Philosophical Conditions for Sustainable Outcomes to Complex Systemic Interventions

David Rousseau

Abstract


Consideration of Alexander Laszlo’s inspiring vision for a sustainable thriving eco-civilization shows that it is grounded in three important assumptions.  These may seem unremarkable at first sight but an analysis of their implications reveals that they commit us to positions that are deeply problematic in the academy.  The systems movement will have to help find ways to resolve these issues as a prerequisite for attaining the presented vision.  In my view this can be done, and in my presentation I will show what these problems are and how we might approach helping to resolve them.

 

Alexander Laszlo’s three assumptions are that (1) a sustainable thriving eco-civilization is possible, (2) we can bring it about, and (3) it is important that we bring it about. 

 

I will show that these three assumptions confront us with three problems the systems movement has struggled with since its inception:  (a) the disunity of knowledge and fragmentation of worldviews, (b) the semantic divergence between different disciplines, and (c) the absence of scientific support for non-constructivist theories about values.

 

In situations characterised by complexity and value conflicts these problems subvert collaborative solution design, impede efficient execution of interventions, and undermine broad adoption of the solution features. 

 

I will argue that in order to overcome these problems we have to work towards broad acceptance of (i) a moderate ontological realism according to which the world has at least some properties that are stable and independent of our cognitive acts and that can bracket the possibilities for change, (ii) a modest epistemological realism according to which we have at least some access to true knowledge about these properties and boundary conditions, (iii) a robust model of the connectedness between, but distinctness of, objective and subjective kinds of knowledge, (iv) a principled way of developing a semantic framework that makes different disciplines mutually accessible, and (v) a moderate axiological realism according to which at least some values have an objective grounding in the nature of Reality.     

 

The problems surrounding unity, realism, knowledge, semantics and values are substantial ones, and the subject of deep divisions in the academy.  However, I will argue that due to recent developments the systems movement is now positioned to make crucial contributions towards their resolution, and that it is likely that they will be resolved in a way that will support the validity of Laszlo’s assumptions.  More broadly, such progress can help to reinvigorate the systems movement in general by improving the possibility of providing reliable interventions with sustainable outcomes.


Keywords


sustainable eco-civilization; unity of knowledge; ontological realism; systematic semantics; axiological realism

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