Matthew Stewart, philosopher-turned management consultant-turned philosophy writer, has an essay in the Atlantic on “management science” (subscription required) that is amusing and interesting. [full text available here]
Stewart goes through the origins of scientific management, its justifiable place in the dustbin of ideas (although it certainly scared the bejeesus out of Josef Schumpeter, who thought it presaged the downfall of capitalism by excessive routinization of innovation), and the remnants of it that remain pervasive in modern management consulting practice. Not a pretty story.
Interestingly, I am just finishing Stewart’s recent book on Spinoza and Leibniz, The Courtier and the Heretic: Spinoza, Leibniz, and the Fate of God in the Modern World. While I’m sure that professional philosophers would find it superficial or overly speculative or too historical, I have really enjoyed it. His narrative is engaging, he makes the ideas of both men (and the interaction of their ideas) clear, and it’s pretty easy to tell where he’s speculating and where he’s on solid historical ground. In fact, I’m enjoying it so much that when I saw Tom Palmer recently and told him I was “on a Spinoza kick”, he looked bemusedly at me as any professional philosopher should when presented with that statement.
In any case, the essay and the book are worth a read. Hat tip to the ever-valuable Peter Klein at Organizations and Markets.