Foundations of Science

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 681–686 | Cite as

Philosophy and Complexity

  • Gil C. Santos

The development of contemporary science has focused the attention of both scientists and philosophers on the problem of complexity. If science ultimately aims to propose explanations, predictions, types of analysis and modeling, and even to indicate ways to solve some problems of our world, complexity cannot be neglected and underestimated (cf. Heylighen et al. 1999 and Gershenson et al. 2007).

It is true that there is no consensual and univocal definition of the notion of complexity, and that we find it very often used in vague and loose ways, but it is possible to try to understand better its meaning if we consider the historical–theoretical context where that notion first emerged in the contemporary philosophy of science.

We usually consider something complex when we feel that it is not easily analyzable, understandable, explainable and/or predictable in the way that we were used to do it—that is, using the procedures, models or methodologies that we have at our disposal. Now, if we...


Mechanistic Explanation Patented Technology Natural Selection Shape Internal Structural Organization Molecular System Biology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I gratefully acknowledge the friendly comments and advices of Diederik Aerts, John Symons, and João L. Cordovil.


  1. Atlan, H. (2011). Noise as a principle of self-organization. In S. Geroulanos & T. Meyers (Eds.), Selected writings: On self-organization, philosophy, bioethics, and judaism, chapter 3 (pp. 95–113). New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Auyang, S. (1997). Foundations of complex-systems theories: In economics, evolutionary biology, and statistical physics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bachelard, G. (1984). The new scientific spirit. Boston, MA: Beacon Press [translation by A. Goldhammer of the original. (1934). Le nouvel esprit scientifique. Paris: PUF].Google Scholar
  4. Bechtel, W., & Richardson, R. (1993). Discovering complexity: Decomposition and localization as strategies in scientific research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (new edition: 2010, Discovering complexity: Decomposition and localization as strategies in scientific research. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press/Bradford Books).Google Scholar
  5. Cambel, A. B. (1993). Applied chaos theory. A paradigm for complexity. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  6. Gershenson, C., Aerts, D., & Edmonds, B. (Eds.). (2007). Worldviews, science and Us. Philosophy and complexity. Singapore: World Scientific.Google Scholar
  7. Heylighen, F., Bollen, J., & Riegler, A. (Eds.). (1999). The evolution of complexity. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  8. Mitchell, S. (2009). Unsimple truths: Science, complexity, and policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Oyama, S. (2000). The ontogeny of information: Developmental systems and evolution (2th ed., revised and expanded). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Weaver, W. (1948). Science and complexity. American Scientist, 36, 536–544.Google Scholar
  11. Wimsatt, W. (2007). Re-engineering philosophy for limited beings: Piecewise approximations to reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of LisbonLisbonPortugal

Personalised recommendations