A unique sight one desires to experience ‘first-hand’ is created through its depiction. Once one repeats the experience of seeing it personally, however, one necessarily does so in the mode of second-order observation. The very fact that it is a sight implies that is was seen as one by others.
Hans-Georg Moeller is professor of Philosophy at the University of Macau. His research focuses on Social and Political Thought and on Chinese and Comparative Philosophy. He is author of Genuine Pretending: On the Philosophy of the Zhuangzi, The Radical Luhmann, The Philosophy of the Daodejing, and The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality, all published by Columbia University Press, and contributes to the YouTube podcast The Issue is Not the Issue with Dan Sarafinas.
December 7, 2017
≈ 40 minutes
This paper discusses the meaning of the concept of ‘second-order observation’ used by Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998). Luhmann identifies second-order observation as a defining characteristic of modern world society. According to Luhmann, all social systems construct a social reality on the basis of the observation of observations. Rating agencies in the economy or the peer-review process in the academic system are examples of social mechanisms manifesting second-order observation. Social media also represent organized second-order observation. The paper suggests that in a society based on second-order observation, ‘genuine pretending’ is an adequate mode of existence. This notion is derived from the Daoist text Zhuangzi. It indicates a disassociation from social roles which allows their performers to exercise these roles with ease and, at the same time, maintain a state of sanity. (Published in Thesis Eleven 2017, Vol. 143(I) 28–43.)