In 1990 Carolyn Miller took decision science ("a theory of choice with an accompanying battery of 'decision aids' for 'modeling problems of choice' in management and public policy"(163)*) to task for both what Wayne Booth calls motivism and for what Chaim Perelman refers to as reducing "problems of action" to "problems of knowledge." Miller dings decision science for a few other things; I am interested only in these two for my present purposes (as I am likewise thinking about my Computers and Writing presentation in May): the dangers of motivism and the action/knowledge problem in public life and how rhetoric should respond pedagogically.
Troubling Decision Science
Miller defines decision science as a kind of rhetoric in that it is a "theory of choice" (163). Nevertheless, Miller argues it is a problematic rhetoric because it abdicates or avoids reasoning about values, what Booth terms motivism. My more cynical response is that those folks in economics and management who typically employ decision science are avoiding addressing values purposefully to prevent them from being challenge (but this is, perhaps, another problematic kind of motivism that Burke admonishes against).
The second issue Miller addresses is how decision science boils problems of action (what should we do? should we do something at all?) down to problems of knowledge (how much will is cost? what are the risks and rewards?). The problem is that in reducing action to knowledge decision science erases conflict and avoids the question of values.
Problems of action involve conflict between people; even solitary deliberators negotiate conflicts between possible versions of themselves. Problems of action are "essentially contestable"; problems of knowledge are not. (175)Decision Science Troubles the World
For example of how both aspects of decision science problematically operate out in the world (one of Miller's chief concerns), I would draw our attention to the NOVA documentary "The Spy Factory". The oddly titled documentary explores the role of the National Security Agency (NSA), in combination with the FBI and the CIA, in the "intelligence failures" preceding and following the 9/11 terror attacks. In particular, the issues of motivism and problems of action/knowledge show-up in the Bush administration's response to those attacks. (Obviously, this blog post is limited and much of the work now being done within the intelligence services is to be commended. This post and the documentary it draws on have a necessarily limited perspective. That being said, I am responding to stated desires and policies.)
In brief, the Bush administration's response was to remove barriers to searches and spying so as to increase the amount or volume of information available to our intelligence agencies. Many critiques of this policy -- beyond the legal and moral ones -- persuasively point out that information or the lack thereof was not the issue -- was not the root of the problem. There was enough intelligence in terms of raw data. Indeed, the ease with which government investigators were able to piece together the events leading up to the attacks suggests as much. The problem was a problem of action, of value-laden decision-making (not "do we have enough information?" but "should we be sharing it with other agencies and how and when?"). What was required, to borrow from Miller, was an ability to reason about values, about the culture of the intelligence community, and about how information was allowed or not allowed to circulate. Most importantly, however, reducing this problem of action to a problem of knowledge has potentially threatened core legal principles and not made us all that much safer. A primary contributor to the documentary, and a long time historian of the NSA, concludes the NOVA documentary this way:
Is this flood of information making us any safer? [...] We should have been safe the way it was [...] How much information is enough -- and won't too much information end up making the world more dangerous?At first this seems counter-intuitive: how can too much information be a bad thing? If you are a decision scientist and assume that "if our information were more complete or our calculations more accurate, we could know with complete certainty whether it will rain today" (Miller 175), then it very much is against your intuition. However, if the problem is one of action (one of human relations and values and contingencies and probabilities), which I think it is, then it is rather reasonable to question the absolute value of information. And I would suggest, as I move to conclude this discussion in rhetoric's pedagogy, that it is precisely in the direction of intuition/instinct that we should head.
Conclusion: Rhetoric's Pedagogy for Deciding
To return to Miller's assertions for a rhetorical understanding of decision science (and for an accounting of how decision science has influenced pedagogy and so impacted decision making), I would ask what all this means for rhetoric's pedagogy. How might those of us in rhetoric teach decision-making in and against the context of decision science?
If traditionally education has been about information (P. Friere's influence notwithstanding), what do we make of such persuasive arguments against decision science, which is largely predicated upon this Enlightenment ideal? I would propose (although I am far from the only one) that rhetoric draw on recent research on instincts and gut feelings. For instance, the work on Gerd Gigerenzer and his book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious is quite informative (yikes!) in this direction. I argue that an education that would avoid motivism and the reduction of action to knowledge should focus less on "information" and more on "instinct."
I like a focus on instinct because instincts become an excellent way to address how we reason about values. In essence, instincts are about response-ability. They are about patterns or habits of engagement. Instincts filter what information counts as valuable and they motivate particular actions over others. Instincts are, in other words, were the rubber of values meets the road of action. Values, however, and as Gigerenzer argues, are not beyond human (pedagogical) agency and they are not automatic. Instincts, he argues, are cultivated. Instincts are neither value free nor beyond rhetorical deliberation and persuasion. Indeed, instincts must necessarily be cultivated precisely because they are not pre-specified (we could take numerous examples of this from athletics where it is the honing of instincts that is so much a part of practice and improvement. The work of Debra Hawhee is valuable in this regard).
In addition to being a call to discuss values (or patterns of response), instincts are a way around one of the oft-described problems of teaching rhetoric, which presumes to address the contingent and situational (thus making the teaching of formulas problematic). Rhetoric strikes me as instinctual (which are always geared towards problems of action) rather than formulaic (which strikes me as largely focused on problems of information). I would argue that what we (should) teach are instincts. In so arguing, I necessarily invite a discussion about what kinds of instincts. And it is a discussion of what instincts and what values we should teach that potentially protects us from the troubles of decision science and from the charge of motivism, which is as damaging to teachers as it is economists.
*Miller, Carolyn R. "The Rhetoric of Decision Science, or Herbert A. Simon Says." The Rhetorical Turn: Invention and Persuasion in the Conduct of Inquiry. Ed. Herbert A. Simon. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.