Practice and the Human Sciences: The Case for a by Donald E. Polkinghorne

By Donald E. Polkinghorne

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Actions of the instrumental rational type serve as means to an end, and calculating which actions to take requires formal and impersonal thought. The calculative process involves breaking down problems into means-ends chains and examining the costs versus the benefits of each option. While the new understanding of the world led to an unprecedented increase in both the production and distribution of goods and services, the removal of moral and 38 Practice and the Human Sciences spiritual values had left only the mechanical motions of neutral entities.

Practical decisions about values require other approaches. Third, although the technical-rational method can produce decisions about the most effective way to accomplish a goal, there is no assurance that these decisions will be implemented. People do not always choose to do what calculations indicate would be the most efficient way to achieve a goal. The technical-rational approach is put forth as a normative model for decision making, not as a means of describing how, in fact, groups and individuals make decisions.

Mary notes that the amount of displeasure resulting from the burden of carrying an unneeded umbrella all day is 2 on a 10-point displeasure scale. Getting rained on when not carrying an umbrella will yield a 5 on a 10 displeasure scale. In addition to these two displeasure weights, Mary has to factor in the probability that it will rain. If the likelihood of rain is 20 percent, she will minimize her displeasure by not taking along the umbrella; but if it is 80 percent, it is to her advantage to take the umbrella.

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