Exploring the epistemological origins of Shewhart’s and Deming’s theory of quality: influences from C.I. Lewis’ conceptualistic pragmatism.
Journal article, 2009
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the epistemological origin of Shewhart's and Deming's ideas in their development of a theory of quality. Design/methodology/approach – The approach takes the form of a literature review. Findings – Walter. A. Shewhart's and W. Edwards Deming's ideas concerning a theory of quality originated not solely from insights about variation within statistics but also from the field of philosophy, particularly epistemology. Shewhart and Deming, both seen as quality pioneers, were strongly influenced by the conceptualistic pragmatist Clarence Irving Lewis and his theory of knowledge. This is, and has often been, a neglected connection; however, in today's competitive business environment knowledge and competence have become crucial success factors. Thus, the epistemologyrelated origin of their theory of quality has become increasingly interesting and important to explore. First, a summary version of Clarence Irving Lewis' theory of knowledge will be presented here as expressed in his work Mind and the World Order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge (1929). Second, examples of some important connections between Lewis, and chosen parts of Shewhart's and Deming's theory of quality will be given, for example the plandostudyact cycle, operational definitions and profound knowledge. It will also be indicated how the social element in knowledge is emphasised in the works of Lewis, Deming, and Shewhart. Originality/value – By exploring the epistemological background of Deming's and Shewhart's ideas of a theory of quality, it might be able to better comprehend the profound ideas they left behind and improve the understanding and use of their theory of quality today. © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited