Friday, July 06, 2012

Occupational direction of fit

'Direction of fit' is a useful metaphor to distinguish, for example, ways of thinking about beliefs and ways of thinking about desires (or 'cognitive' vs. 'conative' attitudes generally).  So, roughly, beliefs should fit the way the world is because beliefs aim at truth while desires involve wanting the world to fit the picture of the world the agent has in mind.

Here is a related distinction between different kinds of people that may be familiar to those who work in institutions a bit like the ones I belong to.

Call this 'occupational direction of fit'.

In some cases the direction of fit is: job  ---> behaviour (JtoB).  That is: the job one has places certain constraints and obligations on how one acts and the job-holder's behaviour alters to fit.

But in come other cases the direction of fit is: behaviour ---> job (BtoJ).  That is: the way a person behaves places certain constraints and requirements on the way that person's job is understood.

(Cartoon from here.)

Most organisations in which people have paid employment will, I think, assume a JtoB model.  Someone employed as a X in the organisation, because of what is involved in being an X, will do what that role requires and not do what that role precludes.  The payment is what compensates for the employee making the alterations to behaviour that are required to fit the role.

But there are occasions when it goes the other way.  Imagine a person who simply cannot do A or cannot refrain from doing B.  Sometimes what happens is that the job alters to fit the behaviour.  (Sometimes it's by far the easier option than trying to get the person's behaviour to change.)  'Well, we can't ask Y to do this because, you know...  so we'll have to do it for him/get someone else to do it' etc. 

It seems to me that in messy practical contexts we often work with an amalgam of JtoB and BtoJ.  And this mostly negotiates the demands that various jobs get done and respects the fact that people are different, sometimes malleable and sometimes not.  Sometimes this is OK.  But at other times it is annoying, particularly in cases in which it seems that two similarly placed people within an organisation are not respecting the same direction of fit...

(Cartoon from here.)

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