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Exploring the epistemological origins of Shewhart's and Deming's theory of quality: Influences from C.I. Lewis' conceptualistic pragmatism

Christina Mauléon (Division of Quality Sciences, Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)
Bo Bergman (Division of Quality Sciences, Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)

International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences

ISSN: 1756-669X

Article publication date: 3 July 2009

1158

Abstract

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 epistemology‐related 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 plan‐do‐study‐act 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.

Keywords

Citation

Mauléon, C. and Bergman, B. (2009), "Exploring the epistemological origins of Shewhart's and Deming's theory of quality: Influences from C.I. Lewis' conceptualistic pragmatism", International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 160-171. https://doi.org/10.1108/17566690910971436

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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