Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: We agree on the need to explore a concept of social autopoiesis that goes beyond a strictly human-centered concept of social systems as autopoietic communicative systems. But both Hugo Urrestarazu and Niklas Luhmann neglect the importance of semiosis in understanding communication, and this has important implications for the question of a more general approach to social systems.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
Niklas Luhmann died in November 1998. He had been elaborating his theory of the society for more than thirty years which has been well received in many quarters of society in the modern world. Yet somehow we are only now beginning to read him when he is no longer there to be asked. And we are beginning to discuss his work although we cannot invite him to lecture us anymore. The following article takes up Luhmann’s very recent small and comprehensive book on Husserl and places him, as he did himself, in a tradition of “enlightenment” which aims for a self-critical constitution of reason.
Niklas Luhmann is not exactly known for his thinking about a possible change of the society due to the introduction of the computer. His society is the modern society, based on the overall importance of the communication medium of the printing press. Yet, his double volume book on Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft is so rich in remarks about the possible influence of the introduction of the computer on the society, equal only to the introduction of, first, writing and, then, the printing press, that one might be tempted to consider this book his way to bid farewell to the modern culture of the society based on the printing press. Let us look at what modern society has achieved relying on a notion of order stemming, with only slight exaggeration, from the library, and then let us try to watch how this very same society has to find equally wide-ranging solutions to a society relying, for a dominant part of its communication, on an order adapted to the computing machine, or so he seems to tell us. This paper looks at Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft in terms of a theory of the emerging computer culture of a society we cannot any more call the modern one. And it proposes to call for a competition to complete one of the most speculative chapters of this book in which Luhmann attributes the central cultural notion, or theory form, of the literal society, telos, to Aristotle, of the printing press society, self-referential restlessness, to Descartes, and leaves the slot open for the one possibly defining the culture of the computer society, which is the theory form of the form.
The paper looks at how a society having to deal with the introduction of the computer and its derivatives may differ from earlier societies which dealt with the introduction of language, writing, and the printing press. Each one of the introduction of these media of the dissemination of communication is regarded as a ‘catastrophe ’ forcing the society into new ways to selectively deal with new kinds of surplus meaning. The paper presents a sociological theory having to incorporate aspects of heterogeneous networks and of self-referential action in order to watch how the transformation of modern society into a next society may enfold. It draws a distinction between the structure of a society, ensuring the dissemination of communication, and the culture of the society, enabling it to condense the meaning of disseminated and distributed communication into a form which allows actors to focus on selections of it while taking account of the unmarked state as the other side of any one selection. Niklas Luhmann proposed to consider Aristotelian telos the ancient literal society’s culture form, and Cartesian self-referential restlessness or equilibrium as modern printing press society’s culture form. We add the culture form of boundaries for primitive oral society, and Spencer-Brownian form for the emerging next computer society. The paper will be
The book uses the method and categories of systems theory (inspired by Niklas Luhmann) in a scrutiny of the evolution of the main semantic trends of modern society and its influence in the formation of the systemic boundaries of the social systems of society. The book is an investigation of the meaning of the functional differentiation according to its semantic symptoms and evolution. In order to reconstruct the semantic evolution of basic modern socio-economic categories the book is divided according to the three classic branches of the political philosophy of the classic tradition, the Aristotelian division also conserved in Hegel’s own distribution of the themes of his “Sittlichkeit” – family, civil society and the state. Thus, in “The Individuation of Modern Society” the author explores the classic notion of oikós and its opposition to the pólis, the evolution of the concept of utility in modern times and its importance to the formation of the modern political economy and the economic system as an autonomous functional system, the idea of “civil society,” its meaning in the Hegelian description of the social modernity, the fragmentation of XVIIIth century civil society according to the use of the term “Entzweiung” in the Hegelian philosophical vocabulary, and the formation of the concept of the nation as a self-referential condition of the political system. The book finishes with a discussion of Niklas Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation and his concept of the political system. Relevance: The book applies second-order cybernetics to the analysis of the evolution of modern social systems, especially in the case of the formation of self-referential conditions for the observation and reproduction of the systems.
This paper is a discussion of the sustainability of a concept of “world” compatible with the “operative constructivism” and the operative conception of observation of systems theory of according to Niklas Luhmann. The paper scrutinizes the concepts of observation of H. von Foerster, H. Maturana, G. Günther and N. Luhmann, providing the general framework of “operative constructivism.” Particularly, the paper will focus on N. Luhmann’s understanding of the role of observation in the constitution of the self-reference of the social systems of the modern society. The case of the “systems of art” will be briefly inspected. What place shall we concede to the idea of an “objective” world, according to the systems theory? Are systems “objective”? According to N. Luhmann, for the description of systems only operations are “objective.” However, an operation is not an entity, which means that we need to depict a new kind of “objects,” very different from the ’thing-objectivity” of the ancient metaphysics and different from the Cartesian concept of “res.” What does objectivity mean according to systems theory? This question was at stake in the formulation of N. Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft: Society is “weder Subjekt noch Objekt.” This paper attempts to address this formula. Relevance: The paper deals with the epistemological explanation of second-order observations in social systems according to Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. It clarifies the world vision of the constructivism movement.
The publication deals with the concept of self-reference across its multidisciplinary applications. The authors and themes scrutinized go from Plato and the Stoics to G. Günther and N. Luhmann; from paradoxes in Metamathematics to Artificial Intelligence.
The paper presents a social system’s perspective on the Internet, based mostly upon a radical constructivist approach. It summarizes the contributions of German sociologist Niklas Luhmann and outlines the theoretical boundaries between the theory of social systems and that of media studies. The paper highlights the self-referential nature of the Internet, which is depicted as both a system and an environment by means of a network of serialized selections and passing on of data. Therefore, whereas media theory pictures the Internet as a medium, this paper describes it as a system in regard to its self-referential dynamic, and as an environment in regard to the non-organized complexity of data within the medium. Even though the Internet is hereby depicted as an autopoietic system from a social system’s perspective, the paper does not resort to all the concepts of Luhmann’s theory.