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Systems theory and the ontological paradigmEdit

I quote the following from the current version of the article.

Although Luhmann first developed his understanding of social systems theory under Parsons' influence, he soon moved away from the Parsonian concept. The most important difference is that Parsons used systems merely as an analytic tool to understand certain processes going on in society; Luhmann, in contrast, treats his vision of systems ontologically, saying that "systems exist". That is, Luhmann in fact suggests to substitute the paradigm of systems theory for the ontological paradigm: the difference system/environment (which also signifies a relationship).

I find this paragraph to be highly problematic and a rather serious misunderstanding of Luhmann's theory. At the beginning of Social Systems, Luhmann does indeed state that he is assuming systems exist. But it is not his intention to posit this as an ontological precept. The key is that it is an assumption (this is curiously omitted in the above paragraph), and in making this statement he is merely admitting the impossibility of escaping the position of the first-order observer, or in other words the necessity of "drawing a distinction". This becomes completely clear when both in that book[1] , and in Theory of Society, Luhmann explicitly deconstructs ontological theories of society, and posits second order systems theory as the successor[2]. I think in order to maintain the claim that Luhmann "suggests... the ontological paradigm", one would need to find a reference to him suggesting this within his text. To my mind, no reference exists. One would also need to explain the many contradicting statements found throughout his corpus, such as this:

The distinction between being and nonbeing is now replaced as primary distinction, completely implausibly from an ontological point of view, by the distinction between inside and outside or that between selfreference and other-reference. For, according to the new version, an observer has first to be produced before he can apply the being/nonbeing distinction. But there are no metaphysical or logical rules for selecting an initial distinction; there are only plausibilities of societal history, including, in modern times, an interest in deontologizing the world.[3]

Beigedeath (talk) 01:54, 5 February 2018 (UTC)

I've now changed the article to more accurately reflect the differences between Parsons and Luhmann. I don't think an explanation of Luhmann's critique of ontology is necessary for this Wikipedia article, as it is a highly technical and abstract topic and not a priority when introducing his thought to the general audience. Beigedeath (talk) 22:47, 6 February 2018 (UTC)


  1. ^ Luhmann, N. Social Systems. Stanford University Press, 1995, p. 177.
  2. ^ Luhmann, N. Theory of Society, Vol. 2. Stanford University Press, 2013, p. 293.
  3. ^ Luhmann, N. Theory of Society, Vol. 2. Stanford University Press, 2013, p. 195.

Piyush Mathur ?Edit

I don't think Piyush Mathur is important enough to appear twice in this entry. Habermas is mentioned once, and who's Piyush Mathur? I looks like somebody nobody is trying to make his name on Luhmann's back. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:32, 16 September 2012 (UTC)

Operational ClosureEdit

"Social systems are autopoietically closed in that they use and rely on resources from their environment;" shouldn't it spell "social systems are operationally closed .." as they can only rely on their enviroment if they are operationally close.

--- I rephrased the following:

He studied law first and was then active as an administration expert, after research activity at the beginning of the sixties, 1966 graduation and habilitation in the faculty sociology at the University of Münster, since 1968 lecturing sociology at the University of Bielefeld, Germany.

Functional DifferentiationEdit

Mention should probably be made of Luhmann's Die x der Gesellschaft, where x is Wirtschaft, Wissenshaft, Recht, and so on. In that connection, it wouldn't hurt to mention that functional differentiation plays a central role in his theory. A simple way of accomplishing this would be to base the English version of the article more closely on the German version... -- Hyperion 04:04, 29 Jun 2004 (UTC)

About Atheist and Anti-humanismEdit

Is Luhmann generally considered to be an atheist? It seems he denies the existence of "entities" insofar as a "part to a whole" - there is no binding force of God as such, there are only systems consisting of operations which are not stable things and can change. So would he claim to be an atheist?

I think Luhmann, as he proclaimed the role of sociologist, is an atheist, inasmuch as sociologist are oblige to observe those unobservable, such as transcendence. And in religion, precisely, belief as their means to reach holistic unity and identity becomes more salient in the course of secularization. Yet systems theorist draws distinction on what are considered undistinguisable. These arguments appears in his article "Society, Meaning, and Religion".

Based on my readings of Luhmann it seems simplistic to call him anti-humanist. For his theory of social systems he was not interested in people but he recognized that people were responsible for bringing meaning into a system. To examine the meaning at that level one had to work at the level of psychic systems not social systems. Meaning is changed in components of a system. He again recognizes that meaning is changed by people but from the perspective of the social system the individual processes responsible for the meaning change could not be examined. He was interested in the communication itself. I am not sure he was so anti-humanist just that what is consider human would need to be considered by another perspective.

In fact, I think Anti-humanist is a too vauge term, however, Luhmann can be considered a "methodological anti-humanist" by virtue of he does not deny the crucial importance of human being as the environment of social systems, and yet individual volition and agency that constitutes sociality is hereby eliminated. Motivation, communicative orientations, and so on are detached from human individual but reserve to communication itself. Hence his anti-humanism can be tuned down to a mere methodological level, just like what Weberian theory is regard a "methodological individualism" (one can refer to James Coleman's Foundation of Social Theory). Skyliner852 07:41, 5 October 2006 (UTC)


This article, esspecially the theory section, needs citations. I would love to be able to take this article as a starting point, and go to the debates and influences directly. Can anyone give some sources? Smmurphy 15:31, 22 November 2005 (UTC)

I think something should be mentioned about autopoietic theory of law.

jean-francois lyotardEdit

Next to Habermas, the other famous person is Lyotard. In The Postmodern Condition the system theory of Luhman is critised as being a typical 'modern theory' (my words). The criticism is about the system being deterministic and the communicative nodes predictable and stable.

I can't remember all of Lyotard's Postmodern Condition, but I seem to recall that it was published 5 years or so before Luhmann's Social Systems. I know that Luhmann published quite a bit in the 1970s as well, but still - did Lyotard really present a direct critique of Luhmann in that text, or was it aimed at general systems theory as such? --Thf1977 07:31, 27 March 2006 (UTC)
According to Google Books Luhmann is mentioned 12 times, though with only one direct reference to a work of him, it is Legitimation durch verfahren. The critique is mostly on the level of general systems theory, but it is clear that Lyotard sees Luhmann as the endpoint of a development from Comte - Parsons - Luhmann. Also several times referring to the reaction of Habermas to Luhmann. Although i´m not familiair with the work of Luhmann, from what i read in Lyotard it seems that Luhmann would have had his theory of social systems largely in place at the time Lyotard writes the Postmodern C.----Freetrader 18:21, 27 March 2006 (UTC)
As I see it (without being an expert on Parsonian systems theory), Luhmann's systems are not necessarily stable and they are less deterministic (although they are, of course, conditioned). Luhmann talks about constant paradoxes evolving, only to be solved by the passing of time, etc. I'm not saying that Lyotard doesn't mention Luhmann, only that his critique seems to be less about Luhmann's particular "brand" of systems theory than about Parsons. --Thf1977 08:50, 28 March 2006 (UTC)
Rereading the parts where Lyotard discusses Luhmann, i don't agree with you. I have to withdraw my first statements however, which actually dó pertain more to Parsons then to Luhmann. The point of Lyotard seems to be that in the systems of Luhmann, every disagreement (paradox?)is manipulated by the system to eventually contribute to the higher performence of the system (60/61 Google). And also: 'Administrative procedures should make individuals “want” what the system needs ...'. A few pages later he calls the systems of Luhmann terroristic: they supress 'difference'.--Freetrader 18:23, 29 March 2006 (UTC)


I changed the first sentence from "the founder of sociological systems theory" to "as well as one the most prominent modern day thinkers in the sociological systems theory". It could be argued that Durkheim was the founder (although this is a stretch), but most importantly we must not forget Talcott Parsons, in response to whom Luhmann wrote many articles.

Agree. Parsons contribution to systems theory cannot be ignored! --Thf1977 09:23, 18 September 2006 (UTC)


On Commons there is this sketch of Luhmann. I believe it is better than nothing, though not quite perfect. Have a look yourself. -- ExpImptalkcon 00:41, 3 November 2006 (UTC)

I believe the opposite: even nothing is better than this... ;) --Thorsten1 17:53, 14 November 2006 (UTC)

Removed Laws of Form paragraphEdit

Spencer-Brown's book "Laws of Form" pretends to do away with logic as it had been known until then altogether. Accordingly, Spencer-Brown praises himself in the preface of this book as the author of the "most intelligent book in the universe." Yet Maturana applies pre-Spencer-Brown logic. Therefore, Luhmann's claim to truth rests entirely on Spencer-Brown being what he pretends to be. Maturana cannot be reconciled with Spencer-Brown in the issue of autopoiesis, and Maturana has explicitly refused to be cited by Luhmann as a supporting theorist.[citation needed]

This paragraph is very confusing as to what it's trying to convey, gives a very reductive and biased treatment of Spencer-Brown's work, and argues using statements based on explicit but unsourced quotations. I've removed it for now until someone wants to clean it up and/or fact check.

Systems Scientist?Edit

I think sounds strange that MDD categorised Luhmann as a system scientist. Luhmann considered himself as a social theorist (not a social scientist doing empirical research). As a constructivist and a sociologist who considered society as an emergent phenomenon, he was strongly opposed to many reductionist assumptions, which are generally associated with science. -- 13:12, 14 September 2007 (UTC)

I can see where you're coming from, and it may sound strange, but systems science can have a broader definition too which can easily include systems theory. The empirical/theoretical dichotomy doesn't really apply here. Oddly enough, Category:Systems scientists is a subcategory of Category:Systems theory. ---Sluzzelin talk 11:45, 23 May 2008 (UTC)
The article itselve introduces Luhmann as a social systems theorist:
Niklas Luhmann (December 8, 1927 - November 6, 1998) was a German sociologist, administration expert, and social systems theorist, as well as one of the most prominent modern day thinkers in sociological systems theory.
Now I consider social systems theorist, part of the social systems theorists part of the systems scientists. Just like I consider social systems theory as a part of systems science. See here Wikipedia talk:WikiProject Systems#Overview of the field of Systems science. -- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 12:24, 23 May 2008 (UTC)
Agreed, which is why I found "Systems scientists" being a subcat of "Systems theory" a bit confusing. ---Sluzzelin talk 12:42, 23 May 2008 (UTC)
Ok. Now I understand. The thing is, that the "Category:Systems scientists" started as the Category:Systems theory researchers in 2004. I renamed it in July 2007 to the Category:Systems scientists. Now the Category:Systems scientists has several subcategories, but non in the specific "general" fiels of systems theory. -- Marcel Douwe Dekker (talk) 12:59, 23 May 2008 (UTC)
Ps. The Category:Systems scientists also doesn't contain a categorie Social systems scientists. And the English Wikipedia doesn't have a separate article on Social systems theory and on social system. I am working on this, but this will still take some time.

Overview over his workEdit

Hi there, I corrected the figures about his work. I have a list of his bibliography at hand which shows 70 Books and 382 articles but which is not totally up to date. The problem is that there are translations of his works all the time (e.g. Luhmann, N. 2008. Are there still indispensible Norms in Our Society? Soziale Systeme 14, 1, 18-37) and also books which are published posthumously, e.g. 'Die Moral der Gesellschaft' in 2008.


Add pix k?thxbye — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:53, 20 December 2011 (UTC)

The last one was way better :( -- (talk) 16:26, 9 June 2014 (UTC)

Communicative actionEdit

For Luhmann, the Term "kommunicative action" would have been a Pleonasm. I think it is therefor incorrectly used in this article! — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:55, 1 December 2014 (UTC)

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