Publication 5262

Reese-Schäfer W. (2014) Luhmann: Three key concepts, system, meaning, autopoiesis. In: Arnold D. P. (ed.) Traditions of systems theory: Major figures and contemporary developments. Routledge, New York: 219–242. Fulltext at
The benefi t of this turned-around defi nition consists in the fact that it can solve or at least avert the continuing and, in his view, unproductive controversy between realism and constructivism. Realists believe in the reality of the external world; constructivists take it to be a product of our perceptive capability. Luhmann accepts a view differing from both of these positions and also explains the operation of relating to something-that is, of referring, whether that be to the external world or to the elements of our perceptive ability-as a real operation. Then what is real is no longer only the object to which one refers, but also the process of referring. “However, it is not enough merely to change to the opposing view and to adhere to the reality of the operation referred to. For this is inaccessible to itself, and for an observer it would only be something that can be referred to, which he characterizes. So one arrives at the already existing controversy between realism and constructivism-as if this were a matter of incompatible positions.” Here, we are dealing with the famous “blind spot” of the observer. This means that a differentiation that is made for the purpose of the observer cannot itself be observed. “The true/untrue differentiation cannot itself only be true or untrue; it cannot observe itself; it is own blind spot.” Or in other words: the differentiation uses the observing as a blind spot. This is also true if the level is changed and one now observes the observing. The differentiation used in this is not brought into view either. On the operative level this second-order observing must also proceed naively because it cannot simultaneously critically observe its own reference. In Luhmann’s thought there are “no hierarchies of refl exivity.” 5 Blind spots and operative naivety are the two characteristic attributes of that ever so simple “starting operation” known as observation.

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