Cybernetics, virtue ethics and design

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNConference contribution with ISSN or ISBNpeer-review


    In this paper I speak directly to the subject matter of this conference: to its theme of flourishing, and to the subject areas of systems thinking and design that this conference series as a whole seeks to bring together. The conference theme of flourishing is a direct reference to ethics, and in particular the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. There has been a revival of interest in this in recent decades under the heading of virtue ethics. Aristotle defined the good as that at which all things aim, and so in terms of goals and purpose. He described the goal of human life in terms eudemonia, which is usually translated as either human flourishing or the good life. There is a clear connection between this conception of ethics in terms of purpose and both design and systems. Design is an explicitly purposeful activity, which can be understood as the attempt to devise “courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones” (Simon, 1969/1996, p. 111). Purpose is of central concern for how we understand systems, most explicitly in cybernetics. The aim of this paper is to make explicit some of the deep interconnections between these three areas in terms of the theme of purpose, and to suggest areas of common concern where they might lend support to each other. In order to do this within the scope of this paper, I focus on a specific point of reference in each of the three areas: to Alasdair MacIntyre’s (1981/1985) After Virtue, Dalibor Vesely’s (1985, 2004, 2010) account of architecture, and to the debate around Rosenblueth, Wiener and Bigelow’s (1943) proto-cybernetic paper.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationProceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD6) 2017 Symposium
    EditorsBirger Sevaldson
    Place of PublicationOslo, Norway
    PublisherSystemic Design Research Network
    Number of pages1
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2017
    EventRelating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD6) 2017 Symposium: Environment, Economy, Democracy - Flourishing Together - Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO), Oslo, Norway
    Duration: 18 Oct 201720 Oct 2017

    Publication series

    NameProceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design Symposium
    ISSN (Electronic)2371-8404


    ConferenceRelating Systems Thinking and Design (RSD6) 2017 Symposium
    Abbreviated titleRSD6
    Internet address


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