Systems Philosophy as a World Hypothesis

Thirty years after World Hypotheses: A Study of Evidence (1942) was published, Stephen C. Pepper wrote a review of [Ervin Laszlo]('s book [Introduction to Systems Philosophy (1972)](

Systems philosophy was reviewed by Pepper as a (new) root metaphor that might be further developed into a full world hypothesis, beyond the original four he had judged as adequate in 1942.

> A book has just come out that deserves more than usual attention, and should stimulate a lot of constructive discussion. I refer to Ervin Laszlo's Introduction to Systems Philosophy.[1] To those of us interested in synthetic treatments of philosophical issues, this book comes as a breath of fresh air, like opening a window in a crowded, smoke-filled room. > * [1] Ervin Laszlo, _Introduction to Systems Philosophy_ (Towards a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought). New York, London, Paris: Gordon & Breach. Pp. xxii, 320. [p. 548]

Pepper sees the root metaphor as a "dynamic self-regulating system". > It is a world hypothesis thoroughly empirical without any dependence on items of self evidence or indubitability. Its paradigm or root metaphor is system or more specifically the dynamic self-regulating system. This is a happy choice, and possibly the most fruitful or even the correct one for a detailed synthetic comprehension of the structure of the universe. It seems applicable to the full range of empirical material available through the sciences, the arts and elsewhere, and it can utilize the results and methods of the extensive development of systems theoretical analysis. [p. 548] The breadth of systems philosophy as beyond human-centered social systems is worth noting.

Laszlo extended the work of [Ludwig von Bertalanffy](, the father of [General Systems Theory]( Communications between the two can be readily found. > After some introductory consideration of the need of synthetic as well as analytic specialized treatments in philosophy and a preliminary summary of his method of "general systems synthesis," he begins his constructive development by applying his paradigm to the familiar hierarchy of nature extending from the subatomic elements through the atoms to molecules, cells, organisms, societies of organisms and so on up. [p. 548] Analysis breaks wholes into parts. Synthesis combines parts into wholes.

Pepper describes Laszlo's approach to systems philosophy in the Western tradition of a hierarchical approach of science. > He distinguishes four characterizing features of a self-regulating system. > * The first is its inner structure, what might be called the anatomy and physiology of the system. His description of this feature is "a coactive relation of parts in _ordered wholeness_ in the state of the system." > * The second is the "function of adaptation to environmental disturbances resulting in the _re-establishment_ of a previous steady state in the system." > * The third is the "function of adaptation to environmental disturbances resulting in the _reorganization_ of the system's state involving ... an overall _gain_" in the adaptability of the system to occurrences in the environment." > * The fourth is a "_dual_ functional-structural _adaptation_; with respect to subsystems ... and suprasystems" (pp. 35-36). [pp. 548-549, editorial paragraphing added] > * The first feature gives the structure of a natural system. > * The second stresses the continuity of a steady state for the system adapting to its environment. > * The third provides for the development or evolution of a natural system towards increasing adaptability to its environment. > * The fourth calls attention to the place in the hierarchy of nature in which a natural system is lodged. It calls attention to its function of being a well-adapted coactive part of a higher level system in which it is contained, and also as a well-adapted whole integrating the subsystems of a lower level that constitute its inner structure. > Thus a molecule is a whole integrating the atoms which compose it, and possibly also a part of a living cell within which it should be properly integrated. And a man is an organism composed of cells which must be adapted to the whole for his bodily health, but he is also a member of a human society to which he must adapt himself for the integrity of the society. > One cannot fail to note that the key term in this analysis of natural systems is "adaptation." > * A natural system is never a completely isolated whole. It is always involved in an inner and outer environment. This is a characteristic of nature which system analysis brings out in a manner never so empirically stressed before. Adaptation is a transaction in which everything in the natural world is involved. > * Moreover, the natural world in Laszlo's world hypothesis comprises everything that is. This is what empirically turns out to be the case as becomes clearer and clearer as we proceed with his philosophy. And this is not a consequence solely of his systems theoretical analysis, his paradigm, and root metaphor. It is rather the reverse, that the empirical material from the sciences and elsewhere just shapes up that way. > It just may be that an adequate world hypothesis can be developed through the guidance of this paradigm of a dynamic adaptive system (or selective system as it has also been called). [p. 548, editorial paragraphing added] To be clear, Pepper doesn't say that systems philosophy is an adequate world hypothesis. He says it might be developed into one.

Pepper departs from Laszlo's view that cognition is present in all natural systems, down into atoms. > What about consciousness? This has clearly something to do with brain processes. Laszlo does not accept the physical identity theory associated with J. J. C. Smart and others. He does not deny qualitative immediacies. Neither does he espouse a qualitative identity theory like Feigl or me. He accepts a sort of double aspect theory: "The relation of brain-events and mind-events is one of non-causal correlation" (p. 149). However, it is so close a relation that it is almost an identity. For Laszlo regards the structure of the physical system and that of the introspected cognitive system as "isomorphic." Hence, he says, "these systems are identical _qua_ systems" (p. 152). And from now on he often uses the hyphenated term "natural-cognitive systems." > He is thus easily led to the view that qualitative cognitive aspects are present in all natural systems down to atoms and beyond. The evidence for "mental experiences" in other men and other organisms resembling men is on his systems theory of perception well evidenced. Then he adds, "how far to go in extending the range of mental phenomena is not merely a decision of heuristic value, but one of logical consistency" (p. 150). In this extension of qualitative immediacy, he agrees with Whitehead, and I would go along with him. But for me, there appears to be a logical consistency in accepting a complete qualitative identity theory in this situation. Laszlo calls his view "biperspectivism." A natural system may be observed from without behavioristically, or "may be 'lived' (i.e., observed) from an immanent viewpoint" and in the latter case "the observer . . . is not merely inspecting the interior of the system, he _is_ the system" (p. 151). [p. 522] Really understanding Laszlo's perspective on cognition and consciousness would require reading the other cited references.

Pepper himself has written books on values. World hypotheses (I believe, but would have to check) separates values from facts. This might be a cleanup if systems philosophy were to become an adequate world hypothesis. > And now lastly about values. On a systems philosophy basis, it must be apparent that values will extend throughout the whole range of natural-cognitive systems. Thus at one stroke the harsh opposition of "value" to "fact" is dissolved. Cognition is a normative valuing operation. It yields the primary and fundamental value of adaptation. Every cognitive-natural system is guided by adaptation. > * Man at his level of the natural hierarchy not only feels its operation and lives it, but is self-conscious about it and can analyze it and write about it. Satisfaction and pleasure have a secondary value status in that a well-adapted organism maximizes the satisfactions available in his good physical and mental health. > * Organization (integration) also acquires a secondary value insofar as it is a function of adaptation. But degree of organization is not equivalent to degree of adaptation. > * "A hydrogen atom is not intrinsically 'less good' than an amoeba, and an amoeba is not necessarily 'less good' than a human being for the same reason. ... It is the level of adaptation and not the level of organization, which correlates with value" (p. 270). > It is easy to see how practical and scientific cognitive values develop from the normative action of human natural systems. Laszlo points out that there is also a normative feedback action for sensuous and emotive feelings yielding aesthetic values and religious values. And one can see how this mode of systems analysis will yield normative social values for the natural systems of societies. [pp. 552-553, editorial paragraphing added] Pepper concludes the review by encouraging the reader to explore Laszlo's writing at greater depth.

### References Laszlo, Ervin. 1972. _Introduction to Systems Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm of Contemporary Thought_. London: Routledge. Pepper, Stephen C. 1972. “Systems Philosophy as a World Hypothesis.” _Philosophy and Phenomenological Research_ 32 (4): 548–53.