STREAMS Philosophy

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What is STREAMS Philosophy?

STREAMS Philosophy is a set of "philosophical commitments" or assumptions and principles about the nature of things in general and enterprises in particular. This includes the nature, characteristics and behaviours of enterprises and their components parts, how the concepts are defined and analysed, and how knowledge is obtained and applied.

Distinguishing "Real Philosophy" from "Common Sense Philosophy" from "Pub Philosophy"

Real Philosophy is largely the academic discipline of philosophy - which is about facts and arguments, applied logic, that leads to an understanding of the universe and of human knowledge of it. Real Philosophy is based on a large amount of knowledge and a certain level of skill in the analysis of concepts and arguments. One of the problems with "Real Philosophy" is that the philosophers can get so esoterically wrapped up in the logical implications of their hypothetical principles that they forget to ground their thinking in everyday reality.


Common Sense Philosophy, also known somewhat disparagingly to the professional philosophers as "folk philosophy", is, as its name suggests, grounded in "common sense" - ie the intuitions that many people share. The "common sense" tradition in analytical philosophy includes some great British philosophers: David Hume, G.E.Moore, J.L.Austin,... However, "common sense" philosophies suffer a number of problems, not the least of which are that concepts used in discourse are often un-examined, unclear and ambiguous - and may indeed not be "true" or "accurate" or "precise" in any meaningful way; that "common sense" is often merely justificatory bluster for unfounded assumptions; and that "common sense" may in fact be nothing more than "shared prejudices" - based on a common upbringing. Nevertheless "common sense", as in G.E.Moore's famous essay "In Defence of Common Sense" is often a useful antidote to the delusions of philosophical esoterica.


Pub Philosophy refers to the mass of memetic aphorisms - such as "the grass is always greener", "there is no substitute for experience", ... that are bandied about and often mistaken for expressions of wisdom. They are not. One of the many problems with Pub Philosophy, is the crass superificiality of it and arguably a worse problem is the suppression of (critical) thinking it promotes and entails.


STREAMS intends to take a carefully plotted practical and pragmatic path through the philosophical forest - avoiding any falling trees, perceive-able or not - between "Real Philosophy", without delusional esoterica, and "Common Sense Philosophy" without prejudice or unjustified assumption - and avoiding the bears and pits of "Pub Philosophy".

Why Philosophy?

From Philosophy To Practice

Logically, systematic and informed Practice derives from Theory even if the process of discovery is exactly the reverse - that is philosophical justification is retro-fitted to give logical and theoretical coherence to things learned in practice. The diagram below indicates how philosophy and theory of enterprises serves to determine our practice of intervention in their development.

Logical Derivation: From Philosophy and Theory to Practice


Basic Philosophy shapes peoples' thinking about what an enterprise is and how it works that is expressed in a "Theory of the Enterprise" (which is a generalisation of a Theory of the Firm to include non-commercial enterprises). This theory in turn partially determines and shapes Methodology, the systematic framework of methods used to understand and analyse enterprises - and lay good foundations for changing them for the better. One or more methodological frameworks provides a set of analytical methods and techniques that could be used in an intervention. All methodologies and their methods and techniques, derived from theory, need to be adapted for "cultural fit" to the situational context in which they are used in order to form effective Practice. For this reason all well-thought-through methodologies advocate their "tailoring" to the organisational context in which they are applied. The adaptation and Practice takes place in an organisational context within an enterprise, but also within a professional context that may be partially in-tension, with the organisational. Practice also provides the feedback and empirical evidence as to what methodologies, methods and techniques are effective for what sort of enterprises - and this may be incorporated into theory and philosophy through "research" undertaken in a more academic context.

STREAMS Metaphysics

Metaphysics is "first philosophy" - the first few books in Aristotle's volumes and deals with the most fundamental elements of philosophy; it lays the foundational principles and doctrines (or "commitments") upon which philosophical theories are built.


The STREAMS philosophy is basically a realist one. Contrary to popular interpretations of the word this has nothing to do with having a sceptical or cynical disposition as to what is possible. Rather it is the more technical definition of professional philosophy - Philosophical Realism. Realism means taking the objects of the philosophical theory seriously as "really existing things" - even if they have never been seen, heard, felt... or in-principle never will be. So, for example, when Democritus introduced the notion of "the atom" into his philosophical theories around 440BC they were invisible and unchangeable. Realism said you take them seriously as a theory of the composition of the Universe. Over 2000 years later, more scientific investigation showed Democritus' theory was not correct in some essential details - but that the central tenet: that every object we can observe is made of atoms (that we could not directly observe at the time) remained 'true'. In modern physics and philosophy, a realistic disposition is more usually expressed as taking the elementary particles theorised by Physics seriously as the composition-base for the Universe.

Metaphysics can be thought of as the logic that deals with the difference between the reality of things and the appearance of things. Making this distinction can also be thought of as the "first problem of anthropocentric empiricism" - that things are not always as they seem, and certainly not as they seem to the perceptions of the unaided human senses - there are things that are ordinarily beyond human perception and require senses-extending technology to be perceived.

Monism is the philosophical theory that everything that is is constructed from one sort of substance or "stuff". Pretty much nobody in 2016 takes any form of monism - and there are several - very seriously; and nor does STREAMS - there are several types of "thing" in the Universe.

Dualism is the philosophical theory the the Universe comprises two, fundamentally different, sorts of thing. Dualism dates back to the earliest recorded ancient greek philosophers but was arguably given its modern form in that of Descartes - the Cartesian Dualism: distinguishing between "mental stuff" - the content of peoples' experiences, and "physical stuff". Since that distinction between res cogitans and res extensa was made debate has raged in the philosophical community about whether the apparent dualism is really a monism in disguise - that either 'physical stuff' or 'mental stuff' is illusory (ie Idealism or Physicalism) or what the relationship between them is - including whether one somehow emerges from the other. This debate also ranges across another, related dimension or distinction; that between the Ontic (what really is) and Epistemic (what people 'know').

According to Daniel Dennett ("Conciousness Explained", pp.37):

   "There is a lurking suspicion that the most attractive feature of mind-stuff is its promise
   of being so mysterious that it keeps science at bay forever.
   This fundamentally anti-scientific stance of dualism is, to my mind, its most disqualifying
   feature, and is the reson why in this book I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism
   is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think that I can give a knock-down proof that
   dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in
   mystery, accepting dualism is giving up. 


Ontological Pluralism is the doctrine that there are three or more "types of thing", or equivalently, "modes of being". Just as the dualist differs from the monist physicalist in arguing that ideas and mental experiences cannot (in principle) be constructed from atoms (or Physicists' elementary particles), the ontological pluraist differs from the dualist in arguing that there are things in the world that comprise things other than the physical and personal ideas (mental things) in their construction.

According to Jason Turner, one of the few modern philosophers who defend ontological pluralism:

   "Ontological pluralism has few friends and many foes — foes who think it untenable, perhaps unthinkable,
   and almost certainly devastatingly refuted. But having examined here every argument against pluralism we
   could think of, we found nothing to justify the dominant anti-pluralist attitude of the last half-century.
   The jury remains out, of course — we may bring to bear more anti-pluralist  arguments before all is said
   and done — but nothing we have seen so far suggests that we should treat ontological pluralism as anything
   less than a serious metaphysical option"

STREAMS does not take the ancient greek philosophers seriously - why should it, their speculations were uninformed by the 90% of human knowledge that has been produced since the 20th Century? - and are mostly ridiculous from a modern perspective. STREAMS endeavours to take a scientific, naturalist and analytic approach - rejecting any "mystical" notions.

STREAMS takes a realist position - and therefore takes the existence of mental objects, perceptions etc. as "real things" that need to be accounted for in the analysis. This includes the elements of "enterprise culture" that transcend individual, personal experience and ideas. STREAMS has not "given up" on the naturalistic explanation of mental phenomena (and so does not accept dualism as Dennet suggests) bur recognises that thousands of man-years of neuroscience and philosophy (mostly wasted effort by philosophy barking up delusional trees) have yet to produce that explanation. In the meantime it is reasonable to pragamatically use explanations of mental phenomena (which are causally efficacious in the world and therefore 'real') in mental terms as the best, but still inadequate generally accepted theories available.

STREAMS therefore takes an ontological pluralist position; the logic for which is discussed below. However, STREAMS also takes a naturalist position and eschews any notions of 'supernatural agency' - which entails that the mental must arise from the physical and the cultural must arise from the mental. It is however, far from clear how mental events, objects, etc. emerge from the Physical - although there is real evidence for the existence of such things. From a practical, pragmatic perspective these questions are moot it if assumed that the cultural, mental and physical exist and have some sort of relationship. Hence "Strong Physicalism" and "Reductive Realism" are rejected as practical doctrines. Various philosophers have criticised both monism and dualism and some have observed a tendency towards anthropocentrism and the unjustified privileging of "human experience" and the unfounded assumption that a person's experiences are necessarily authentic and therefore infallible. This is discussed in the STREAMS Ontology.

STREAMS Ontology

Ontology is the part of Philosophy concerned with the reality of things - as opposed to the appearance of things.

As described in STREAMS Ontology following Popper, Habermas and a few other philosophers, STREAMS takes an ontological pluralist perspective and takes it as a principle that there are (at least) three independent "realities":

   1) World 1: The Physical World - of physical objects and phenomena - both natural and engineered 
   2) World 2: The Mental World - of subjective feelings, perceptions and experiences - both innate
       and natural and psychologically constructed and 
   3) World 3: The Objective Social World - socially constructed but abstract and intangible and not
       dependent on any single person or small group. 

These "realities" are independent in the sense of not depending on any individual or small group (of humans) for their existence - what Bhaskar's Critical Realism calls "Intransitive Objects". In this sense STREAMS Ontology is a form of Realism.

STREAMS adds the two-level emergence hypothesis (and principle):

   1) Mental Emergence: that minds and mental phenomena (including consciousness) somehow emerge from
      the physical in the structures and dynamics of brains (or artificial or non-human/animal constructions
      that in some sense resemble brains) and 
   2) Social Emergence: that objective socio-cultural phenomena, including the enterprises, somehow emerge
      from the structures and dynamics of the interactions between (many) minds within the physical 
      environment they inhabit. 

This emergence is not simple (simplistic) philosophical "properties supervenience", but more probabilistic and multifaceted phenomenon where irreducible properties emerge from a lower level structure and dynamics of assemblies (multicomponent systems). How these emergences take place is currently a philosophical problem that is moot for STREAMS purposes, but may become a scientific problem once an appropriate conceptual scheme that aids explanation can be found. [Past philosophical conceptual schemes - such as Cartesian Dualism -tend to obfuscate rather than elucidate the emergence of the mental from the physical.]

STREAMS follows Critical Realism in carefully distinguishing between both "mechanisms", "events" and "experiences" and the domains of the Real, the Actual and the Empirical. Hence STREAMS rejects naive Empiricism and the implicit anthropocentrism and anthropomorphisms within it. Rejecting empiricism entails the rejection of Logical Empiricism, and Logical Positivism. STREAMS follows Critical Realism in asserting that the role of Science is to describe the (possibly unobservable) "generative mechanisms" and shares a concern for a scientific approach, empirical verification (or falsification), and objectivity (and opposition to meaningless mystical metaphysics).

STREAMS also rejects the Humean notion of causality as the constant conjunction of events (and the empiricist grounds on which it is formed). STREAMS follows Critical Realism in having a rich and complex view of "causation" and asserting that if two notional events, A and B, are constantly conjoined it is because they are both produced by the operation of same (real) generative mechanism (that is described by a scientific "law" and model) in which causal influence flows from the predecessor spacetime event to the successor spacetime event (given that predecessor and successor are relative, not absolute terms and the relationship (or flow) could go either way around) unless the conjunction is prevented by other causal influences.

More information: STREAMS Ontology and Causality

STREAMS Epistemology

STREAMS Philosophy of Information

Philosophy of Information is a relatively new philosophical field whose emergence and rise has been driven by the development of Information Technology over the last half a century - but more particularly by the rise of the Internet and global information networks during the 21st Century. Luciano Floridi, defines Philosophy of Information as:

       The Philosophy of Information (PI) is the philosophical field concerned with 
       (a) the critical investigation of the conceptual nature and basic principles of information, 
           including its dynamics, utilization, and sciences;  and 
       (b) the elaboration and application of information-theoretic and computational methodologies
           to philosophical problems.

In the book "Philosophy of Information" he argues that it is a genuinely new branch of philosophy that has become distinct from its "parent" branches - epitemology (the study of knowledge), ontology, phsilosophy of science etc. to become a substantive field in its own right. According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on [ https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/information/ Information]:

      Philosophy of Information deals with the philosophical analysis of the notion of information
      both from a historical and a systematic perspective. With the emergence of empiricist theory 
      of knowledge in early modern philosophy, the development of various mathematical theories of
      information in the 20th century and the rise of information technology, the concept of 
      ‘information’ has conquered a central place in the sciences and in society.

Since the 1980s, Information Technology, has had an increasing impact on the form and function of enterprises and organisations. The implementation and usage of the technology is very dependent on the way it is understood - which is itself a product of the philosophical concepts and principles used to understand it. Through the technology then the Philosophy of Information is having a fundamental shaping effect on the architecture of enterprises - and for this reason is needs some critical examination. STREAMS takes a particular view of Philosophy of Information based on its ontology and epistemology.

More information: STREAMS Philosophy of Information

STREAMS Philosophy of Engineering

Incredible as it may seem, few philosophers seem to have paid much attention to the phenomenon that has shaped and transformed both the physical world, human societies and objective human knowledge. As the Royal Academy of Engineering point out:

  Engineering is at the heart of society and creates many complex, fascinating and practical questions
  about the place of engineering in our lives.

Despite a long and interesting essay examining the differences between Science and Engineering and comparing the philosophical issues the Cambridge philosopher Peter Lipton never manages to say clearly and straightforwardly what he thinks either Engineering, or the Philosophy of Engineering is. Most of those philosophers that do take any interest, like the common misconception of many arts and humanities students, tend to lump together Science and Engineering as "all the same thing" - or just different aspects of the same thing. In fact Science and Engineering, though they do have some commonalities are quite different.

In STREAMS we take the following as the definition of "Engineering".

  Engineering is the application of objective human knowledge, particularly Know-How, in a responsible
  and medium-term sustainable manner, to improve the lives of humans and other animals or forms of life.

Hence it can immediately be seen that there are a number of traditional philosophical issues and concerns at the centre of Engineering:

  1. ) Epistemology - what constitutes objective knowledge in engineering and how it is produced and used?,
  2. ) Ethics - what is the meaning of "responsible" and "sustainable" and how do the concepts play out in engineering?
  3. ) Ethics - what constitutes improvement in human or animal life?

The Philosophy of Engineering is then straightfowardly defined as the branch of Philosophy that studies the philosophical issues that arise in the sociological context of the Engineering activities in societies.

Given the commonalities and interdependencies between Science, Technology and Engineering see also Philosophy Of Science and Philosophy of Technology

More information on the Philosophy Of Engineering.

STREAMS Philosophy of Technology

STREAMS Philosophy of Science

STREAMS As Applied Philosophy

The 'Paradigm' For the Conduct of 'Research' and 'Analysis'

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