Publication 3210

Schiltz M. & Verschraegen G. (2002) Spencer-Brown, Luhmann and Autology. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 9(3–4): 55–78. Fulltext at https://cepa.info/3210
In this article we try to show how a social theory can be constructed which takes the requirement of self-implication or autology serious. For this purpose, we turn to Niklas Luhmann’s theory of self-referential, autopoietic systems. For it is our thesis that the specific conatus of Luhmann’s enterprise is to construct an autological social theory i.e. a theory which is sufficiently complex to imply itself, to describe itself in the course of describing its objects of investigation. To demonstrate this claim, the line of argument has firmly been rooted in George Spencer-Brown’s Law of Forms, a work central to systems theory. The architecture of Luhmann’s systems theory is thus presented in accordance with Spencer-Brown’s calculus of indications. Special attention is being paid to systems theory’s Leitdifferenz system/ environment. For this distinction is literally maintained as the alpha and the omega of the theory: the Leitdifferenz carries theoretical observations, and at the same time permits the self-observation. By means of the figure of ‘re-entry’, drawn from Spencer-Brown’s calculus, we show how the starting distinction between system and environment, can ‘re-enter’ the construction founded upon it and makes it possible for the theory to observe itself as a system within an environment.

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