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Community Development and Renaissance Social Humanism: Some Lessons for Systems Science

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Starting from the crisis in our communities—research has indicated it to be widely spread—the author explores the scientific tradition preceding the rise of modernism in order to draw out a more humane way of thinking that may help our contemporary societies. He discerns between two types of Renaissance humanism, one characterised by its cleverness, the other by its compassion and desire to restore dignity to the lives of people struggling to escape the clutches of medievalism. The father of the latter is Erasmus of Rotterdam and we follow the development of his conception of a social humanism as it branches out, through the work of his successors, into every scientific discipline, both natural and human. These disciplines are united by an embracing systemic idea of philosophy that unites the mind with the heart and which Erasmus called “Philosophia Christi”. We examine the two main pillars upon which this philosophy is built, love for our neighbour and education as the only legitimate instrument to change society, and the extraordinary impact it had on science and on communities living in the seventeenth century. We contrast this with the idea of power, the chosen instrument of modernity to transform society, and trace some of its tragic outcomes. We conclude by discussing the incorporation of an Erasmian type of social humanism into systems education and the future development of such programmes.

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  1. 1.

    I wish to emphasize the focus on the totality that characterises a systemic philosophy and which unfortunately, has been partly lost in the rise of systems specialities.

  2. 2.

    I use the word modernity in a manner that includes what is called postmodernity. This term suggests that modernity is something that was in the past, but this not true. Modernity has found its widest expression in postmodernity, therefore, it is more appropriate to call it hypermodernity.

  3. 3.

    de Raadt (1998), explains the difference between culture, which is normative, and background, which is determinative.

  4. 4.

    Theology is a discipline of Greek origin, which Aristotle (1994) placed alongside the speculative sciences together with mathematics and physics. It is quite foreign to the Bible, its thoughts are closer to the concept of historiology as defined by Ortega y Gasset (1987).

  5. 5.

    The revelation of God through nature was the foundation of the empirical method used both in the humanities and the natural sciences.

  6. 6.

    In Dutch: binnenvader and binnenmoeder.

  7. 7.

    Rembrandt creates a similar effect in his painting Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1644) National Gallery, London.

  8. 8.

    Checkland (1998). A detailed critique of the subjective systems methodology is found in Flood and Ulrich (1990).

  9. 9.

    This includes a free open-source computer package, SmCube, to model communities (de Raadt 2001).


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de Raadt, J.D.R. Community Development and Renaissance Social Humanism: Some Lessons for Systems Science. Syst Pract Action Res 24, 509–521 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-011-9204-x

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  • Humanities
  • Community development
  • Ethics
  • Social humanism