"I contest that we
we know something or not; we do not even know whether we know this or
and we do not know whether something is or is not." (Diels/Kranz 1956,
B 1) This is the skeptical view of Democrit's disciple Metrodore of
in some way superseding Socratic skepticism. We can only manage what is
and what we know about. "I contest that we know..." Therefore knowledge
cannot be managed. Skeptical knowledge management – an oxymoron?
In contrast we
a mighty knowledge and information industry, and a third industrial
based on them to a large extent. Industrial society has become a
industry society. It is therefore clear not only that we know but also
that we can know a lot. It is just a question of how we use knowledge
the possibility of having it.
A skeptic has
in order to distinguish true and wrong opinions. This is why he just
from judgement and gets inner peace (ataraxia). He knows the
of opposing phenomena (phainomena) and thoughts (noumena).
He is always able to find a perception that is not compatible with a
one. We could paradoxically say that a skeptic is a manager of
His goal is a therapeutic one, as Socrates showed. He wants to heal
quick judgement as well as from arrogance (oiesis). But his
is different from the Socratic one as far as he wants to liberate the
from the search for truth (Ricken 1994).
It is paradoxical that
he contradicts the dogmatic search for knowledge (episteme) he
for a fixed goal, namely inner peace. In order to achieve this goal he
must renounce to the search for truth as well as for value judgements.
Nevertheless, skeptics and dogmatists have something in common: they
criticise simple opinion (doxa). Skeptical thinking appears at
moment in which the difference between divine and human reason is
(Long 1995, 940). Skeptics take a more radical view than just with
the trust on divine knowledge by expanding their attitude also to
knowledge (doxa) as well as to scientific knowledge (episteme).
From a skeptical viewpoint, knowledge management is a technology that
something that it cannot achieve.
Heidegger belong, according to Ricken, to the skeptical tradition as
as they question modern fundamentalistic claims going back to
Skeptic forms of argumentation like the tropes of Agrippa (ca. 1st
BC) – namely: dissent (diaphonia), infinite regress, the
of the person who pronounces a judgement, and the circular argument –
rediscovered today, for instance, in some of the criticisms to naive
such as Hans Albert's "Münchhausen's trilemma" (Ricken 1994, 161).
Antiquity reacted to skepticism with different strategies such as
criticism of the sensualistic concept of being or Aristotle's
between different kinds of knowledge.
knowledge management in business shows that some old questions and
from the skeptic and critical traditions particularly from hermeneutics
and theory of science are rediscovered, including the Aristotelian
and Explicit Knowledge or Hermeneutics revisited
In his book "The
Michael Polanyi (1966) mentioned the importance of "tacit knowledge" in
biology. According to Polanyi human thinking is grounded in our body in
such a way that this tacit bodily dimension is the basis of the
objective or explicit knowledge. In their classic work "The
Company" Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (1995) place the concept
of "tacit knowledge" at the core of their theory on how knowledge is
within companies in comparison to the traditional view that takes into
account only the processing of explicit (digital) information.
as "a difference that makes a difference" (Bateson 1985, 582) has to be
integrated within a dynamic mostly implicit context of thought and
The transformation of implicit into explicit knowledge or, in other
making explicit an implicit context is an essential condition for the
of new knowledge. According to Nonaka and Takeuchi this process
four types of knowledge transformations:
consider three of these transformations, namely socialisation,
and internalisation. Combination belongs to the expertise of
documentation and library scientists. Nonaka and Takeuchi reflect on
these processes from the point of view of the business company. They do
not only rediscover the key role of implicit knowledge within the
creation process but they also analyse the dynamic spiral-like
between these forms of knowledge transformation in the business field.
Knowledge creation is based on context-dependent subjective relevance
remains mostly tacit. Their aim is to understand how firms
this basic creative resource, beyond the traditional view of knowledge
management (Takeuchi 1998). Following this line of thought, Von Krogh,
Ichijo and Nonaka (2000) put it like this: "This book is about
enabling. It is our strong conviction that knowledge cannot be managed,
only enabled". (Krogh/Ichijo/Nonaka 2000, vii) In other words, what can
be managed is information or explicit knowledge which is only one part
of the process of knowledge creation. In fact, we can only manage the
of conditions of possibility for knowledge creation, which they call
enablers", such as:
- instill a
- create the
arguments and thoughts related to the skeptic tradition as developed
instance by hermeneutics as well as by Popper's critical rationalism
in fact prima facie reduces all knowledge to "objective
but at the same time stresses that knowledge is basically "conjectural"
i.e. based on beliefs, dispositions and "horizons of expectations"
these are subconscious or conscious". (Popper 1973, 345). Behind
some superficial polemics against hermeneutics (Albert 1994) the main
idea concerns the perception of the interpretative nature of knowledge
as stated in hermeneutics with the concept of pre-understanding
In a letter to Paul
Feyerabend about Hans-Georg Gadamer's
book "Wahrheit und Methode" ("Truth and Method") (Gadamer 1975, first
1960) Hans Albert writes: "Some parts of the book are very interesting,
for instance regarding biased knowledge ("Vorurteile"), in which he
to support a similar viewpoint as Popper in his Conjectures! I
surprised. Popper is ahead in about 16 years! Has the poor guy ("der
(i.e. Gadamer) used him (Karl Popper) a little bit whenever he needed
(Quote from Grondin 1999, 336, my translation). Something similar could
be said with regard to the relation between Popper and Heidegger who in
"Being and Time", published in 1927, i.e. some twenty years before
book, analyses the structure of pre-understanding (Heidegger 1976
31-34). Should "the poor guy" (i.e. Popper) have used him (Heidegger) a
little bit whenever he needed it?
polemic we can
state that the idea of empirical knowledge as "theory-impregnated"
is an example of what hermeneutics calls the "circle of understanding"
or the "hermeneutic circle" (Capurro 2001). Modern theories of
management such as the one by Nonaka rediscover at a new place an old
Von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka even reaffirm the importance of dialogue
a necessary condition for adapting global accessible knowledge to a
situation. Electronic networks are just but one instrument to achieve
goal and they are not necessarily always at the focal point.
today's rediscovery of the topic of knowledge and information
within the business field allows also, vice versa, to criticise a
hostility within the hermeneutic tradition. I call the conjunction
hermeneutics and information technology artificial hermeneutics
(Capurro 2000a) which is concerned not with the face-to-face but with
interface situation. This means that, as with any other media change,
networks create new possibilities for knowledge creation, helping us,
instance, to overcome in a different way time and space constraints as
in the case of bodily encounter or of printing technology. Classic
has largely discussed the differences between the transmission and
of written (and printed) texts as different from face-to-face dialogue.
This was already a main point in Plato's criticism of writing.
Essers and Schreinemakers
from the Rotterdam School of Management (Erasmus University) Corporate
Knowledge Management (CKM) cannot be reduced to Popper's paradigm of
knowledge" at least as far as such a paradigm implies an encyclopaedic
view of knowledge within a firm (Essers/Schreinemakers 1997). This
a difference with regard to Nonaka's "dynamic theory of organizational
knowledge creation" which implies that knowledge is shared by a
of practitioners or experts. The idea that knowledge cannot be
from specific practices, institutions, instruments etc. is not far away
from what Thomas S. Kuhn called "paradigms" (Kuhn 1962). But Essers and
Schreinemakers point to the following differences between knowledge
- Theory of
science is interested
in the analysis of science from a theoretical perspective while
management is concerned with questions of application and use
- A company
concerned with scientific knowledge but also with other types of
management is interested
in the subjective side of knowledge or, in the language of the theory
science, it is less concerned with the context of justification than
the context of discovery and application. Nevertheless "objective
understood as Popper's "World 3" plays a major role also in Nonaka's
of knowledge creation. The relation of explicit knowledge to implicit
and interests rises the question concerning different types of
for instance with regard to the difficulty of getting consensus between
employer and employee concerning, say, a new product.
raised by Essers and Schreinemakers has to do with the context of
They refer to a 1994 paper by Nonaka in which he does not discuss the
of classic scientific criteria in opposition to economic ones (return
investment). This relative view of scientific knowledge from a
point of view can be seen as a skeptic form of knowledge management.
is also the case with regard to the largely discussed question about
incommensurability of paradigms. Nonaka seems paradoxically not to
this practical situation which plays a role in everyday conflicts and
Even more, he seems to conceal these kind of conflicts on the basis of
a harmony oriented viewpoint. Essers and Schreinemakers make clear the
importance of the situation of "interparadigmatic disagreement" within
a company, i.e. of what we can call skeptical knowledge management,
as the "crucial Aufgabe for the ever globalizing civilization of our
(Essers/Schreinemakers 1997, 31). They make thus an important
with regard to the widespread idea this kind of problems can be
solved on the basis of a company's vision.
This criticism does not
justice, I believe, to the dialogical process of knowledge creation as
described by Von Krogh, Ichijo and Nonaka. At the same time Essers and
Schreinemakers point to the risk arising from a relativism in the
field. They seem to favour a dogmatic position in this regard, but a
one concerning a company's goals and strategies. This reversal of
apparent position is itself one-sided. A company can and must work
normal conditions – Kuhn's "normal science" as business as usual –,
at the same time it allows a paradigm shift with regard to theoretical
questions. It seems as if these kinds of questions presupposes an
of different knowledge types and their role in a company's life, at
as far as not all criteria that can be applied to scientific
prove to be adaptable to corporate knowledge. Nevertheless,
based on good reasons or know-why plays an important role that
not of the same kind than the difference between implicit and explicit
knowledge. This rises the question of knowledge typology.
and Aristotle on Knowledge Typology
the question about "competitive advantages through knowledge
Zahn et al. (2000), following a distinction by R. Sanchez, distinguish
knowledge about how different parts of a system (a product or a
system) belong together and how this system functions. Know-how is a
knowledge used within a specific situation for efficient fulfilment of
a given task.
knowledge that provides a causal explanation of a given state of
is the knowledge about how know-how and know-why should be used. This
of knowledge is basic for the ability of companies to efficiently
to changing markets (Zahn et al. 2000, 246-248).
Zahn et al.
point also to
the difference between implicit and explicit knowledge and describe
we could call the knowledge management dilemma: if knowledge becomes
it is more perennial but more difficult to protect, if it remains
it is easier to protect, but it is difficult to transmit. This explains
the two different strategies of knowledge management as described by
Nohria and Tierney (1999). The first one is called the codification
is oriented towards explicit knowledge which is stored and accessible
data banks. Examples of this strategy are Andersen Consulting and Ernst
& Young. The second strategy is the personalisation strategy. In
case knowledge remains bound to the person who acquired it. The
is just a medium for knowledge exchange. Examples of this strategy are
Bain, Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.
We can compare
with the classical Aristotelian one. At the beginning of his
he writes: "All human beings strive naturally towards knowledge ("eidenai");
a proof of this is the feeling of happiness they have with regard to
perceptions ("aistheseis")". (Met. 980 a). Aristotle and the
agree on this proposition but for Aristotle there is not only this kind
of perceptual or aesthetic knowledge. He also points to knowledge
we acquire through remembrance ("mneme") which is characteristic
of animal life and he calls this knowledge also empirical ("empeiria").
Human beings owe also a knowledge about how to artificially produce
which is called technical knowledge ("techne"). Knowledge which
is the effect of logical reasoning is called science ("episteme").
Scientific and technical knowledge have an empirical basis. From a
perspective, empiricists mostly make the right choice in contrast to
ones who know things only theoretically. Why? Because they have a
of the individual case. According to Aristotle a good doctor must have
both kinds of knowledge, the scientific and the empirical one (Met. 981
a 15-23), although we usually say that scientists and technicians are
("sophoterous"). "Sophia" is a knowledge about the first
is prima facie
only slightly different to the one in the "Nichomachean Ethics" where
points to: technical knowledge ("techne"), scientific knowledge
("episteme"), practical knowledge ("phronesis"),
of the first principles ("sophia"), and intellectual reasoning ("nous"),
on the one hand, as well as to conjectural knowledge ("hypolepsei")
and opinion ("doxa") on the other hand (EN VI, 1139 b 15-18).
knowledge has to do with reasoning about the best means to achieve good
goals. It is not just cleverness but concerns the moulding of the
through ethical virtues as well as of the intellect through
ones. In other words "phronesis" has to do with what could be
best means in order to achieve a good life in a concrete situation
1989). Aristotle keeps his distance from Plato's superhuman ethical
There is a
these two typologies concerning the relation between knowledge and
In the "Metaphysics" Aristotle points to knowledge acquired through
perception ("aisthesis"). Such aesthetic knowledge is
and therefore not related to truth. Truth namely is an affirmative or
way of 'discovering' phenomena on the basis of "logos". The
in the "Nichomachean Ethics" does not include this kind of 'a-logical'
knowledge. Within this last typology Aristotle makes a difference
the first five forms of knowledge that he considers to deal always with
truth ("aletheia"), i.e. to always 'dis-cover' ("a-letheia")
the phenomena, while the last two forms of knowledge, namely
knowledge and opinion, may also conceal the phenomena and therefore be
This is the reason why
they do not belong to the dianoethical
virtues. These knowledge forms can be distinguished with regard to the
kind of phenomena they affect as, for instance, perennial phenomena ("episteme",
"sophia", "nous"), or changing phenomena ("techne",
"phronesis"). "Techne" is concerned with the production
material things ("poiesis"), while "phronesis" has to do
with human actions ("praxis"). These different kinds of
refer to different kinds of truth, namely 'theoretical', 'practical'
With regard to
between implicit and explicit knowledge, empirical knowledge lets
implicit while technical and scientific knowledge make explicit the
and the general. Aesthetic knowledge remains implicit. Practical
knowledge ("phronesis") becomes explicit through the weighting
of ethical counsel but the changing "rules" that govern individual and
social life ("ethos" written with Etha) may become only explicit
in education ("didaskalia") while remaining implicit in their
"customary" ("ethos" written with Epsilon) (EN II, 1103 a
We can prima
Zahn's and Aristotle's knowledge typologies in this way:
- know-how: "empeiria"/"techne"
- know-why: "episteme"
- know-what: "phronesis"
by Manfred Rohr (Stuttgart Academy for Technology Assessment), we may
"know-what" and Aristotle's "phronesis" should not be misunderstood as
an equation of a company's goals with ethical ones. Economic goals are
not absolute and should be permanently re-considered within the broader
question of what is good for an individual, a group, a society... in a
concrete situation and in view of what Aristotle calls "good life" ("eu
zen"). Otherwise it could happen that we forget the connections
wisdom, knowledge and information, or, to put it in T. S. Eliot's
"Where is the
wisdom we have
lost in knowledge?
Where is the
have lost in information?"
'The Rock', 1934, I)
An echo of
is found in Dr. Johnson's famous dictum as he was in Mr. Cambridge's
looking at the backs of the books: "Knowledge is of two kinds. We know
a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.
When we enquire into any subject, the first thing we have to do is to
what books have treated of it. This leads us to look at catalogues, and
at the backs of books in libraries." (Boswell 1986, 186) Since
we have been concerned with the question of locating explicit printed
within the space-time coordinates of a library or of an encyclopaedia.
With electronic networks we got (in principle) a global availability of
knowledge for everybody, at any time and everywhere. At the same time
are aware that we must develop some kind of mistrust with regard to the
Internet in order to cope with its chaotic structure (Kuhlen 1999).
we should cultivate a critical attitude about what is often proclaimed
to be knowledge within an organization considering its implicit and
presuppositions, impact and goals. I call this attitude skeptical
management. Within a larger view this attitude should lead to societal
"knowledge discourses" (Nennen 2000). To clarify these issues is a
of what is being called information ethics (ICIE;
Capurro 2000b, 2002).
If we take a look
at the question
of knowledge representation within today's context of digital networks
we become aware of basic metaphoric change with regard to the concept
'circle of knowledge' or 'encyclopaedia' that was predominant in theory
and practice, particularly in the library world, since Enlightenment.
metaphor used by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond D'Alembert is indeed
– the term "enkyklos paideia" goes back to Greek sophistic (Schalk
– but French encyclopaedists did a kind of paradigm shift as they
following Ephraim Chamber, from a systematic to an alphabetic order. In
fact, this order is not any more encyclopaedic but, as we could call
'endictyopaedic' ("diktyon" is the Greek word for net). Ephraim
"Cyclopaedia or an universal dictionary of arts and sciences" (1728)
a success, particularly because it was, as we say today, user oriented.
Chamber presupposes that, as D'Alembert remarks, "the greater part of
readers" are educated in such a way that they search for the meaning of
words with relation to the contexts in which they are embedded.
the French encyclopaedia should have included different thesauri which
was not the case. According to D'Alembert this would have created more
disorientation with regard to searching procedures, making the product
even more voluminous, and the economic success would have been in
(D'Alembert 1997, 96-97).
brought not just a fragmentation of scientific disciplines and their
but, as we see it today, a knowledge network that goes beyond the
encyclopaedic and 'endictyopaedic' forms of knowledge representation.
only documents but also human beings are linked within a digital and
endictyopaedia that is a the same time an information as well as a
medium. Is this development an opportunity or a threat for skeptical
critical thinking? Following Plato's famous criticism of writing
275), every knowledge fixation means a de-contextualisation that has to
be turned back or re-contextualised. In other words, the art of memory
as cultivated by traditional libraries as well as by digital networks
the complement of the art of remembering.
But in the same way as
libraries are not just book stores but also places where people meet
other, the interface has oral capabilities that cannot replace the
but that can displace and enlarge it in different ways. Given the
of social, technical, economic, and cultural exclusion at a local as
as at a global scale ("digital divide"), skeptical knowledge management
is a key ethical element of an information and knowledge society that
avoid becoming inflated and arrogant. Such a society is not part of the
solution, it is part of the problem.
Thanks to Thomas
(Kent State University, USA) for critical remarks and corrections.