Paper read to the Annual Conference of the Cybernetics Society
The School of Pharmacy, University of London, September 1995
© Copyright D J Stewart 1995. All rights reserved.
Concepts of Mechanism for Purpose and Directiveness
The phrase purpose and directiveness is used here to cover both designation (including design, adaptation, and evolution) and gubernation (which includes government, management, and control). I would wish to claim that this precisely covers the central concerns of cybernetics, as conceived by its founders.
Early teleological conceptions of this subject-matter, based on Aristotle's doctrine of the four causes, have sometimes been seen as inconsistent with mechanistic conceptions, such as those of the Darwinian and Cybernetics schools.
The founders of cybernetics decided that information is as much a physical quantity as are matter and energy. This implied the need to augment classical natural science by adding to it a second domain (defined as open to energy but closed to information and control) to accommodate the resulting new concepts. The result was to create the concept of binary (i.e. two-domain) mechanism. However, this approach still left unresolved many of the original problems raised by mechanistic conceptions of purposiveness—for example, those about the relationship between designed and designoid, and between governed and governoid, entities.
In previous communications to the Society, I have proposed that, to avoid such difficulties, physical science again needs to be augmented: by the addition of a third domain (split from the second by a discontinuity derived from Hume's Law), this time to accommodate concepts relating to preference and justification. The result is to create the concept of ternary (i.e. three-domain) mechanism. I have suggested that, in this way, it is possible to go beyond mechanism as it was originally understood, and to dissolve the remaining objections to it.
Far from exhibiting an awareness of any of these scientific considerations, most people who are professionally engaged in management or government often seem to confuse the teleology of, for example, a piece of legislation, with its mechanism; and they do not seem to regard the analysis of mechanism as necessary. A common result is that the outcome of their actions is the opposite of what they apparently intended.