‘East’ - ‘West’ Metaphysical Differences: Implications for Strategy and Organizational Theorizing
‘…the philosophy of organism (process) seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese thought, than to western Asiatic, or European, thought. One side makes process ultimate; the other side makes fact ultimate’ (A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929: 9)
Theories of Strategy and Organization rely on implicit metaphysical assumptions about the nature of reality and about how we acquire an adequate knowledge of it to guide our actions. A metaphysics of ‘substance’ treats ‘facts’ out there as pre-existing, objective and ultimate, while a metaphysics of ‘process’ assumes that such facts are practically useful ‘fabrications’ wrought from an ‘aboriginal sensible muchness’ that is ultimate reality, via local coping actions/linguistic practices. The dominant ‘Western’ predisposition derives from the former whilst in the ‘East’ there is traditionally a greater acceptance of the latter. Notwithstanding this, ‘East’ and ‘West’ are better understood and compared in terms of metaphysical differences rather than geographic locations. These metaphysical differences have important consequences for Strategy and Organizational theorizing. Commitment to a metaphysics of substance results in a representationlist epistemology which elevates thinking before action; goals, plans, models and maps are first needed to guide meaningful action. Organization, as such is viewed in deliberate, purposeful, instrumental terms. On the other hand, commitment to a metaphysics of process leads to a suspicion regarding the adequacy of language and symbolic forms of representation. The natural instinct here is to eschew such symbolic abstractions in favour of a local, finely-honed empirical sensitivity and attunement to the solicitations of the immediate sensual environment; a form of ‘radical empiricism’ as the starting point of knowledge. Organizational orders, from this viewpoint, emerge inadvertently through the aggregation of local practical coping actions into established patterns of social practices. These practices are what make society and all the institutions that we find so necessary and familiar, possible. This divergence of theoretical priorities issuing from different metaphysical commitments, have profound ramifications for how strategy and organization are perceived and theorized. In this presentation, I shall explore more widely their consequences for the development and advancement of Organization Studies.