Foundations of Niklas Luhmann's Thory of Social Systems by Alex Viskovatoff


3: System Theory and Empirical Science



1) that one should aim for general theories
2) his often-voiced observation that science tends to look for successively smaller "fundamental entities*"



"the way he has carried out his project is by starting off from the most "general theory possible, system theory, and then "respecifying" this theory to conform to the social domain as defined by what its fundamental constituent entities are--namely, communications."(p.492)


"I agree with Luhmann on the overarching importance of conceptual work but believe that he has misconstrued the way in which science achieves generality and overestimated the general applicability of the heuristic to look for ever more elementary enitities."(p.492)

"two different ways of achieving generality"--system theory and empirical science;

"System theory departs from a very abstract characterization of its object domain--complex-unified entities consisting of simpler parts--and asks what of a general nature can be said about such entities without paying attention to the specific qualitie of these unities and parts but only to the relation between them. Empirical science, on the other hand, does pay attention to specific qualities of the entities with which it deals, and the way it does sois by looking at different kinds of entities separately."(pp.492-493)

"Only the former* can provide valid and complete scientific explanations. This is because science ideally aims to extend explanations as far as possible down the links of a chain of causes, producing a given event or phenomenon(....). If one goes far enough down such a chain, one will have to deal with the specific qualities of entities involved, rather than the relations between entities with which system theory deals. In addition, the empirical sciences can import any insight or discoveries >from system theory into themselves, so it cannot be the case that there are phenomena that only system theory can explain."(p.493)

* 順序の逆転に注意。引用を省いた部分で逆転したのです。the formerはempirical scienceを指す。


"by working in a purely conjectual realm, it is left free to explore conceptual models without concerns for their immediate applicability and may thus come across ideas that would not otherwise have been found that nay be of explanatory value in the empirical sciences."(p.493)


"The role of syetem theory is hence to look for analogies across disciplinary boundaries in case such analogies lead to models that can be of use in particular empirical scineces."

 "construction of harmful ontology"

 "metaphysical" mode of thinking"

"The unfortunate consequense of supposing that one can is to start thinking that by remaining within system theory , one can really explain anything."(p.494)


"even though he "respecifies" system theory to deal with social systems, he does not do so in a way that enables him to deal with concrete social systems but remains immersed in the ontological/explanatory structure of the theory of autopoietic systems. Thus, in order for the theory of social systems to be an adequate scientific theory(and that means an empirical and explanatory theory), it must be able not only to describe the social domain by saying that it consists of communications but also to explain(or at least point to an explanation)how communications come about. All that it is able to do, however, is to refer to the definition of autopoietic systems, which is that they produce themselves by producing their elements. Thus, communications are produced because it is in the "nature" of social systems to produce them."(494)

この後、Viskovatoffは主体話を挟むのですが、それはともかくとして、ここから、"carrying out Luhmann's prject alternative to Luhmann's own"という話に移っていきます。それは、

"Start from the body, taken as a whole, of scientific theory that does not deal with the social and then see what additional theoretical categories and explanatory strategies one must add to it if one is to adequately explain the social."(p.495)


"being willing to exploit the analogies that exist between organized collections of individuals and other kinds of systems, such as cells"