Castoriadis’s encounter with autopoiesis was a decisive factor for his philosophical trajectory. Its influence can be seen on four interconnected levels of his thought: his reconsideration of Greek sources for his later interpretation of trans-regional being as self-creating; his rethinking of objective knowledge; his ventures into philosophical cosmology; and his re-evaluation of the living being, especially in light of his dialogue with Varela. In brief, Castoriadis’s engagement with autopoiesis was significant for his shift towards an ontology of radical physis. His shift to radical physis does not point so much to a rejection of the project of autonomy, however, as, paradoxically, its simultaneous radicalization and relativization.
It is characteristic of Heinz von Foerster’s approach to the cybernetics of cybernetics that it combines a sense of tight reasoning with the acknowledgment of fundamental ignorance. The article attempts to uncover an epistemological relationship between the reasoning and the ignorance. The relationship is provided for by a razor which reads: what can be described in relation to its composition, is described in vain in relation to its substance. The razor asks for second-order terms instead of first-order terms, or for ontogenetics instead of ontology.
The course on nature coincides with the re-working of Merleau-Ponty’s breakthrough towards an ontology and therefore plays a primordial role. The appearance of an interrogation of nature is inscribed in the movement of thought that comes after the Phenomenology of Perception. What is at issue is to show that the ontological mode of the perceived object – not the unity of a positive sense but the unity of a style that shows through in filigree in the sensible aspects has a universal meaning, that the description of the perceived world can give way to a philosophy of perception and therefore to a theory of truth. The analysis of linguistic expression to which the philosophy of perception leads opens out onto a definition of meaning as institution, understood as what inaugurates an open series of expressive appropriations. It is this theory of institution that turns the analysis of the perceived in the direction of a reflection on nature: the perceived is no longer the originary in its difference from the derived but the natural in its difference from the instituted. Nature is the “non-constructed, non-instituted,” and thereby, the source of expression: “nature is what has a sense without this sense having been posited by thought.”\\The first part of the course, which consists in a historical overview, must not be considered as a mere introduction. In fact, the problem of nature is brought out into the open by means of the history of Western metaphysics, in which Descartes is the emblematic figure. The problem consists in the duality at once unsatisfactory and unsurpassable – between two approaches to nature: the one which accentuates its determinability and therefore its transparency to the understanding; the other which emphasizes the irreducible facticity of nature and tends therefore to valorize the viewpoint of the senses. To conceive nature is to constitute a concept of it that allows us to “take possession” of this duality, that is, to found the duality. The second part of the course attempts to develop this concept of nature by drawing upon the results of contemporary science. Thus a philosophy of nature is sketched that can be summarized in four propositions: 1) the totality is no less real than the parts; 2) there is a reality of the negative and therefore no alternative between being and nothingmess; 3) a natural event is not assigned to a unique spatio-temporal localization; and 4) there is generality only as generativity.
Context: Direct realism is a non-reductive, anti-representationalist theory of perception lying at the heart of mainstream analytic philosophy, where it is currently generating a lot of interest. For all that, it is widely held to be both controversial and anti-scientific. On the other hand, the sensorimotor theory of perception (which is a specific development of Gibsonian approaches to perception) initially generated a lot of interest within enactive philosophy of cognitive science, but has arguably not yet delivered on its initial promise. Problem: I aim to show that the sensorimotor theory and direct realism complement each other, and that the result is a philosophically radical, but fully scientifically realised, theory of perception. Method: The article uses (non-reductive) philosophical analysis and discussion. It also draws on empirical evidence from the relevant cognitive sciences. Results: Direct realism can be augmented by sensorimotor theory to become a scientifically tractable alternative to the mainstream, representationalist research programme within cognitive science. Implications: The article aims to further clarify the philosophical importance of the sensorimotor approach to perception. It also aims to show that the apparently radical claim that we perceive objects themselves is amenable to normal scientific study. Constructivist content: Objects are analysed as a kind of collaboration between the world and the perceiver. On this account, we can never perceive outside the categories of our own understanding, but we do perceive genuinely outside our own heads. Thus, the approach here is not exactly constructivism, though it shares many goals and results with constructivism.
Three central themes of Maturana’s work – autopoiesis, the biology of cognition, and cybernetic ontology – are examined. Evidence is offered that Maturana’s treatment of these themes is either unoriginal or flawed. The uncritical acceptance of Maturana’s work by family therapists raises questions about the maturity of their discipline, especially in so far as many practitioners claim an understanding of cybernetics.
This paper introduces the idea of, and necessity for, a 'third-order cybernetics'. It does this through the critique and problematisation of the ontology of the observer as elaborated within a second-order cybernetics. The necessity for this third-order is directly generated from our work as strategy consultants and our needs to evolve an effective, coherent and ethical consultancy practice. The paper draws primarily on the writings of Lacan and Maturana to provide the epistemological presumptions upon which we generate a new characterisation of, and approach to, the business organisation. This new approach for the understanding of the business organisation is presented as an 'Economy of Discourses'. This Economy is a description of the effects of a third-order in the second-order observer's invention of himself as subject. We have formulated this approach as an aid for diagnosis, intervention and prognosis in our work with business organisations. We include two case studies, one of a chemicals-based manufacturer, the other of a large accountancy practice. In these two cases we seek to unpack and illustrate the way in which it is possible to use the new approach, and to highlight the principles which allow the consultant maximal movement and effectiveness in relation to his client system. We end by outlining the implications of our approach for an ethics of consultancy.
This article praises the development of second-order cybernetics by von Foerster, Maturana and Varela as an important step in deepening our understanding of the biopsychological foundation of the dynamics of cognition and communication. Luhmann’s development of the theory into the realm of social communication is seen as a necessary and important move. The differentiation between biological, psychological and socialcommunicative autopoiesis and the introduction of a technical concept of meaning is central. Furthermore, Varela’s development of Spencer Brown’s ‘Laws of Form’ from a dual to a triadic categorical basic structure is considered vital. Finally the paper shows that second-order cybernetics lacks explicit and ontological concepts of emotion, meaning and a concept of signs. C. S. Peirce’s theory is introduced for this purpose. It is then shown that both theories are triadic and second order, and therefore can be fruitfully fused to a cybersemiotics.
Luhmanian sociocybernetics is an observation of socio-communicative systems with a specific difference. It is a second order observation of observations understanding society as being ‘functionally differentiated’ into autonomous autopoietic subsystems or meaning worlds in the symbolic generalized media such as money, power, truth, love, art and faith. Only communication communicates and the social is communication. The social system creates products of meaning which do not represent an aggregation of the content of individuals’ minds. The bioand psychological autopoietic systems only establish boundary conditions for the sociocommunicative systems, they do not control the socio-communicative system in any way. Somehow the socio-communicative systems seem to develop on their own (by will?) although they have no body and no subject. The psychic system in Luhmann’s theory is thus not a Kantian or Husserlian transcendental ego in spite of Luhmann’s use of aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology (while at the same time destroying its philosophical frame). On the other hand, Luhmann works with an open ontology, combined with Spencer-Brown’s philosophy that making distinctions is what creates the difference between system and environment. Thus observation is basic to the theory-but where is the observer in the theoretical framework of system theory? The inspiration from Hegel is hidden here, where distinction, creation and evolution merge. Also, Hegel has been taken out of his metaphysical frame while Luhmann never took the time to finish his own. On the other hand, the father of the pragmatic triadic semiotic C. S. Peirce-also inspired by Hegel-explicitly confronted some of these problems. Like Bataille, Peirce sees a continuity between mind and matter and his Firstness contains pure feeling, meaning that there is also an inner experience aspect of matter. The article compares Luhmann’s and Spencer-Brown’s strategies with Peirce’s, the latter of whom built an alternative transdisciplinary theory of signification and communication based on a Panentheistic theory of knowing. Surprisingly it fits well with Spencer-Brown’s metaphysics, which makes it possible to establish a consistent foundation for system theory.
Context: Radical constructivism claims that we have no final truth criteria for establishing one ontology over another. This leaves us with the question of how we can come to know anything in a viable manner. According to von Glasersfeld, radical constructivism is a theory of knowledge rather than a philosophy of the world in itself because we do not have access to a human-independent world. He considers knowledge as the ordering of experience to cope with situations in a satisfactory way. Problem: Von Foerster and Krippendorff show that the central goal of a constructivist theory of knowing must be to find a way of putting the knower into a known that is constructed so as to keep the knower, as well as the knowing process, viable in practice. Method: The conceptual and philosophical analysis of present theories and their necessary prerequisites suggests that such foundation for viable knowing can be built on the analysis of what the ontological prerequisites are for establishing viable observing, cognition, communication and observer-communicators, and communication media and vehicles. Results: The moment an observer chooses to accept his/her own embodied conscious presence in this world as well as language, he/she must accept other humans as partly independently existing conversation partners; if knowledge and knowing has to make sense, he/she must also accept as prerequisites for our observation and conversation a pre-linguistic reality from which our bodies come and which our conversation is often about. Furthermore, we can no longer claim that there is a reality that we do not know anything about: From being here in conversation, we know that the world can produce more or less stable embodied consciousnesses that can exchange and construct conceptual meanings through embodied conversations and actions that last over time and exist in space-time and mind, and are correlated to our embodied practices. We can also see that our communication works through signs for all living systems as well as in human language, understood as a structured and progressively developed system of communication. The prerequisite for this social semiotic production of meaning is the fourfold “semiotic star of cybersemiotics,” which includes at least four different worlds: our bodies, the combination of society, culture and language, our consciousness, and also an outer nature. Implications: The semiotic star in cybersemiotics claims that the internal subjective, the intersubjective linguistic, our living bodies, and nature are irreducible and equally necessary as epistemological prerequisites for knowing. The viable reality of any of them cannot be denied without self-refuting paradoxes. There is an obvious connectedness between the four worlds, which Peirce called “synechism.” It also points to Peirce’s conclusion that logic and rationality are part of the process of semiosis, and that meaning in the form of semiosis is a fundamental aspect of reality, not just a construction in our heads. Erratum: The paper erroneously refers to “pleroma.” The correct term is “plemora.”
Four of the papers in this issue belong with a set, still in progress, of papers devoted to the implications of the work of Humberto Maturana. Imoto reviews the philosophical nature of Maturana’s work and concludes that Maturana has provided a renewed view of objectivity based on our human biology of cognition. Russell and Ison, as well as Bilson consider the implications of assuming a constitutive ontology in two different domains of praxis, namely in stakeholder involved research, and in addressing the vexed issue of power in social service programs, respectively. Bond addresses the concerns of a runaway technology, and offers a reconciliation between technology and art, suggesting an escape from the demands of technology through generating and participating in networks of conversations as works of art, in what I see as an aesthetic composition of a world to live forth.