Saturday, 5 December 2009

Warwick Fox's Systems Ethics

Just reading a bit of Warwick Fox in the library today. He's an Australian philosopher who comes froma deep ecology background but has apparently since distanced himself from that sorta thing. Either way, his book, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature and the Built Environment aims to develop a General Theory of Everything for ethics. From the brief bit I had time to read, tt's an interesting approach, not that nicely written, but quite powerful.

The basis is his distinction between three different types of relationships - fixed cohesion, responsive cohesion and discohesion.

Responsive Cohesion
“the relational quality of responsive cohesion may be said to exist whenever the elements or salient features of things can be things can be characterised in terms of interacting (either literally or metaphorically) with each other in mutually modifying ways such that these mutually modifying interactions serve (at least functionally if not intentionally) to generate or maintain an overall cohesive order” pp72

“responsive cohesion is cohesion that arises through the mutual responsiveness of the elements or salient features of the matter under consideration.” pp72

So this sort of mutually modifying relationship, to me, indicates that determining power is diffused among the various elements of the system (there is no necessary equality of power though), but maintains their interdependence. This is in contrast to fixed cohesion and discohesion.

“fixed forms of cohesion can also shatter or collapse into their apparent opposite, that is, discohesion. We see this in the domain of politics, for example, every time a dictatorship is overcome by a revolutionary movement that initiates a period of chaos and lawlessness. In fact we see it when any rigid structure is overwhelmed by internal or externally imposed forces and shatters into pieces. Thus, rather than representing any kind of “move in the direction of” discohestion, this kind of change from fixed cohesion to discohesion is typically abrupt...Equally, order can forcefully be imposed upon a chaotic situation, as, say, when a new dictatorial regime emerges from civil chaos and imposes a strict order overnight.” pp82-3

So fixed cohesion distributes power unequally, so that a strong hierarchy emerges, whereas discohesion disperses it, but via independence, creating a situation of anarchy.

Anyway, it's an interesting idea, but I think the divisions are mainly only useful conceptually. In reality, especially in social systems, there is always a form of responsive cohesion, but the distributions and methods of mediating this response differ. The state, though it would appear to be a classic fixed cohesion, exhibits responsive cohesion, both internally and externally. It must respond to the pressure of interest groups in order to maintain its legitimacy, although it does, on occasion, ignore these groups altogether (a la Balir in the Iraq War).In fact, the limited responsive cohesion of the state could be seen as the defining principle of its hegemony.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.