The New Pragmatism: Going Beyond Shewhart and Deming

Article

Lovitt, Michael R.   (1997, Michael Lovitt)   Code Alarm, Inc., Madison Heights, MI

Quality Progress    Vol. 30    No. 4
QICID: 13221    April 1997    pp. 99-105

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Article Abstract

The pragmatism of Walter A. Shewhart and W. Edwards Deming is contrasted with that of Richard Rorty. Shewhart and Deming were influenced by the work of C. I. Lewis, who based his conceptual pragmatism on ideas of Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. This influence is seen in the shared theory of knowledge of Shewhart and Deming. It also arises in their development of the plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycle, data interpretation, judgment, and the selection of subgroups for control chart analysis. Examples of this pragmatism include claims that: knowledge cannot exist without interpretation; the same data can have different meanings, depending on the concepts linked to each interpretation; and rational subgroupings of data are open to pragmatic choice. Rorty is a conversationalist pragmatist who sees knowledge creation in edifying discourse, when individuals encounter disparate values and meanings. His work is influenced by the writings of James and is espoused by contemporaries like Ralph D. Stacey. In the new pragmatism, complex or double-loop learning is more likely than single-loop learning to draw on alternative points of view. Thus, the new pragmatism may be outside the traditional PDSA cycle and the scientific method. Likewise, while the pragmatism of Shewhart and Deming place much value on operational definitions, Rorty disparages this device.

Keywords

Deming, W. Edwards,Quality philosophy,Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle,Scientific methods,Shewhart, Walter A.


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