 2011 I designed a framework to explain how design methods move teams from relative unclarity to greater clarity. It showed a kind of interplay between conceptual and synthetic development. Ever since, I’ve had reservations about some of the claims I made, especially concerning design methods and movements along the proposed path to clarity. But the framework remains as relevant now as it was then. In 2013, when I started a design studio with a friend, we named the company after the form of the path to clarity: Outspiral.

This framework was also inspired by despair — the second worst of my life. The theme here was a continuation of the first.

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