Integrative Levels Classification project scheme how it works León Manifesto references

The system of sciences and the evolution of knowledge / Eric de Grolier

Excerpts relevant to ILC

translated from Le système des sciences et l'évolution du savoir = p 20-118 (Conceptual basis of the classification of knowledge : proceedings of the Ottawa conference : October 1st to 5th, 1971 / Jerzy A Wojciechowski : ed' -- Dokumentation Saur : Pullach bei München : 1974)

[...] It is in 1858 (letter to Marx of July 14th) that Engels begins to be concerned with the problem of the classification of sciences, which he will face again more seriously between 1873 and 1882. Soviet authors (Kedrov, Samurin) have exaggerated the originality of Engels: actually he acknowledged himself his debt to Saint-Simon and Hegel. Before him, Gorjaninov and Dove had proposed evolutionary classifications based on the notion of emergence of new properties, to arrange natural (and human) phenomena; Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1854 had felt able to claim that "sciences develop ... exactly in the same order in which their objects have originated". And, as "Dialectics of nature" only appeared in 1925, it is H.M. Stanley who, in 1884, has first published a plan analogue to those of Gorjaninov and of Dove, but taking into account the progresses occurred in the physico-chemical sciences in the meantime. No doubt, Engels must be credited for his ideas about the need of basing the system of sciences not on a-priori phylosophical constructions, but on "the connections between phenomena themselves", about the essential abandonment of "the diametral oppositions represented as irreconcilable and insoluble", of "the sharp and unsuperable demarcation lines", of "the forced differences between classes". He realized the need of "showing ... not only the concatenation between the natural phenomena in the different domains taken separately, but even the connection of the different domains with each other ... by mean of facts provided by the science of nature itself" (text of 1888). As for this, on the other hand, he echoed the Cambridge lecture by James Clerk Maxwell, eleven years before, who evoked the process of "cross-fertilization" as one of the features of modern science. [...]

[Among the existentialists] it is maybe in Jaspers that we can find the most consistent conception [of knowledge classification] -- as well as the most anti-scientific: "the systematic classes that sciences aim to establish are essentially and radically different between them ... A fault separates the physical world from the life world, this from the soul world, this from the spiritual world. They are hierarchically sorted, in such a way that the reality of the higher grade implies that of the previous grade, while the reality of the lower grade appears to be possible without that of the higher grade ... The unique wholeness of the world, to which all the sets explored by the sciences belong, does not represent itself a set which could be the object of a universal theory ... There is no representation of the universe; there is only a system of the sciences". To reach a revelation of the being, therefore, one must give up a representation of the universe: "the hidden sense of scientific knowledge" is "to reach through research the boundary where the space of not-knowledge opens itself to the most lucid knowledge" (Introduction to philosophy). [...]

This mystic experience, common to the Victorins, to Bonaventura, to Roger Bacon, connects in a fundamental way in our time some philosophies otherwise very different, such as those of Bergson, Jaspers, Marcel, Hartmann. In the last one, a conception of the four grades, or layers of the real being, can be found again: matter, life, consciousness, spirit. But the real being is only one of the two primary spheres of being, the other being the ideal being; each of these primary spheres is connected to one of two secondary spheres: knowledge and logic. The big ontological building of Hartmann dates from 1933-1950: would he still claim now that the "metaphysical" element appears in the life sciences with the "prodigy of life", unexplainable both mechanically and teleologically? Maybe less sharply than the existentialists, Hartmann too separates man from the rest of the world, as in his system, while consciousness is given also to animals, the spiritual being is sharply distinct from the psychical being. [...]

Piaget wants to avoid reductionism and to that he opposes what he calls a "constructivism" (Tendances principales de la recherche dans les sciences sociales et humaines -- Mouton, UNESCO : Paris : 1970); he thinks that "in all psychosociological domains ... there are three kinds of levels ...: the organic, the mental, and the social [...]. With his insistence on the "specificity of phenomena of higher scale" and the "hierarchy of the scales of phenomena", his praising references to C.E. Guye and to Bertalanffy, Piaget on the other hand is close to the last stream that we intend to consider in this short bird-flight summary of the contemporary essays in general taxinomy: that of the partisans, at any degree, of the "emergent evolution". The origins of this movement are difficult to state precisely. Derek Austin [1969. p 81] relates the "theory of integrative levels" (other denomination, synonym) back "at least to Comte's positivism", and anyway, to Spencer's "First principles" (1862). Actually, it is possible to find a first form of it in Bonnet in 1764, an already fully "modern" version in Lamarck in 1809, and we saw above the generalizations proposed by Gorjaninov and Dove in the first half of 19th century.

As a (more or less) autonomous philosophical movement, the theory of emergence (or of integrative levels) itself "emerges" slowly -- no doubt since Pascal and Leibniz, then during all the 18th century, appears more clearly in Kant and in Hegel, and finds what is probably one of its most remarkable forms in Schopenhauer's "The world as will and representation" (book 2. section 26-27) with some insights that can be qualified as genial (especially about the peculiarities of crystals) as well as some dogmatic claims that look absurd today (like about the fact that "it is ridiculous to ask the cause of heaviness or of electricity").

Several passages in the "Dialectics of nature"may make Engels counted among its partisans, but only much later it becomes the sign of the rallying of a real school, starting with Bergson in his "Creative evolution" (1907) and especially with Australian F. Samuel Alexander (1920) and Englishman Conwy Lloyd Morgan (1923). Though having counted some representatives in Switzerland (Guye) and in France (Georges Matisse, Louis Glangeaud, Teilhard de Chardin), the school seems to have thriven especially in Anglo-Saxon countries (Joseph Needham, A.B. Novikoff, J.K. Feibleman, L. von Bertalanffy, ...); in the USA, Shields (1882) and Richardson (Classification: theoretical and practical -- 1901) can be related to it as forerunners. In these, like in Alexander and Teilhard, the series of emergent forms achieves the divinity: God, "angels", or Omega point;

others stop before this last stage: it is the case with François Jacob, whose "conclusion" chapter in "La logique du vivant" [1970] is titled precisely "L'intégron" and proposes a rationalist version of the theory: "biological evolution continues without fault a long chemical evolution ... No metaphysical entity exists to hide behind the word of life. The power of assembling, of producing structures of increasing complexity, even of reproducing oneself, belongs to the elements which constitute matter. From particles to man a series of integrations, of levels, of discontinuities is found. But no break ... No change of essence". Then, refusing to qualify "the orientation impressed to chance by natural selection" by the terms of progress, progression, perfectioning, as well as those of complication, complexity, he sees in it a "trend towards the flexibilization in the execution of the genetic program", towards the "constitution of new communication systems", "towards augmenting the interactions of the organism and its environment", towards developing the "means to gather information from outside, to process it, to set up consequently the reactions of the organism", which "achieves new systems of communication, of regulation, of memory, working at an higher level than the organism": since then the "cultural and social integrons" appear, which "work according to principles unknown at the lower levels" and "are beyond the explicative schemes of biology" ... But again, while one sees grades, discontinuities of phenomena and concepts, no break is found with the levels of biology".

If one wants, all this reminds of Engels, and when Jacob highlights that "the concepts of democracy, of ownership, of wages have as little significance for a cell or an organism as those of reproduction or natural selection for an isolated molecule", it echoes an analogous remark by Marx's mate. But to separate him from that, there is the whole acquisition of science in one century.


The system of sciences and the evolution of knowledge / Eric de Grolier = (ILC)— ISKO Italia <> : 2005.12.21 - 2011.07.19 -     [grolier.htm until 2011.07.19]