Challenge to Reason

Churchman, C.West

One result of the growth of knowledge and technology is the increasing potential man acquires to manipulate his physical and social environment. By extending the range of actions man can take, this growing power makes the problem of rational action increasingly urgent. What we want to do is make the world reasonable. Thus, the problem of reason is to decide what course of action, out of an increasmgly large number of options available, is best. Any agent involved in making choices, whether the area of choice is science, morality, or the management of any system, must face the problem of optimal choice. For anyone interested in this general subject of optimal choice, C. West Churchman has written a reflective, nontechnical, and indispensable book. Churchman's discussion touches upon a vast number of topics ranging from metaphysics to linear programming, but underlying this diversity there is the basic problem of optimal choice. Since all the topics touched upon cannot be dealt with in a short review, nor are all of interest to readers of this journal, only Churchman's discussion of what might be called the "technology of system improvement" will be discussed. The problem of system improvement, as Churchman views it, is selecting that course of action which is optimal for the system. Rational action is making the optimal choice. Churchman's argument, in brief, is that in order to find the optimal course of action, we must know a great deal about the whole system in which we are operating, and, because this knowledge is very hard to obtain, the question becomes how we can get this sort of knowledge. Since neither of these claims is apt to be clear to anyone who has not read this book, it is best to begin on somewhat more familiar ground.

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