A Limit to Our Thinking and Some Unanticipated Moral Consequences: A Science of Conceptual Systems Perspective with Some Potential Solutions

Abstract

One paradox of modern society is the widespread use of highly complex mechanisms of economic and social self-regulation which produce a large number of unintended and often undesirable side-effects. Human conceptual systems (theories, policies, and mental models which support our thinking) are good enough to keep the self-regulatory mechanisms in operation; yet they are not good enough to prevent and control the undesirable contingencies. Systems thinking, and complexity science are growing in their usefulness for understanding our social systems as well as our conceptual systems. The present paper examines and explains this paradox by combining the ideas from the burgeoning science of conceptual systems and Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory. Drawing on Luhmann’s argument that social systems build up their internal complexity by disregarding the complexity of the environment, we propose to differentiate between those conceptual systems that reflect the intra-systemic complexity of simpler systems and those that reflect the intra-systemic complexity of sub-systems in combination with systems of systems to include the environmental complexity. Thus it comes about that the former conceptual systems, exemplified by physics, are much more effective and successful than the latter ones, often corresponding to social sciences. The chasm between the qualities of these systems can be overcome by using the tools of Integrative Propositional Analysis.

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Acknowledgment

This paper began with a project supported by the Fulbright Specialist Program and IAMO. The authors wish to express their appreciation for these excellent organizations. The second author gratefully acknowledges the support from the Volkswagen Foundation. The authors are grateful to anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Steven E. Wallis.

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Wallis, S.E., Valentinov, V. A Limit to Our Thinking and Some Unanticipated Moral Consequences: A Science of Conceptual Systems Perspective with Some Potential Solutions. Syst Pract Action Res 30, 103–116 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11213-016-9394-3

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Keywords

  • Self-regulation
  • Systemicity
  • Complexity
  • Conceptual systems
  • Niklas Luhmann
  • Integrative propositional analysis (IPA)