The problem of complexity : re-thinking the role of critique

Preiser, Rika (2012-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Prof. F P Cilliers acted, until his death on 31 July 2011, as the original promotor of this dissertation

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This dissertation departs from the argument that an encounter with complexity exposes the breakdown of traditional doctrines that have been taken for granted for too long (markedly modernist reductionism). Contrary to reductionist strategies that rely on the methods of analysis and isolation, the study of complex phenomena focuses on the dynamic relations and organisation of systems and their environments. Although the proliferation of ideas concerning the notion of complexity is abundant, there is no agreed upon definition that informs an overarching ‘Theory of Complexity.’ This problem is addressed by following the historical development in the field of systyms thinking. A distinction is made between ‘restricted’ and ‘general’ theories of complexity. The study problematises the conceptual and empirical difficulties of studying complex phenomena. The impossibility of being able to have complete knowledge of complex systems is discussed in detail. It is argued that although the study of complexity serves as an alternative approach to reductionist approaches, our knowledge of complexity in principle remains a reduction thereof. This insight leads to the claim that the study of complex phenomena is at best a post-reductionist effort, which is necessarily a critical position. It is argued that the ‘complexity approach’ coincides with other poststructural approaches in the field of philosophy in general and with deconstruction in particular. However, situating the complexity approach within poststructuralism is not unproblematic, seeing that poststructural forms of critique are marred by problems of legitimation. Allegiance to postmetaphysical ideals implies that objective grounds for justifying or warranting the choice of norms from where to launch critical inquiry are sacrificed. A deconstructive reading of the Kantian concept of ‘critique’ reveals a double movement that is at work in the concept. This double bind displaces the definition of critique to change to mean ‘critique as stricture.’ From this perspective the logic of différance is at work in critical analysis and the limitations of our meaning making strategies are exposed. It is suggested that ‘critique as stricture’ is a poststructural form of critical inquiry that regains legitimacy by operating in the tension of the force field created by antagonistic positions. A provisional grounding in the name of the limit emerges. The kind of thinking that can be cognisant of this general movement of ‘critique as stricture’ is found in the notion of ‘complex thinking.’ By drawing on Derrida’ and Morin’s reappropriation of Bataille’s distinction between the restricted and general economy, it is demonstrated how complex thinking is operating within the movement of the general economy. The study concludes with the argument that informed by ‘critique as stricture,’ the complexity approach progresses to what Cilliers calls ‘critical complexity.’ This brand of complexity distinguishes itself by a normative turn, which is distinguished by three imperatives: 1) the Provisional Imperative, 2) the Critical Reflexive Imperative and 3) the World-disclosing Imperative. All of these operate under the influence of the general economy, which allows critical inquiry to be grounded and legitimised in the tension of thinking antagonistic positions together without reducing them to one another.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: In hierdie proefskrif word aangevoer dat die verskynsel van kompleksiteit die disintegrasie van tradisionele leerstellings se aansprake, wat te lank as vanselfsprekend aanvaar was, ontbloot (merkbaar reduksionistiese modernisme). In teenstelling met reduksionistiese strategieë wat staat maak op metodes van analise en isolasie, fokus die studie van komplekse verskynsels op die dinamiese verhoudings en organisasie van sisteme en hul omgewings. Alhoewel die studie van kompleksiteit ’n byna alledaagse verskynsel geword het, bestaan daar geen bindende definisie wat ’n enkele ‘Teorie van Kompleksiteit’ daarstel nie. Daar word spesifiek op hierdie probleem gefokus in terme van hoe die wetenskaplike studie van kompleksiteit histories ontwikkel het. Dit word aangevoer dat dit sinvoller is om eerder tussen ‘beperkte’ en ‘algemene’ teorieë van kompleksiteit te onderskei as om ’n oorkoepelende teorie te ontwikkel. Heelwat probleme duik op in die poging om komplekse verskynsels konseptueel en empiries te bestudeer. Alhoewel die studie van komplekse verskynsels ’n alternatiewe posisie tot reduksionistiese benaderings daarstel, kan kennis van kompleksiteit in beginsel slegs ’n reduksie daarvan wees. As gevolg hiervan word die studie van komplekse verskynsels ten beste as ’n post-reduksionistiese poging beskryf wat noodwendig ’n kritiese posisie impliseer. Die kompleksiteitsbenadering stem in die algemeen met post-strukturele filosofiese benaderings, en spesifiek met dekonstruksie ooreen. Hierdie ooreenstemming is egter nie onproblematies nie, aangesien post-strukutrele kritiese posisies deur probleme van legitimasie gekenmerk word. Lojaliteit aan post-metafisiese ideale het tot gevolg dat daar geen objektiewe, grondige vertrekpunt bestaan vanwaar normatiewe begrondings geregverdig kan word nie. ’n Dekonstruktiewe lees van Kant se idee van die begrip ‘kritiek’ openbaar dat daar ’n ‘double movement’ aan die werk is wat die konsep ‘kritiek’ kan verruim ten einde dit te verander om ‘critique as stricture’ te beteken. Die werking van différance is altyd betrokke tydens kritiese analise waardeur die beperkinge van ons singewende strategieë blootgestel word. Hierdie her-definiëring van kritiek as ‘critique as stricture’ stel ons in staat om nuwe lewe in die kritiese projek te blaas deurdat legitimiteit gevind word in die spanning van die kragveld wat geskep word tussen antagonistiese posisies. ’n Voorlopige grondslag word in die naam van die beperkings van ons denkstrategië gevestig. ‘Kompleksiteitsdenke’ (‘complex thinking’) stel ’n denkstrategie daar wat tred hou met die dinamiese beweging wat in ‘critique as stricture’ teenwoordig is. ‘Kompleksiteitsdenke’ word aan die hand van Derrida en Morin se interpretasie van Bataille se onderskeid tussen die beperkte en algemene ekonomie gedoen ten einde te demonstreer dat ‘kompleksiteitsdenke’ binne die beweging van die algemene ekonomie val. Die studie word afgesluit met die argument dat, ingelig deur ‘critique as stricture’, die kompleksiteitsbenadering tot die begrip ‘kritiese kompleksiteit’ ontwikkel soos voorgestel deur Cilliers. Kritiese kompleksiteit word deur ’n normatiewe impuls gekenmerk wat in sigself weer deur drie noodsaaklike eienskappe uitgeken kan word: 1) die Voorlopige Imperatief, 2) die Kritiese Refleksiewe Imperatief en 3) die Wêreld-ontsluitende Imperatief. Al drie hierdie imperatiewe staan onder die invloed van die algemene ekonomie wat ons toelaat om kritiese analise te begrond in die spanning wat onstaan wanneer antagonistiese konsepte saam gedink word sonder dat hulle tot mekaar gereduseer word.

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