Looking Back at Looking Forward

sharing knowledge about organisational foresight

Locke’s theory of knowledge

Continuing on my investigations into ways that philosophy aids futures thinking and practice. Bertrand Russel’s History of Western Philosophy has a chapter on John Locke’s theory of knowledge. There is one piece that stands out in relation to my interest: the interpretation of ‘reason’ (pages 554-555).

‘Reason’ – as Locke uses the term – has “two parts: first an inquiry into what things we know with certainty; second, an investigation into propositions which it is wise to accept in practice, although they have only probability and not certainty in their favour. The grounds of probability are two: conformity with our own experience, or the testimony of others’ experiences”.

In futures research those developments that are nascent or that are emergent – that may at some time in the future prove to be disruptive – but that are available to experience in the present, are where probabilities can be assessed.

To influence others to take action in response to foresight (that can never be certain) – the acceptance of which requires they should quit their assumptions or opinions and embrace the foresight – takes time and the “common offices of humanity and friendship in the diversity of opinions”.

What is at stake to invoke acceptance and action from others is to engage them in the acquisition of new ‘knowledge’ gained from their examination of information about the issues and the grounds of probability. Where engagement of that sort is not taken, according to Locke we should not expect others to blindly submit to the will and the dictates of another, is like asking them to put aside their reason.

These passages help understand why it is so hard to have foresight understood and acted upon. But what is so often missing is the facilitative environment – humanity and friendship!

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July 22, 2007 - Posted by | foresight, knowledge networks, philosophy | , , , ,

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