The Ethics of Complexity and the Complexity of Ethics

  • Minka WoermannEmail author
Part of the Issues in Business Ethics book series (IBET, volume 37)


In this chapter, a general and critical approach to complexity is introduced. Within this approach, complex systems are viewed as irreducible. In other words, it is deemed impossible to uncover the laws of complex systems; and, since complex systems cannot be fully modelled, any engagement with complexity necessitates a critical engagement with the limits and status of our knowledge claims. This critical engagement is denoted by the ‘ethics of complexity’. Furthermore, the ethics of complexity commits us to a complex view of ethics. This is because complexity is inherent to any ethical engagement, yet ethical frameworks are also models; and, like all models, are limited, exclusionary, and incapable of accounting for the complexity of lived phenomena. However, models are also necessary, since we need to reduce the complexity, in order to make sense of our world. It is therefore argued that the best ethical models are those that draw attention to their own limited status, and, in this vein, the provisional imperative – which is a self-undermining imperative – is introduced as a guide for responsible ethical action.


Business Ethic Moral Agent Component Part Reading Group Categorical Imperative 
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.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Centre for Applied EthicsStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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