But argument and criticism carried on across the boundaries of two or more different sets of fundamental assumptions may not intersect sufficiently for discourse to be productive, or even meaningful. Systematic improvement of intellectual performance, justification and criticism of knowledge claims, must proceed from a foundation of known, though not necessarily shared, basic assumptions. Conclusions are inseparable from the assumptions and reasoning on which they depend.
Further, even if agreement is reached with respect to the overarching purpose of inquiry, disagreement about the more limited purposes assumed to be necessary prerequisites to the achievement of that overall purpose remains possible or even likely. In the present volume, for example, the normative purpose of inquiry, the purpose to be achieved or fulfilled by directing human actions in a business setting, is taken to be the maintenance and improvement of the conditions of life of some human population. Those who agree on that overall purpose may nevertheless dispute its various corollaries, in which case the other assumptions required for achieving the overall purpose are also likely to differ. That is, if different ancillary or contributory purposes are accepted, then different assumptions will be required to fulfill them and that will both alter the content of the justification provided for particular decisions and affect the validity of criticism targeted at propositions generated from alternative sets of assumptions.
To state the point somewhat more broadly, every assertion depends for its validity on a set of underlying assumptions: that is the primary sense in which it is legitimate to claim that every proposition is "theoryladen." Some of those assumptions, or perhaps all of them, may remain unstated or even unrecognized. Indeed, given the complexity of the intellectual apparatus, it is impossible to be certain that all of the assumptions used for directing real world actions have been brought to consciousness and articulated fully. Criticism and improvement of knowledge are possible, but only by focusing on the products of judgment, the conclusions or knowledge claims, rather than the process. Once some knowledge claims have been established, and in an ongoing world that is usually the case, other claims to know can be tested against them. And the whole apparatus can be tested at least partially against alternative competing knowledge systems. In effect, unless some set of assumptions is taken as given, knowledge claims cannot be tested. Such limits are somewhat obscured by the ongoing character of the intellectual enterprise; since every argument begins in media res, the initial assumptions on which arguments depend are easily overlooked.
In these terms, to be amplified considerably in due course, the limitations inherent in the canons and conventions of argument and criticism currently accepted in decision-making cannot be eliminated, and performance cannot be improved demonstrably in any deliberate way (and their patent inadequacy provided the initial impetus for these inquiries) until a common set of assumptions is accepted and applied by those involved with direction, justification, and criticism of actions. A prerequisite to success in that effort is a clear statement of the conditions that must be met before the decision-making enterprise can succeed. Development of a valid critical apparatus would not be guaranteed thereby, of course, but until those limiting conditions have been established, the criteria used to decide the acceptability of particular proposals or to settle conflicting claims to know cannot be determined. One major purpose of these inquiries has been to articulate those fundamental requirements, however tentatively, and suggest a set of assumptions that makes it possible to fulfill them.
What is proposed here is only one way of dealing with the problem; others are always possible. No set of analytic requirements is or can be definitive or absolute enough to predict the outcome of introducing the 'Code of Ethics' in the organization. Nor can there be a warrant for claiming an irrefragable system of assumptions, a critical apparatus that is somehow immune to criticism. To the contrary, open competition among alternative assumptions is an essential element in any ongoing effort to create and improve knowledge intended for directing real world actions. Accepting an overall purpose for inquiry makes possible a level of testability that is adequate if imperfect. But that overall purpose is also open to dispute and subject to change based on experience. It may seem unlikely that the need to produce knowledge adequate for directing human actions in a business setting will be disputed, or that the search for such knowledge will be abandoned, but the principle must be honored if the integrity of the theoretical apparatus is to be maintained.
Ascher William. Forecasting: An Appraisal for Policy-Makers and Planners. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.