In this paper, we investigate the implications that a general view of complexity – i.e. the view that complex phenomena are irreducible – hold for our understanding of ethics. In this view, ethics should be conceived of as constitutive of knowledge and identity, rather than as a normative system that dictates right action. Using this understanding, we elaborate on the ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics. Whilst the former concerns the nature and the status of our modelling choices, the latter denotes a contingent and recursive understanding of ethics. Although the complexity of ethics cannot be captured in a substantive normative model, we argue that this view of ethics nevertheless commits one to, what we term, ‘the provisional imperative’. Like Kant’s categorical imperative, the provisional imperative is substantively-empty; however, unlike Kant’s imperative, our imperative cannot be used to generate universal ethical principles. As such, the provisional imperative simultaneously demands that we must be guided by it, whilst drawing attention to the exclusionary nature of all imperatives. We further argue that the provisional imperative urges us to adopt a certain attitude with regard to ethical decision-making, and that this attitude is supported and nurtured by provisionality, transgressivity, irony, and imagination.
Whole-systems thinking has to be a transdisciplinary activity that maps and integrates relationships, flows and perspectives into a dynamic understanding of the structures and processes that drive how the system behaves.
We can reduce the world to a whole just as easily as we can reduce it to a collection of parts. Neither the whole nor parts are primary; they come into being through the dynamic processes that define their identity through relationships and networks of interactions.
We should regard the boundaries that delineate one system from another as places of connection and exchange rather than barriers that separate or isolate.
Published on May 21, 2012 In this new RSA Animate, Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, explores the power of network visualisation to help navigate our complex modern world. Taken from a lecture given by Manuel Lima as part of the RSA’s free public events programme (below). Published on Jan 4, 2012… Read More