Convergences of General System Theory, Critical Realism and Theory of Society

Our collaborator Wolfgang  Hofkirchner recently gave a paper at the ISA in Vienna (available online here)  in which he discussed philosophical, that is, praxiological, ontological and epistemological foundations of a theory of social systems. In particular, he addressed the confluence of critical thinking and systems thinking – of Critical Theory and Systems Philosophy – in the context of social theory. Critical Theory has its origins in the Frankfurt School going back to Marx and has developed since into a variety of different approaches. Systems Philosophy is considered as having its origins in Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory. It has been developing in the discourse about Evolutionary Systems and Complexity Thinking.

A special focus was given to the post-Luhmannian attempts to reframe the social (Poe Yu-Ze Wan 2011: Reframing the social: Emergentist Systemism and Social Theory). They show a striking affinity of two strands: Critical Realism, on the one hand, that is grounded on some Marxian assumptions and dialectical logic – in particular, the approach of Social Ontology as represented by Margaret S. Archer (with whom the Bertalanffy Center has been co-operating since 2012) – and Emergentist Systemism, on the other, a well-cast term for the gist of Systems Philosophy so far, going back to Mario Bunge (whom the BCSSS awarded the Ludwig von Bertalanffy Award in Complexity Thinking in 2014).

In contradistinction to suggestions such as to even de-ontologise Luhmann’s theory of social systems that gave already rise to rather constructivist views, Hofkirchner would promote to revisit some Luhmannian topoi and interpret those in the light of the mentioned convergences so as to fit a more coherent social theory.

One thought on “Convergences of General System Theory, Critical Realism and Theory of Society”

  1. I admire Wolfgang Hofkirchner for addressing the big, hotly contested issues General System(s) Theory, Critical Realism, and Theory of Society. However, structural realism (epistemic, ontic or informational) is now widely considered as the most defensible form of scientific realism, which developed largely as a reaction to logical positivism and – if I understand late Roy Bhaskar correctly – is not to be confused with critical realism. So perhaps professor Hofkirchner might be willing to more clearly explicate his ontological and epistemological position.


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