Portrait of Niklas Luhmann

Niklas Luhmann

Sociologist, Philosopher, and Systems Theorist
December 8, 1927 – November 6, 1998

Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist, philosopher of social science, and a prominent thinker in systems theory, who is considered one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century.


Mentioned in 3 documents

Francis Heylighen and Shima Beigi

Mind Outside Brain

We approach the problem of the extended mind from a radically non-dualist perspective. The separation between mind and matter is an artefact of the outdated mechanistic worldview, which leaves no room for mental phenomena such as agency, intentionality, or feeling. We propose to replace it by an action ontology, which conceives mind and matter as aspects of the same network of processes. By adopting the intentional stance, we interpret the catalysts of elementary reactions as agents exhibiting desires, intentions, and sensations. Autopoietic networks of reactions constitute more complex super-agents, which moreover exhibit memory, deliberation and sense-making. In the specific case of social networks, individual agents coordinate their actions via the propagation of challenges. The distributed cognition that emerges from this interaction cannot be situated in any individual brain. This non-dualist, holistic view extends and operationalises process metaphysics and Eastern philosophies. It is supported by both mindfulness experiences and mathematical models of action, self-organisation, and cognition.

Hans-Georg Moeller

On Second-Order Observation and Genuine Pretending:

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.)

Francis Heylighen

The Global Superorganism

The organismic view of society is updated by incorporating concepts from cybernetics, evolutionary theory, and complex adaptive systems. Global society can be seen as an autopoietic network of self-producing components, and therefore as a living system or “superorganism”.