Friday, October 31, 2003

Tadeusz Kotarbinski on "Praxiology"

Tadeusz Kotarbinski (1886-1981) is one of the most representative figures of the Lvov-Warsaw School, not only on account of the doctrines he put forward but also because (like Ajdukiewicz ) he continued his activity in Poland after World War II, greatly influencing Polish philosophical culture, of which he became a sort of guardian spirit.

After the Second World War, Kotarbinski turned to a field of research in praxiology. Already anticipated by other scholars (such as B.C. Dunoyer, W. Jastrzbowski, Meliton Martin, Louis Bourdeau, Alfred Espinas, Eugeniusz Spucki, L. von Mises and A. Bogdanov), praxiology has its roots in what Kotarbinski called "practical realism" and represents a common-sense attitude towards the world, respecting things that really exist, the limits and conditions affecting action, and full awareness of the importance of the factors contributing to the situation in which one is working. It was, in short, a resumption of the just means and practical rationality of Aristotle which, in the new reality that emerged after World War II, Kotarbinski must have seen as having an important social function in the construction of a new Socialist order, an effort he viewed in a constructive, co-operative spirit. Praxiology presents itself as the most general of practical sciences, one that can provide a methodology for the efficient performance of any action aiming at a specific goal.

Praxiology provides and explains practical directives, i.e. the commands, prohibitions and restrictions that are applied to actions in order to enhance their efficiency; it formulates a series of types and builds up its own conceptual and terminological apparatus to analyse the basic concepts of the new science and the modes of efficient action: agent, impulse, action, aim, product, result, as well as efficiency, economy, usefulness, effectiveness, exactness, appropriacy, etc. are the cornerstones of his thought. Praxiology thus contains both descriptive theses, whose aim is to explain and clarify its fundamental concepts and their reciprocal relationships (among which he distinguishes between simple and compound, external and internal actions, various modes of co-operation such as positive and negative, etc.), and theses of a normative nature, indicating the necessary and/or sufficient directives for a certain action to be efficient with respect to the goal to be achieved in given situations, and thus the prescriptions and prohibitions to be respected. Kotarbinski also delineated the characteristics of an even more general science than praxiology: the theory of complex systems, which in more recent times was independently proposed by L. von Bertalanffy as a general theory of systems and which Kotarbisnki saw as being outlined in the work of Bogdanov. Examples of the practical directives formulated by praxiology are those expressed by the concepts of activation, automation, instrumentalisation, anticipation, integration, potentialisation, temporisation, mechanisation and so on, with a whole series of further subdivisions (e.g. integration is subdivided into co- ordination, concentration, preparation, planning, etc.).

Praxiology developed in Poland from 1958 onwards, the year in which the Polish Academy of Sciences set up an autonomous Laboratory of Praxiology, which was transformed into a Department in 1967 and in 1974 became part of the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology. In 1980 it took on the name of Department of Praxiology and the Science of Science. It currently edits the four-monthly "Prakseologia" and the English- language annual review "Praxiology", which publishes articles by both Polish and foreign authors. Praxiology has now assumed full autonomy as a scientific discipline, counting research institutes in Poland and abroad. Its main Polish representatives are M. Nowakowska, T. Pszczolowski and L. Lewandowski. The attempt has been made to apply the principles of praxiology to the field of economics by the famous economist Oskar Lange, who sees it as a science of rational action and thus interprets it from a methodological viewpoint. A new generation of scholars such as W. Gasparski, T. Wojcik and J. Zieliniewski have expressed the need for further formal refinement of the discipline and greater integration with similar disciplines that have in the meanwhile arisen in other fields and other countries.

Mention should finally be made of Kotarbinski’s ethical interests, which led him to support an "independent ethic", i.e. one that refuses to search for a foundation in sources other than emotional judgements formulated in the course of human relationships, and especially an ethic that is independent of both religion and any specific world view.

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