Philosophical dichotomies

Drawing on

·        The philosophy book. ISBN 978-1-4053-5329-8


·        http:// (this may be a dead link)


Enterprise architecture has been described by some systems thinkers as rationalist or deterministic or reductionist.

The implication is that other kinds of “systems thinking” are better for being not rationalist, or not deterministic, or not reductionist.

This paints an inaccurate picture of both.

It should be assumed that enterprise architects and systems thinkers can and will take either or both positions in the following dichotomies, according to the problem domain or the system design work to be done.


Some concepts on this side tend to be confused with each other

Some concepts on this side tend to be confused with each other

Determinism supposes every state and event (including human choice) is the consequence of antecedent states and events. This implies that prediction is possible in theory, but not necessarily in practice.

Self-determination supposes a choice arises from reasons or desires, though this process may deterministic.

Indeterminism supposes a state or event is not wholly the consequence of antecedent states or events. This implies some kind of randomness in state transitions.

Predictable means the outcomes of an event can be predicted in practice, because the processes it triggers are deterministic.

Unpredictable means the outcomes of an event cannot be predicted, because the processes it triggers include a random element.

Random in common use means haphazard, without prior determination, but in maths is only a measure of how unpredictable a future state or event is.

Chaotic behaviour in common use means disordered, but in maths it defines the behavior of a system in which small differences in an initial state or event yield widely diverging outcomes, even though the system is deterministic, with no random elements. This makes long-term prediction impossible.

Materialism sees existence as material.

Idealism sees existence as mental or spiritual.

Cognitive embodiment views mental states and activities as bodily states.


Dualism views something as made of two parts. Often, the view is that the mind stands apart from the body; that the rational mind, controls, interacts with and reacts to the body.

Holism treats a system’s parts as inseparable, since the properties of the system (which might be called emergent properties) are not the properties of any part.

Reductionism explains the properties of one (typically higher level thing) by the properties of another (typically lower level) thing.

Empiricism understands and predicts from experience (over reason). Knowledge is gathered from information obtained, relatively passively, from the senses.

Rationalism understands and predicts by reason and logical analysis (over experience).

Constructivism builds knowledge by active thought.

Interpretative or hermeneutical supposes that to understand anything, we must find ourselves ‘in’ the world along with that which is to be understood.

Formalism supposes symbols are sufficient. Mathematics brings with it no more commitment to the existence of objects or properties than a game like ludo or chess.

Structuralism supposes innate structures (schemata) determine how perceptions (phenomena) of concrete things (noumena or a priori objects) are brought together and organised in the mind.


Structuralism in linguistics: Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) believed that language was not a set of utterances but consisted of the underlying rules or principles which made it possible for speakers to produce an unlimited number of such utterances. He considered the sentence as the primary unit of language. Speech production was the transformation of complete thought processes into sequentially organized speech segments.

Functionalism supposes humans construct schemata through a long process of maturation and interaction with the world (as Piaget asserted). Cf. William James (1842-1910): Contents and structure of the mind are not as important as its goal-directedness.


Machine state functionalism – deterministic automaton. If the machine is in state Si, and receives input Ij, it will go into state Sk and produce output Ol (for a finite number of states, inputs and outputs).