mardi 26 août 2014



A. Why use philosophy in design ?

1. Responsibility. Technical devices can be compared to legal text, as they structure everyday life. So building a town, a road, a means of communication requires preliminary reflection about their consequences.
2. Humanization. Decorative arts are traditionally concerned by objects. Design includes social sciences too. But they also consider the human as an object. On the other hand, philosophy is not only knowledge about man (as an object) but by man (as a condition). That is to say philosophy understands how men live, perceive and conceive their existence.
3. Generalization. Technical activities are very specialised. There are experts in informatics, economy, medicine etc. There are also many specialities in each matter. The result is a loss of sense and of general orientation. A philosopher may be considered as a generalist trying to envisage different aspects of a project (epistemology, aesthetics, ethics). Designers also try to have a global vision of a project (sociology, economy, aesthetic, technique).
4. Meaning. Designers have to find the best way to resolve technical problems. They use technical solutions for concrete situations. Their purpose is to be efficient. On the other hand, philosophers have to deal with semantic problematics about the meaning of activities. They aim to clarify possible lines of work. They look for conceptual contradictions to analyse different aspects of a matter, to give designers a global vision and unexpected solutions. Collaborations between designers and philosophers aim to reconcile practice and theory. For instance, in a project about mobility, designers often ask "how do we go faster" when philosophers think about meaning of movement. Then they distinguish urgency and strolling and think about our relation to time, with questions like "what is to wait, to hurry, to amuse one self, etc. ?".
5. Exercise : Discussion about the meaning of philosophy, of design (for instance in urbanism, working space, military, health service etc.) and relations between design and philosophy.

B. How to use philosophy in design ?

1. Preparation
On a sheet, you must write the principal notions of the brief and do a mind mapping with logical distribution of words and definitions. Use a dictionary and try to organize notions in space with synonymous and antonymous. Use your memory, books, encyclopedia, newspaper, internet etc. to find some examples and references to illustrate concepts. You can look in different arts (painting, cinema, architecture, design, novel, craft) and sciences (sociology, anthropology, economy, history, psychology, medicine, etc.).

2. Writing
a) Introduction. You must introduce the topic (and explain the title) with a short report to contextualize the notions (use a sociological consideration, an anecdote, etc.). And then present the problematic, that is to say some questions to introduce a tension between at least two thesis statements expressing advantages and disadvantages of a concept (for example, advantages or not of using high technology for a space or a product).
b) Development. It should contains at least two parts corresponding to two different thesis. For each thesis, you must find arguments with examples. For a subject about technology, in a thesis against it, you can use the argument of ecological disaster, with examples of Chernobyl and Fukushima ; and the other argument of loss of traditional know-how, with industrial furniture or architecture.
c) Conclusion. Sum up your first principal argument and then give your own hypothesis on the subject, that is to say your personal response to the problematic.

3) Exercise : try to answer this question philosophically : "Does design improve life ?" (groups of four people must find argument and examples to defend two opposite thesis).

C. Plan. We have seen the standard form of philosophical demonstration. Now we can indicate different elements of philosophical culture, through three main fields : (I) Epistemology, about knowledge (words and ideas) ; (II) Aesthetics, about material objects (perception and production) ; (III) Ethics, about relation between people (individual and community).


Episteme means science in Greek and epistemology is the philosophy of science. In a larger sense, it means the philosophy of knowledge, not only scientific but ordinary too.

A. Language

1) Signs
a) Sign and signification. Language is a human faculty to express thought (signification) by signs. Signs are physical and concrete (sound of voice, line on paper). Signs depend on the media (mouth, radio, TV, etc.). Signs express a signification that is psychical and abstract (meaning, idea). The objective signification is denotation (e. g. Napoleon) and the subjective is connotation (e. g. winner of Austerlitz or looser of Waterloo). For an object, denotation is the function (e. g. driving, for a car) and the connotation is the symbol (e. g. luxury or simplicity) (cf. U. Eco).
b) Sign and signal. Non human signs (signals) are different from language. They are global and indivisible. The dance of a bee, for instance, instinctively indicates distance and direction to others. But the human language has a double articulation, with morphema (dermato-logy) and phonema (l-o-g-y) (cf. Benveniste). It allows us to invent an infinity of messages (cf. Chomsky).
c) Language, speaking and speech. Language is the universal human faculty to communicate by signs with possibility of invention and translation. It takes different particular forms, depending on place and time, that gives different ways to speak (Italian, German, Philosophy, Informatics, Slang, etc.). Each person has his own way to speak. It is the speech with context, intonation, rhythm, gesture, etc (cf. Saussure).
d) Performance. Language not only give informations but also does something and makes people do things. That's the pragmatic aspect of language. The transmitter has an intention, like frightening, seducing, teaching etc. The receiver will react more or less as the transmitter wanted them to (cf. Austin).

2) Thoughts
a) Difference thought/language. The first argument is that we make a difference between sign and signification when we say that language expresses thought. For example, we sometimes think about something but don't find the right words or, conversely, when we read we interpret signs and find the corresponding concepts. Another argument is that a word can have many meanings (homonym) and many words can express the same meaning (synonym). Figures of speech of substitution, like metaphor, metonymy, litotes, hyperbole, irony, and of organization, like ellipsis, periphrasis, repetition, gradation, are kind of synonyms (even if connotations differ).
b) Identity with language. However, there is a very close relation between language and thought. Probably, thinking is a sort of inside and silent speach, of interior monologue (Plato). And sometimes we think in a loud voice, when we are alone, tired or old. Another argument is that we can influence or be influenced by language, with education or propaganda for instance. Who masters speech has power, for example in a court (cf. Barthes, Chomsky, Bourdieu).

3) Things
a) The revelation of things. Language give us a better knowledge of things. We know things better if we have a lot of words at our disposal. We become skilled in a field partially by learning vocabulary (kraft, art, science, etc.). Another example is that Inuits have nine different words to indicate different shades of white and obviously are able to perceive these differences. And in addition, with imagery, poetry can deliver deeper perception of reality.
b) Dissimulation of things. The opposite thesis statement says language hides intuition. We don't see things in itself but labels we stick on. Then, we stay with signs in a general and repetitive approach, useful, but blind to changes and shades (cf. Bergson, Wittgenstein).
c) Sign-thing relation. There are three types of signs depending of their relation to things (cf. Peirce). There's indication, caused by things (a footprint) ; images or icons made by man and resembling things (a map) ; symbols, made by man too but without resemblance and totally conventional (words).

4) Exercise : Consider school as a text. Observe signs (indication, icons and symbols), their matter and form, the figure they form (sentence), what they denote (objective meaning, function) and connote (subjective meaning, symbolism, style), what they do and make us doing. Groups of two people will communicate their analyses.

B. Truth

1) Opinion and truth
a) Opinion. An opinion is not prove and is just ideas and words. We don't know if it is true or false. So a mistake or a lie are not really an opinion because we know they are wrong. In art, religion or politics there is essentially opinion. Knowledge pertains to the sciences (physical or social).
b) Coherence. Coherence is the first level of truth. It warrants a sense of a speech even if there is no verification with facts. Speech is coherent if it respects grammatical rules and principles of no-contradiction. If it doesn't, it is impossible to verify it with facts. Many sciences, especially social sciences, are coherent but with no sure correspondence with facts.
c) Correspondence. Correspondence is the last level of truth, when coherent speech is corresponding to facts. Then the articulation of language (subject-predicate) is similar to the articulation of things (substance-attribute). Natural science often fulfils this requirement because nature is more predictable than men.

2) Methodology
a) Observation. Observation or perception is the first way to know the truth. It is not always direct. We can use tools (balance, thermometer, microscope etc.) or others' testimony (document, inquiry, survey, etc.).
b) Hypothesis. Hypothesis are necessary to imagine causes of perceived effects (heliocentrism or inertia theory). It is like imagining the mechanism of a watch by regarding its hands (Einstein). Hypothesis must be logical and coherent.
c) Verification. It is the way to confirm that hypothesis corresponds to facts and reality. Experimentation is a specific observation organised to test and verify an hypothesis. Verification could contain margins of error and lead to probabilist results. Lack of confirmation by experience could suggest finding a better hypothesis, more adapted to fact. It leads to an evolutionist or dialectical conception of truth (cf. Bachelard, Popper).
d) Existence. The existential conception of truth doesn't depend on a methodology but on a spiritual conversion of our natural perception. It is based on a type of intuition of time or anguish that would account for authenticity behind appearance of opinion and science (cf. Pascal, Bergson, Heidegger, Sartre). Poetry could be a privileged way of showing with rhetoric and figure of speech what is hidden by habits.

3) Exercise : Try to represent an idea of design by explaining what you observed (problem), what is your hypothesis of improvement and what sort of device you can create to test this hypothesis.


A. Experience

1) Perception
a) Body and mind. We perceive our external world by our five senses : sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste (by order of distance). Internal sensations, like emotions, proprioceptions, kinaesthesy, are not exactly perceptions. Our body gives us access to here and know, to this, to singularity, actuality, movement etc. But perception needs ideas and general concepts to organize different sensations and give stability to changing of appearance. Thus, a tree stays the same from seed to trunk and branches ; an architecture stays the same when I'm inside or outside (cf. Descartes, Merleau-Ponty).
b) Level of illusion. Sometimes perceptions are false (reflection, echoes, perspective, etc.). Sense distortion of reality gives a poetical aspect to things. Nevertheless, we can find correspondence, isomorphy, translation between perceptions and physical organisation. This trust in perception may be called empiricism. But rationalists defend another thesis statement. They strongly distinguish between appearance of perception and reality and estimate that perception is always wrong. Second qualities (colour, weight, hardness) only depends on my body and doesn't belong at all to things (cf. Descartes). For example, we perceive the rising of the sun but the reality is the movement of earth. In this case, there's no relation between habits and scientific reality.
2) Form and matter
a) Container and content. Forma in Latin means mould. It gives stability and simplicity to matter (as does the pastry of a tart). A form is a model, a pattern like an architect's plan, musician's score or painter's drawing. In the same way, ideas and words allow us to identify things and people through their movement. Materia in Latin means wood. In principle, matter doesn't have a specific organisation (except in atomic physics, with H2O for instance), and can take a different shape. It currently designates the elements and parts of a thing (wood and stone of a house, ingredient of a cake, molecules of a product). Matter is also an appearance perceived by the body to which the mind gives a stable form.
b) Physical and technical organization. For Aristotle, in nature, the earthly world is material and the celestial world is formal. The higher you are, the more organization there is. Disorder and unformed matter on earth tends to give perfection of forms (seed becomes a tree, an embryo becomes a man). But in the earthly and imperfect world, we always find declining, monstrosity and death. For artificial and technical things, Aristotle distinguishes a material cause (marble), an efficient cause (sculptor), a formal cause (statue, at the beginning in the sculptor's mind) and a final cause (ornament). We can say that the sculptor allowed the potential statue (not yet realized) to become actual, as nature allowed the potential tree (seed) to become actual. That is to say matter is potential and form is the destiny of matter.
3) Time and space
a) Form of sensibility. Time and space are not things but ideas as a framework to situate things (Kant). But we need a reference, a standard (heavenly body, human body, clock, meter, etc.). In that way, we can count and reduce time and space to geometry. A point becomes instant and place, segment becomes moment and distance (cf. Bergson).
b) Time and duration. Time is objective (fact), common and quantitative. Duration is subjective (value), personal and qualitative (cf. Bergson). For example, a lesson of philosophy of two hours (time) can be boring or gripping and give different feeling of duration according to each one interest in philosophy. Duration is a moment in the present overlapping on the past and the future (sensorimotor scheme). We hear a melody by remembering the beginning and anticipating the following (cf. Husserl). The length of the present moment depends on our interest. It can be five minutes, one hour, one day or one year. In the same way, history is distinct from current events in accordance with our interest (cf. Bergson).
c) Space and extent. Space is objective (fact), common and quantitative. Extent is subjective (value), personal and qualitative (cf. Bergson, Bachelard, Lewin, Heidegger, Sartre, ). For example, my house can be at 200 meters from the baker (space). But this distance can be far if I'm an old person or near if I'm a young one (extent). Distance between towns doesn't change in history, but evolution of transport and communication have changed the extent. Extent is our potential scope of action power. If I'm in Nantes, that means I can easily access to all point of Nantes. It is the same if I say "I'm in this room" or "in this country", even if I strictly occupy, with my body, a very small part of space. Extent traduces an emotional and affective relation to places when space is indifferent and unaffected.
4) Exercise : Describe an experience of a space, a product or a media by showing different sensations in the perception of a thing. Use terms : "sensation, concept, matter, form, space and time".

B. Art

1) Nature and man.
a) Original and transformed. Nature is what is original, pure and without any transformation. It also means the essence of something, that is to say its definition ("human nature"). Natural products arise (lat. nascere), grow (gr. phuein) and last by themselves without external help, unlike artificial products that need man (cf. Aristotle, Heidegger). A lot of things are both natural and artificial (garden, human body, wood chair etc.).
b) Cosmos and universe. The idea of nature depends on a conception of the world. The ancient Greeks system was geocentric with circular time. Man was in the centre of the cosmos in a finite, fixed and hierarchical system. But at the Renaissance, nature became heliocentric with a linear time. Man was considered in danger on a mobile planet in an infinite space, threatened by comets or natural disasters. Nature was reduced to blind matter without divine protection (Koyré). To compensate man had to become "as a master and owner of nature" through techno-science (Descartes). At that time progress became better than the respect of tradition.
c) Biocentrism and anthropocentrism. In the XIX the ecologist's view appeared to defend nature against men and their technology. Deep ecology tends to emphasize nature by limiting men's action (biocentrism). But environmentalism insists on the fact that nature is nature for us and not in itself (anthropocentrism). For instance, sustainable development preserves our consumer society by using clean energy. Political ecology wants to limit consumption (biocentrism) interested in the social impact of technology (anthropocentrism).
d) Garden and jungle. Values we give to nature are opposite. According to Rousseau, nature is good and society has corrupted it. There is a kind of nostalgia for the garden of Eden and an a praise for good primitive people. For Hobbes, on the contrary, nature is a jungle and only civilisation can make the world better.
e) Exercise : are design and architecture opposed to nature ?

2) Art and technology
a) Prometheus and neotony. In Plato's book Protagoras, he explains the emergence of technology through Prometheus' myth. In the creation of the universe, Zeus asked to Pro-metheus (knowing-before) to give attributes to animals (fur, wings, fins, fangs) so that they could survive in different places. But he let his brother, Epi-metheus (knowing-after) do it for him. He didn't well distribute attributes and some creatures, men, stayed naked and were condemned to disappear. So Prometheus stole fire (technology) from Ephaistos (Vulcan) for men to build what they needed by themselves (weapons, houses, clothes). Technology comes from our natural lake and supernatural power (that would require supernatural wisdom to avoid bad use). Neoteny (youth-prolongation) can explain scientifically (how) what Plato explained mythologically (why). Size of men's skulls increased during evolution. So pregnancy had to be shorter to let the baby easily exit its mother belly. So men got an embryonic appearance (short teeth, ears, hairs). Childhood became longer and rich in stimulation increased by language learning (Kollmann). So humans were physically ill-disposed to live immediately in nature but had the intelligence to build a lot of prosthesis (cf. Sloterdijk).
b) Imitation and expression. In the Republic, Plato compare art and technology and show us that art is less than technology. His argument is that art is an imitation and a copy of real things. For Plato art is classed as illusion, fiction, imagination, appearance and lies. On the contrary, technology is close to nature, essence, reality. In a sense, one may say Plato is a functionalist (Loos) and not an ornementalist (Morris) or an aesthete. Aristotle, his student, has a better opinion of art, that it is agreeable and educative. But for Hegel, art is not an imitation but an expression of freedom in nature. It is not a subtraction but an addition. So art is superior to technology because technology remains close to animal condition, natural constraint and necessity. We find again this thesis in Proust (real life is literature that shows a multiplicity of worlds), Bergson (contemplation is detached from impersonal and routine actions) or Wilde (nature imitates art).
c) Exercise : is the designer an artist ?
3) Beauty and utility
a) Fine art, pleasurable art and applied art. For Kant, fine art (sculpture, painting, music, poetry) and natural beauty (landscape, flowers, birds song) affects the spirit by the eyes or ears by virtue of formal harmony between sensitive elements (free beauty). By comparison, pleasurable art (gastronomy, stylism, play) especially affects sensibility and is very subjective (there's no good and bad taste). Applied art (industry, design, architecture) is bound to function and utility and is not disinterested (it is the same for committed art). But we can recognize a type of beauty related to efficiency (adherent beauty) for cars, air planes, tools and machines (Souriau, Simondon).
b) For Walter Benjamin, icons are the ancestor of works of art. Icons are rare, precious, hidden, protected and also magnetic (aura, presence). With the emergence of museums in the XVIII, icons from everywhere in the world became works of art. They have lost their relation with specific places and became mobile (score, canvas, bust). With democratization of culture, work had to be exhibited and transportable and copies took value, even if it lost the aura of the model. With industry and mass production in the XX century, works of art became products (CD, DVD, MP3), less and less material and spatial. For Hanna Arendt, art, in cultural industry, has lost its patrimonial dimension and its stability through time. Products are subject to vagaries of fashion and marketing.
c) Exercise : is design useful ?

4) Work
a) Genius and craft. We could theoretically say that the artist needs genius to invent and industry requires craft and habit. Genius is often assimilated to madness or possession because it doesn't have a rational origin. It may be a divine or natural gift, because we can't learn to be a genius. But genius is a myth according to Nietzsche. It is only craft, hidden to produce a magical effect. In this case, we can also find genius in industry. We can consider too that craft consists of applying mechanically a form, a recipe, to matter. But with genius, there's a kind of improvisation. We start from matter to let form emerge. Practically, genius and craft are mixed. Casual discovery (serendipity), for example, implies both intention to contingency and a kind of usual activity. That's why Pasteur said "chance only helps ready minds".
b) Labour and development. Work can be perceived as a kind of torture. Men have to work to live by cultivating soil. It was considered by the bible as a punishment for an original sin. In antiquity, slaves worked for free men who had intellectual activities (art, science, politics). Today, machines partially free us from labour. But they can generate new suffering. With the development of Christianity and capitalism, work became, on the contrary, a central value. We consider, since St Paul, that labour, effort and pain make us moral and that laziness leads to vice. Above all, work allows personal and collective development. It transforms the world (production) and man (education). But we don't know if work develops human nature or if it transform it (transhumanism).
c) Social and technical division. In every society, there's social divisions according to different professions (Plato). It allows complementarity of different know-hows, the singular development of personality as of a whole society (Smith). But, industry and the scientific organization of work (Taylor) can lead to mechanisation of lost of know-how. The manual worker class is proletarianized and only executes orders when others take decisions. In this case, there's no possibility of personal evolution and equalisation (Marx). Ford extended scientific organization to consumption, to avoid overproduction crisis. So, all the society would become a sort of factory with the risk of the proletarianization of the consumer, with his standardisation and loss of good manners and savoir-vivre (cf. Anders, Debord, Baudrillard, Stiegler). Technology of centralized control, coming from organization of jails, schools, factories, hospitals, barracks and monasteries, developed itself everywhere (cf. Foucault). Networks represent an interactive, decentralized and less authoritative organization. But control persists in less and less visible forms (cf. Deleuze).
d) Exercise : Does man always develop himself by working ?

A. Principles

1) Morals and ethics
a) Morals. Morals generally designates duty we have to respect strictly and universally in every situation (don't lie, don't kill). Our intentions should be pure, rigorous, disinterested, unselfish (cf. Kant, Ricoeur). Our respect of moral law has to be systematic and unconditional. Morals tend to be universal and the same for everybody, unlike customs. Advantages of moral are regularity, reliability and disadvantages are a lack of adaptation to situation (shall we really never lie or kill in any circumstances ?) and a supernatural demand of disinterest.
b) Ethics. Ethics are interested by happiness, utility, consequences of action and responsibility (cf. Bentham, Mill). It is more situated and changeable according to situations. We may say ethics designates our way to inhabit (éthos) and our habits (èthos) (Nancy). Its advantage is adaptation to circumstances but its disadvantage is tendency to immorality by laxity and permissiveness (justification of torture or murder for utility).
c) Exercise : Can we discuss a moral principle ?

2) Technical application
a) Respect. It consists of assuring to never doing something to someone without his assent and never considering him as an object or means (cf. Kant). Lying is opposed to respect, because it prevents people from taking their decision on good ground, with full acknowledge of the facts.
b) Justice. It consists of warrant equality (the same for everybody) or equity (to each one according to his situation). One can't exploit anyone and must give compensation if it is the case.
c) Beneficence. It consists of measuring the balance between advantage and disadvantage, benefits and risks (precaution, prudence). We should always ask the price of the means we use and try to reduce negative consequences.
d) Exercise : Find example of design projects that illustrate autonomy, justice and benevolence values.

B. Freedom

1) Heteronomy and autonomy. Our individual freedom is always limited by nature or culture. These limits are so strong that we could say freedom is a myth, an illusion due to ignorance of determinism (Spinoza). But if we were not free, we wouldn't be responsible. It would be useless to condemn or congratulate somebody as an author of action. We call moral autonomy our faculty to resist to passion, to control ourself and to be master of what we do (Kant). We are able to follow rules we consider good, as learning to play an instrument or waking up in the morning, even if it is difficult.
2) Exercise : Is the designer responsible of what he produces ?
3) Obstacle and tool. It seems we can have some power on ourselves but not on the world outside and that we don't have any possibility to change it. However, it is possible to transform obstacles into tools as birds or sailors do with wind. In the same way, tools can become obstacles (secondary effect). So things in itself are neutral and can take different values according to us (Sartre). Then our perception of the strength of obstacles is related to our subjective attitude. If we are resigned, without excessive desire and ambition, we won't suffer obstacles too much but we won't try to evolve either. On the contrary, if we desire many things, we will have more chance to feel disappointed but we will have also more chance to change things.
4) Exercise : Find example of design that illustrate the obstacle/tool reversibility.

C. Society

1) Community. The individual belongs to group. The first one is family in private life. A group of families forms a community. After childhood we can choose to join other communities. All the communities try to live together peacefully, with or without the help of a state. There's also international organizations. The wider community is called humanity.
2) Exchanges. Individuals and groups are related by exchanges. These are material or immaterial (ideas, affects). Refusals to exchange, egoism or stealing, represents moral problems. With gifts, we exchange material against immaterial (gratitude) and different kind of return (counter-gift). Gifts shows that man needs symbolic relation as much as or more than useful ones (sacrifice) (cf. Mauss, Bataille). Money was invented to facilitate exchanges because it is convertible to anything and it interests everybody. It is easier than bartering when, for instance, you want to buy a house with chickens. Money is immaterial and then mobile, etc. But money has no use and intrinsic value, only exchange value. That's why it is possible to capitalize infinitely with the risk of selfish appropriation of wealth (Aristotle, Marx).
3) Exercise : How design improves exchanges between people ?
4) Politics and law. Modern politics is connected to exchanges and economy. Liberalism defends free markets and competition, in principle without external intervention (Locke, Smith). Socialism criticizes self interest and defends redistribution of wealth and solidarity (Proudhon, Marx). Laws are means to administer society. Legality is laws applied by and to a given society. But these laws can be opposed to moral and ethics and be illegitimate. Thus when legality is not legitimate, illegality can be legitimate and disobedience becomes moral (civil disobedience, activism, protestation, resistance, revolution, etc.).
4) Exercise : How design improves individual autonomy ?

Raphael Edelman
(Thanks to Sue and Anna)

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Je suis professeur de philosophie à l'Ecole de design et à Lisaa à Nantes, dirige la revue de philosophie et de technique Tiroir et préside l'association Ouvroir d'Urbain Potentiel. Vous pouvez me contacter ici :