52 Living Ideas

Intellectual Virtues for Comprehensive Practice

Intellectual Virtues for Comprehensive Practice

By examining considerations from traditions that have examined intellectual virtues, we may come to better understand the virtues we need to develop our comprehensivity, our ability to comprehend our worlds broadly for context and deeply for clarity by taking seriously Buckminster Fuller’s aspiration of “wanting to understand all and put everything together”.

This resource will look at one 10 minute video lecture from Linda Zagzebski’s exquisite course on “Virtue Ethics”, produced by the University of Oklahoma, to spur our thinking about the intellectual virtues that might help guide our comprehensive practice, our comprehensive participation in our worlds. The result will give us an opportunity to review all 25 of our prior resources.

Intellectual Virtues

R. Buckminster Fuller’s approach to comprehensive thinking starts with Universe: “The universe is the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience”. This source for our learning can be seen as the collective cultural heritage of Humanity through all history. From this vast heritage, we have accumulated many traditions of inquiry and action. These traditions and their accumulated experiences are the sources for all our learning.

Comprehensive thinking is any effort to explore this vast inventory of experiences and traditions to address our concerns, intentions, and situations. In the resource The Measurements of Life, we learned that an interpretation is what to consider and how to consider it. So comprehensive thinking can also be seen as the process of forming interpretative stories building on our inventory of traditions and experiences. But to be comprehensive, comprehensive thinking aspires to further examine these stories with comprehensive measurement or assessments to form “adequately macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive” (Buckminster Fuller’s catchphrase for our comprehensivity) judgements to better engage our worlds and its peoples with understanding and effectiveness.

With this context for our exploration, what are intellectual virtues?

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The Standard for All Measurements: Our Judgment

Collaborating for Comprehensivity has the vision of engaging groups of people to compose ever broader and deeper and more integrated understandings of our worlds and its peoples. To facilitate explorations of particular ideas it is invaluable to share relevant resources with participants so they can be better informed for the conversation. It is most convenient for participants if such references are free to read on-line, though this is not always possible. Since not all participants will have time to review the resources, a summary of them should be provided to make each exploration as accessible as possible.

In order to really understand how measurement works, both in physics and in general, this essay begins with a 1927 analysis by Percy Bridgman on the activity of measuring lengths. The first part of his pathbreaking book The Logic of Modern Physics (pp. 3-28 are our current interest) is free to read on-line, so it is an excellent resource for this and other topics about an operational approach to learning which emphasizes the activities and procedures involved in how we come to understand the world. Participants are invited to read the first three sections of Bridgman’s book under the heading “The Operational Character of Concepts”, namely “Einstein’s Contribution in Changing Our Attitude Toward Concepts”, “Detailed Discussion of the Concept of Length”, and “The Relative Character of Knowledge”. This essay summarizes this material for those who do not have time to read Bridgman’s account and organizes it to explore the nature of comprehensive measurement.

This is the third part in a trilogy of essays exploring comprehensive measurement using multiple sources and traditions of inquiry and action. This approach to comprehensive measurement was inspired by Chapter 6 “Interpretation and Measurement” and Chapter 8 “Judgment” in “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman; however, that book is not free to read on-line. The first part of this trilogy was The Measurements of Life; the second part was Measuring Beliefs.

The Nature of Measurement

In our culture, measurement is one of our highest values. Measurement guides our science, our corporations, our organizations, our civil society, and our government. But what is measurement? How does measurement work? How can we scope the nature of comprehensive measurement as an important tool in working to understand it all and each other?

In the resource The Measurements of Life, we used the definition of a measure from Wiktionary: “A standard against which something can be judged; a criterion.” Wiktionary defines a standard as “having recognized excellence or authority”. We might infer that a measurement is an authoritative judgment. Can we justify such a definition in science?

Percy Bridgman, the winner of the 1946 Nobel prize in physics, believed that how the activity of measurement was performed was crucial to our understanding. He called the consideration of activities, doings, or happenings an operational analysis. He used the approach to decisive effect in his Nobel-prize winning research on high-pressure physics where he invented a series of new ways of measuring pressure when all available gauges failed at the pressures he produced.

To better understand this way of understanding measurement, let’s follow Bridgman’s operational analysis of measuring length from “The Logic of Modern Physics” (1927). Bridgman’s full description is fascinating reading. Let me summarize it.

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Measuring Beliefs

Measurement, it turns out, is an essential faculty for our comprehensivity, our emerging approach for reimagining our learning, philosophy, science, and life planning by taking seriously Buckminster Fuller’s guiding virtue of “the adequately macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive” as a principle for our lives. To help us tune in to the nature and importance of comprehensive measurement, this resource examines its application to assessing beliefs.

The previous resource on The Measurements of Life scoped interpretation and introduced the measurements of life schema from “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman. This resource builds on that foundation. As frequently happens in comprehensive practice, the task is facilitated by adding another source to consider, namely, Rebecca Goldstein’s schema of core beliefs and by reviewing techniques from other resources. Our aim is to clarify the treatment of both beliefs and comprehensive measurement for our comprehensive explorations. Although beliefs are only one aspect of any tradition of inquiry and action, they are important enough that limiting our purview to beliefs will not diminish the effectiveness of our toolkit for comprehensive measurement.

Assessing Beliefs

Our approach to comprehensive learning invites us to consider all the experiences and all the traditions of all Humanity since there is no way to know which might provide a key idea or behavior that we might otherwise overlook. When practiced diligently, this broadly sourced approach to learning will challenge us to consider many unfamiliar beliefs. If we are to better understand the world and each other through engaging so many diverse traditions of inquiry and action, the comprehensive explorer is obliged to understand and situate these unfamiliar beliefs. How might we assess such beliefs?

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The Measurements of Life (Tools for Comprehensivity)

This resource examines measurement as an important tool for our comprehensivity, our toolkit of ways to better understand the world and each other. It explores and contextualizes measurement inspired by the broad schema called the measurements of life discussed in Chapter 6 of “The Design Way” by Harold G. Nelson and Eric Stolterman.

To provide an exemplar of comprehensive exploration, this resource recapitulates and expands on the idea of comprehensive thinking beginning with experience. The importance of experience was introduced as a source for comprehensive inquiry and action in the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller. Several other resources on experience and our comprehensivity were summarized and expanded upon in the resource on The Ethics of Learning from Experience.

This is the second resource in a series on Tools for Comprehensivity. The first one explored Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox.

The Interpretation of Experience, Information, and Data

R. Buckminster Fuller’s approach to comprehensive thinking starts with Universe: “The universe is the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience”. This all-encompassing inclusion of all the experience of all Humanity is the starting point for any comprehensive inquiry or action. In this way experience is fundamental in all our comprehensive thinking and learning.

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What Is Comprehensive Learning?

This resource attempts to recapitulate and situate comprehensive learning in the broad context of our learning and our lives. It compares comprehensive learning, an emerging tradition of inquiry and action, with other approaches to learning to further clarify its approach. It is a refinement of the notes I wrote two months ago to guide my remarks at the 13 April 2021 session of “Comprehensivist Wednesdays” at 52 Living Ideas (crossposted at The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society).

How does comprehensive learning compare to other ways of learning?

Buckminster Fuller wrote, “I am certain that none of the world’s problems … have any hope of solution except through all of world around society’s individuals becoming thoroughly and comprehensively self-educated.” The sentiment of this quote and related ones in Bucky’s 1969 book “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” inspired me in 2019 to formulate the Collaborating for Comprehensivism initiative and led to the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller.

For me, the idea of comprehensive learning and its cognate comprehensive thinking begins with these ideas of Buckminster Fuller. I have been working to capture Bucky’s ideas of comprehensive learning and abstract them into a new tradition of inquiry and action that does not require us to become Synergists in the style of Buckminster Fuller. That is, I imagine comprehensive learning to be broader in scope than even Bucky.

When Bucky defines Universe as “the aggregate of all of humanity’s consciously-apprehended and communicated experience” and then recommends starting all inquiry with Universe and subdividing, he is effectively starting with Humanity’s great inventory of all the traditions of inquiry and action in our cultural heritage. The source of all our learning can be seen as coming from the whole of Humanity’s cultural heritage. In contrast, we often think of our learning as coming from the three Rs, or from the classics, or the Great Books, or from standardized curricula. But that leaves out so much of Bucky’s Universe and of our cultural heritage including the wisdom of indigenous peoples, folk traditions, and so much more.

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Articulating Comprehensivity: The Comprehensive Design of Our Lives

To better understand how we might practice our comprehensivity, our aspiration for comprehensive thinking and doing, we might examine how to clarify or make effective such desires. This resource attempts to imagine how we might practice our comprehensivity. In the end we might apprehend how we can articulate the comprehensive design of our lives.

Articulating Comprehensivity

According to Wiktionary, to articulate is “to make clear or effective”. Comprehensivity is our inclination to understand it all and each other. So by articulating comprehensivity we mean making our aspiration to understand it all and each other more effective and clearer. How can we better clarify and make more effective our efforts to build an ever more extensive, ever more intensive, and ever more integrated understanding of our worlds and its peoples? How can we better articulate our comprehensivity?

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Tools for Comprehensivity: Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox

Comprehensive learning aspires to integrate more and more of Humanity’s traditions of learning to better comprehend the world and how it works. As we learn more and more from these diverse ways of knowing, it becomes increasingly likely that the perspectives, hypotheses, and frames of reference we encounter will seem incompatible or even inconsistent with others. This resource suggests how to better accommodate these ambiguities as tools for our comprehensive practice.

This way of accommodating ambiguity in our learning is a central theme in the profound 2007 book “How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics” by William Byers. The book examines ambiguity while it surveys the folklore of mathematics culture and the philosophy of mathematics. It is easy to read and serves as a good introduction to mathematics for readers with weak math skills. It might be especially valuable for those wanting to expand the compass of their comprehensive learning with mathematics.

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Comprehensive Exploration, Comprehension, and Collaboration

To better understand the kind of inquiry and action that might foster our comprehensivity, our aspiration to better understand it all and each other, we can examine alternative approaches. Comparisons between alternative approaches to learning may help us better imagine what might facilitate our comprehensivity. This resource reviews Ten Epistemic Virtues for comprehensive andragogy identified in a previous resource and then compares them to the Three Sisters Garden Metaphor for Learning of Barbara Wall and the Four Sets of Competencies for Learning from “The Design Way”.

Since this resource references the indigenous wisdom included in the Three Sisters Garden Metaphor (discussed below), it is appropriate to include a land acknowledgment: I write from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania which is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape. I acknowledge the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. I acknowledge the injustice of the state-sponsored genocide and settler colonialism that gave me the “right” to occupy this land without a meaningful reconciliation with the Lenni-Lenape. The governments of Australia and Canada have both organized commissions that have acknowledged the genocides on their territories and have made some attempts at reconciling with indigenous peoples. I regret that the government of the United States has not yet begun a meaningful process of reconciliation. Follow this link for some materials I organized documenting these genocides.

Footnote: Barbara Wall’s eloquent four minute introduction and land acknowledgement exemplifies and contextualizes these comments:

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The Ethics of Learning from Experience

The way in which any tradition of inquiry and action is practiced is beset with issues about the correct or proper way to conduct inquiry and act within the tradition. Learning from experience has been proposed as a core epistemic virtue for our comprehensivity, our inclination to understand it all and each other. This resource explores several issues which may arise as we consider how we should learn from experience. Buckminster Fuller’s thinking about experiential learning will instigate much of the exploration.

The value of learning from experience, also known as the inductive attitude or empiricism, was introduced in the resource on The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller and was further developed in The Inductive Attitude: A Moral Basis for Science and Comprehensivism and has been reprised in the summarizing resources Comprehensivism in the Islamic Golden Age and Dante’s Comedìa and Our Comprehensivity.

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Dante’s Comedìa and Our Comprehensivity

Our comprehensivity is our facility for comprehensive thinking and action. One way to build our understanding of comprehensive practice is to look for precursors in historical works. This resource will examine the comprehensive ideas used by Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) in his great works La Vita Nuova and the Comedìa (more commonly known as The Divine Comedy even though Dante never used that title).

Since January 2021 The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society and 52 Living Ideas have organized group explorations of Dante’s greatest works to commemorate the septicentennial of his death seven centuries ago. The project has been organized through the web page Reading Dante in 2021 where many learning aides including two free on-line video courses were listed to support participants of the project. This resource surveys ideas for deepening our understanding of the practice, values, and history of comprehensive inquiry and action that might be highlighted by participating in a project exploring Dante’s great works.

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