This paper challenges proceduralized, rule-bound approaches to ethics and considers how social workers and teams can develop an attitude of compassionate concern and become more effective in dealing with ethical problems in their day-to-day practice. It introduces the work of Humberto Maturana, a widely respected theorist, whose work has received little attention in social work. It stresses the importance of emotions, particularly love, and considers the way in which ethical action is shaped by culture. It emphasizes the importance of engaging in reflection on professional practices and team, professional and organizational culture in order for social workers to improve their awareness of ethical dilemmas and promote ethical practice. For those teaching ethics, this paper suggests an alternative to the rational consideration of moral dilemmas and proposes approaches to training that can help social workers become more attuned and responsive to ethical conflicts. Relevance: The paper argues that Maturana’s biology of cognition provides an approach to ethics that takes into account the spontaneous nature of everyday work in which social workers undertake their ethical actions.
Excerpt: The Origin of Humanness, written in the early 1990s, brings together two strands of research: Maturana Romesin’s research into the origin of humanness and Verden-Zöller’s research into the rise of self-consciousness in the child during early mother-child play relations. The authors’ core claim is that the human species has evolved by conserving love as a fundamental domain of cooperation expressed through the basic emotions or moods of mutual respect, care, acceptance and trust (Homo sapiens-amans) rather than competition and aggression (Homo sapiens aggressans or arrogance). In this, they do not declare an ethical imperative, but rather situate ethics in biology, since, in their view, a responsible concern for the well-being of the other (human, species, biosphere, etc.) arises naturally from a manner of living in the biology of love. This is what they propose as a way for conserving the existence of social human beings (and what they call “social consciousness”) and for countering the dominant culture of domination, submission or indifference in Western society. Ethics, in this sense, is a choice of emotioning on an individual basis that in relation to a social community defines how a particular manner of living is to be conserved over the coming generations.
This paper seeks to juxtapose the work of Sir Geoffrey Vickers and Humberto Maturana with a view to thinking more about the theoretical underpinnings of Peter Checkland’s soft systems methodology (SSM) and of soft systems and soft operational research more generally. The paper argues that Maturana’s ‘Theory of the Observer’ can usefully complement Vickers by specifying more precisely the nature of the cognitive structures that underpin people’s descriptions of situations, by clarifying the relationship between cognitive creativity and the historical and relational constraints that bear upon people’s descriptions and explanations, and by providing a more complete description of the dynamics that underpin individual and social learning.
I claim that concepts such as competition, evolution of the fittest and regulation through hierarchical constructs are all attributions we make to nature based on our culture. I think these concepts, and others of like ilk, are the results of a particular manner of emotioning, sensing and acting that is now common to most of our modern cultures. Once attributed to nature, we use these concepts as grounding premises, or as justification, to continue the manner of emotioning, sensing and acting which gave rise to them. I see this as a disquieting circularity, a blindness, that results in a way of being that we do not want, but feel compelled to. However, since we have the ability to reflect on our beliefs and to consider whether we want the consequences of maintaining them, I also see the possibility of living in a manner that we find more ethical and more pleasurable.
Excerpt: The concept of constraints enabling action is not at all new. Games have rules that enable the play. Focus on any one thing enables effective action through excluding what we might consider distractions or irrelevancies. Creating a computer simulation model enabled us to consider the implications of some relations by explicitly choosing them and not others. However, on thinking about uceps as enabling constraints I came to see them as a way of pointing at something fundamental to us as biological beings living in language and embedded in a culture. I wish to address the idea of constraints that serve as possibilities in this paper. I will discuss how cognition, language, and culture all serve as constraints that enable action in given contexts, while at the same time obscuring other possibilities that we could be dancing with.
Context: The cultural worlds that we generate in our living are worlds in which we frequently live in a self-depreciating relational pain. This arises when we feel that we do not deserve to be loved and respected because we think that we are intrinsically incapable of satisfying what we think are legitimate cultural expectations about how we should be. Problem: Can we find an answer to the general question, “How is it that our life is so frequently painful?” Hypothesis: The pain for which a person asks for relational help is always of cultural origin, and arises from some experience in which she has not been loved and has accepted that she deserved not being loved because as a result of that experience she began to feel that she is intrinsically deficient. I propose that that person will come out of her pain – and will recover her self-love and self-respect as she reconnects with her fundamental loving nature as a biological-cultural human being – when she becomes able to realize that she is not intrinsically defective and that the expectations put on her are only arbitrary cultural demands. Results: I show (a) that the recovering of self-love and self-respect occurs as a result of a conversation that opens a relational space for the interplay of the conscious and unconscious reflections in which the person in pain finds that she is an intrinsically loving biological-cultural human being; (b) that this occurs through the reflexive evocation of the inner feelings of self-love and self-respect in the consulting person as she reflexively contemplates her life while she is revealing it to a caring reflective listener in a conversation that flows without expectations, demands or judgment. In such reflective “liberating conversations,” the consulting person finds herself in self-love and self-respect, not through a rational argument but through her spontaneous connection to her unconscious constitutive human inner feelings as a loving being. Implications: We do not need to suppose any reality independent of the operational coherences of our living to explain and understand the different worlds that we generate in the realization of our living.
Considers some of the puzzles and inconsistencies associated with Maturana’s metaphysics. We argue that such puzzles and inconsistencies largely arise out of difficulties of method and that the clue to their resolution is to be found in Aristotle’s solution to the same problem. Maturana’s claims are reconstructed in this light and in a way which does not materially affect their underlying theoretical grounds, i.e. autopoiesis theory, and dissolves the puzzles and inconsistencies referred to.
Context: Maturana’s views on cognitive processes and explaining have ethical implications. The aim of this paper is to link ethics and epistemology to facilitate thinking about how to promote respect between different viewpoints through mutual understanding. Method: Maturana’s views on ethics are outlined in three domains: the personal, the interpersonal, and the societal. Results: The ethical implications that emerge around the notion of reality with or without parenthesis, the concept of the legitimate other, and Maturana’s conjectures about the origins of human social groups. Social groups in which cooperation is more important than competition are based on love in the sense that others are accepted as legitimate members of the community. An epistemology that responds to the biological origins of human cognition is one that is more open to cooperation, honesty, responsibility, and respect than an epistemology that takes reality as given and the task of human cognition to represent truth. Implications: This framework for thinking about cognitive processes provides a way of approaching disagreements so they become opportunities for discussion rather than for power assertion of one reality over another. In a world where strongly held viewpoints on ethics and reality lead to conflict, promoting viable models of cognitive process that link cognition and ethics may lead to insights that promote tolerance. Ideas from attribution theory in social psychology are presented as a means of facilitating the emergence of the concept of the legitimate other in discussion about disagreements.
Problem: Starting with his personal experience the author pursues the question: How can we alter our way of living, sensoriality and reflective skills so that we can handle today’s information flows, which nowadays are so large that they create confusion and ineffective educational actions? Method: The approach to follow is called “parenthesism,” a practice based on Maturana’s theoretical frameworks of the “biology of cognition” and the “biology of love.” Results: One of the findings when a person lives in parenthesism is the ability to see their own dogmatism and stubbornness when that person would otherwise be blind to his/her own convictions. Implications: Many aspects of this essay, and this manner of thinking, are circular and tautological, and hence may appear illogical to the reader. However, the author claims that existence is not solely logical, and that in a complex matrix circular and recursive relationships are common, and that these can best be understood through circular and recursive logics. Furthermore the relevance of parenthesism for UNESCO’s view on learning paradigms is reviewed in this light.