Undeciding the Decidable

Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk


Heinz von Foerster’s distinction between decidable and undecidable decisions is often taken to imply an ethics of personal responsibility, summed up in the phrase ‘only we can decide the undecidable’. Taken together with the invocation to ‘increase the number of choices’, von Foerster implies an ethics that is personal and pluralistic. This approach is helpful as a critique of moralism but it is a limited guide in situations characterised by conflict, inequality, or the need for collective action.

In this presentation, I return to von Foerster’s discussion of undecidability in order to suggest a different way of thinking about its ethical implications. Whereas von Foerster traces undecidability back to foundational metaphysical questions, positioning the ethical within a choice between distinct worldviews, I use the example of design to explore the decidable and undecidable within the context of practical tasks. I argue that it is not enough for us to decide upon (take responsibility for) the undecidable questions that we encounter: we must also undecide the decidable decisions that are given within the contexts in which we are living, increasing the number of choices as a process of critique rather than as a pluralisation of options.
Period11 Nov 2020
Event titleCybsights - The President's Series: Cybernetic Stories of Science, Design and Practice
Event typeSeminar
Conference number2
Degree of RecognitionNational