A Process Philosophy Approach to Corporate Governance - Corporate Governance and Business Ethics

A process approach must not be equated with the commonsensical idea of the process that an individual or a system as a separate and solid entity undergoes in transition from one place to another caused linearly by external forces or power. Rather, it is a metaphysical orientation that emphasizes an ontological primacy in the “becoming” of things; that sees things as always momentarily stabilized outcomes: “Stability waves in a sea of process” (Rescher 1996). This process ontology promotes a dispersive view of reality as a heterogeneous concatenation of event-occurrences that cannot be comprehensively captured by static symbols and representations. For process philosophers (Bergson 1903; James 1909, 1911; Whitehead 1929/1978, 1933/1961), the principles of process, such as movement, change, indeterminacy and probability, are the fundamental features of reality. Process and modes of change rather than things and fixed stabilities best represent our encounters with and in the natural and social world. The immediate and dynamic intuition of living experience is more faithful to reality than the conceptual work of thought, for thought can only deal with stable things. The symbolic system of representation (e.g., language) is always inadequate in capturing the real world, since much of what we experience remains tacit and unspeakable. Thus, processes cannot be described or explained in terms of non-proconsul elements. A much clearer understanding of the proconsul approach can be seen in three dimensions (or principles, sub-approaches) of processes, including interrelatedness, systemic-wholeness and periodic-historicity.

Interrelatedness, interconnection, interdependence or interrelationship is the core principle of process thought: the “principle of relativity”. The logic of interrelatedness is that our raw experiences refer to action, activity and acting rather than fixed things and forms; acting is relating in character, relating the whole with the constituents, relating one constituent with all others. By their interrelation acting, all constituents are naturally “bound” or “bonded” together to form a particular whole. Thus, everything is not independent and absolute, but conditional, relative and interdependent: “All things are by their participation in other things” (Jungerman 2000). In the interconnected systemic whole, each event or element as a locus is a creative integration of relations; it embodies aspects of all the others, contains the information of the whole.

The very essence of an ongoing process is not fragmented and unconnected, neither as coincident factors artificially given or analytically put together, but integrated and co-ordinate where a macro process organizes micro processes into a systemic whole and micro processes and macro processes cannot be split and isolated. A process is not just one event or “occasion of experience”, but a series of interconnected eventual developments, a co-ordinate group of changes and an ordered society of occurrences, which are systematically connected to one another causally or functionally.

Process is essentially related to a time dimension (Rescher 1996). An instant is not a process. The self-identity of a process must be manifested within a period through which a unitary whole is realized. The character, pattern or form of a process only exhibits in a whole period of action. A process by definition cannot be understood merely by a collection of sequential properties as with the conventional mode of thinking, but by a spatiotemporal continuity in which an ongoing process “combines existence in the present with tentacles reaching into the past and the future” (ibid), that is, by historical connections. Everything is “becoming” integrating and incorporating all past events, experiences and possibilities to create something new and become what it is. “Becoming” is one-way direction: any present potentiality and actuality are conditioned, though not completely deterministic, by its history, by its predecessors and by its retrospective necessary connections. Thus, “an entity’s relations to its predecessors are essential, constitutive or internal for the entity; but its relations to successors are inessential or external” (Hartshorne 1984).

What the proconsul approach offers is an opportunity to view the corporation in its original sense as a human construction, a social world that is fully constituent of human minds and direct experiences in addition to physical materials, which are fundamentally proconsul in nature. This worldview has no pre-given, neutral and fixed essence and meaning unless it is individually experienced and understood and collectively perceived and constructed. It has its own logic and intrinsic value embedded in its social processes characterized by interrelatedness, systemic-wholeness and periodic-historicity. What the proconsul approach offers is the option to turn our attention away from the theoretical abstraction of governance models to the fundamental human experience and practice of governing processes. It affords us the means to develop keen sensitivity and awareness of the subtle and complex governing relationships and forces, the tacit and explicit knowledge generated in direct and indirect experiences, the firm-specific and contextual-dependent governing problems and their pragmatic solutions. It fully accommodates the rational and irrational, conscious and intuitive sides of social attitudes and behaviors, and the ceaseless and endless search for the reflective and renewable understanding of governance practices for continuous improvements.

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