Volume 10 · Number 2 · Pages 203–210
Ontology, Reality and Construction in Niklas Luhmann’s Theory

Krzysztof C. Matuszek

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Context: In the literature concerning the theory of social systems, interest in epistemological and ontological questions has increased in recent years. The controversies regarding a realist vs. constructivist interpretation of Luhmann’s theory, as well as the concept of many realities that correspond to many ontologies, deserve attention. Problem: The paper discusses interrelated ontological and epistemological problems in Luhmann’s systems theory, such as ontology and de-ontologization, realism vs. constructivism, contingency and its limits and one vs. many realities. Method: The paper proposes an interpretation, according to which systems theory is based on an epistemology - radical operative constructivism. Results: Luhmann is not a realist. The last word belongs to radical operative constructivism, and naïve realism with reference to social systems has only a preliminary, methodological significance. However, taking a position in the dispute between realism and constructivism inevitably involves an ontological “vocabulary,” that is, usage of the reality/construction distinction. Furthermore, operative constructivism formulates the necessary conditions of the possibility of cognition, which limit the contingency of the theory and constitute one reality that is a construction of systems theory. Luhmann rejects ontology, but he does not renounce epistemology, and consequently the project of de-ontologization remains incomplete. Implications: The paper offers a new, coherent interpretation of ontological and epistemological questions in Luhmann’s theory, and also throws light on some problems of radical constructivism in general, such as the ontological implications of epistemology or the constructivist self-reference of theories. Key words: Radical operative constructivism, social systems, Luhmann, ontology, reality, contingency.


Matuszek K. C. (2015) Ontology, reality and construction in niklas luhmann’s theory. Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 203–210. http://constructivist.info/10/2/203

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