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Multiple Beginnings, Meta-Foundationalism

The emphasis that Principia Cybernetica places on consensus about fundamental concepts and principles can be criticized as risking the dangers of formalism and foundationalism, of adopting a deductive strategy in which cybernetic theory is linearly derived or proved from axioms. The risks of such approaches are obvious: either the development of an ossified, static philosophy which cannot adapt to new information; or an endless, futile search for the ultimate, jointly necessary and sufficient axiom set from which "truth" could be derived.

We are well aware of these dangers, but on the other hand we are also aware of the risk of the converse, of a failure to generate any firm foundations on which theory can be constructed. We believe that it is this latter condition that Cybernetics and Systems Science has indeed found itself in today. Even a cursory examination of current systems literature will reveal a veritable zoo of advanced, highly sophisticated theories which have only a loose and metaphorical relation to each other. A clear and elegant underlying theory on which they could be reconciled is simply lacking.

Rather the approach that we adopt aims to steer a middle ground between both extremes. It does so through the reliance on the general method we adopt throughout: a balance between the freedom of variation and the constraint of selection in a hierarchically organized system of control. In this case the multiple components of the hierarchy are foundations, axiomatic sets which reciprocally and irreducibly support each other. While each component is itself a stable foundation, the overall metasystem is a-foundational: the choice of an axiom set is ultimately either arbitrary or non-theoretical (pragmatic).

In this sense, the philosophy we propose is anti-foundational. Yet a constructive philosophy can be considered foundational in the sense that it takes the principle of constructive evolution itself as a foundation. This principle is different from other foundations, however, because it is empty (anything can be constructed, natural selection is a tautology), but also because it is situated at a higher, "meta" level of description. Indeed, constructivism allows us to interrelate and inter-transform different foundational organizations or systems, by showing how two different foundational schemes can be reconstructed from the same, more primitive organization.

Copyright© 1993 Principia Cybernetica - Referencing this page

C. Joslyn,

Aug 1993


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Multiple axiomatization sets, a metaphor for metafoundationalism

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