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The Challenge of Complexity

Essays by Edgar Morin

Amy Heath-Carpentier is a transdisciplinary scholar of gender, religion, and politics, lecturing in Global Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, USA. In addition to contributing to dialogue on transdisciplinary research and transnational feminist theories and praxes, Heath-Carpentier studies the juncture between revolutionary politics, feminist identity development, and religious transformation in the lives of Irish feminists. A mid-career academic, she is an authority on careers in government, policy, advocacy, and international affairs.

The Challenge of Complexity gathers in one volume over 32 essays by the esteemed French philosopher and sociologist, Edgar Morin, probably France’s greatest living public intellectual. The essays span six decades of his career, addressing topics such as complexity, sociology, ecology, education, film, biology, and politics. At his centenary (July 2021), Morin holds honorary doctorates from over 20 universities in Europe and Latin America, and recently the Centre d’Études Transdisciplinaires, Sociologie, Anthropologie, Histoire, at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), the prestigious French National Research Center, was renamed the Centre Edgar-Morin. He is also the UNESCO Chair of Complex Thought. Several university centres and institutes have been dedicated to advancing his work in Europe and Latin America. He is the author of more than 80 books, translated into 28 languages, and the 1960 documentary Chronicle of a Summer, which he co-directed with Jean Rouch, has become a classic and the first example of cinéma vérite

Morin’s work on complexity is distinct from the mathematically driven “science of complexity.” He argues for an epistemological revolution and focuses on the need to develop complex thought to address the lived complexity of an interconnected, interdependent, uncertain world. Morin’s contribution in such a wide range of disciplines has been influential because of his ability to bring complex thought to bear on seemingly diverse topics, reflecting on the limitations of how they are approached and articulating a transdisciplinary way that doesn’t sacrifice complexity in an effort to find an oversimplified clarity. Morin illuminates the complexity and creativity of the world and of our lived experience, and invites us to participate in the creative process that is existence itself. A substantive overview of Morin’s philosophical journey by Alfonso Montuori introduces the reader to Morin’s remarkable work and life.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-114-6
Hardback Price: £85/ $99.95
Release Date: March 2022
Page Extent / Format: 400 pp. 246 x 171 mm
Illustrated: Highly illustrated



Encountering Morin by Alfonso Montuori

Preface by Amy Heath-Carpentier

Annotated Bibliography of Chapters

                Note to the Reader by Alfonso Montuori


A Letter from Edgar Morin

The Dissolution of Complexity

Blind Intelligence


Introduction—Edgar Morin, an Intellectual Journey

Edgar Morin at 96: A Brief Overview

Beginning with Transdisciplinarity


Stars, Mass Culture, and the Sociology of the Present

Opening Up: The Journals


Complex Thought



Part I Complexity: Method

A New Way of Thinking

The Three Theories


The Three Principles


The Spirit of the Valley

What Absconded from the Paradigm

The School of Mourning

The Impossible Impossible

The Non-Method

From Vicious Circle to Virtuous Cycle

The En-cyclo-pedia

To Relearn Learning

“Caminante no hay camino”

The Spiral Inspiration

The Spirit of the Valley


Restricted Complexity, General Complexity         

 1.          ‘Classical science’ rejected complexity based on three principles.

 2.          The first breach leading to complexity: irreversibility       

 3.          Interactions: Order/disorder/organization

 4.          Chaos

 5.          The emergence of complexity

 6.          Generalized complexity

 7.          System: “All systems should be viewed as complex”

 8. The emergence of emergence

 9.          The complexity of organization

  1. Self-eco-organization
  2. The relationship between local and global
  3. Heraclitus: “Life from death, death from life”
  4. Non-trivial machines
  5. To complexify the notion of chaos
  6. The need for contextualization
  7. The hologrammatic and dialogical principles
  8. Some consequences for the sciences
  9. Two scientific revolutions introduced complexity
  10. The introduction of science into history
  11. The link between science and philosophy
  12. Second epistemological rupture with restricted complexity
  13. The principle of ecology of action
  14. Creating “Institutes of fundamental culture”
  15. I conclude: Generalized complexity integrates restricted complexity
  16. We should seize the possibilities of metamorphosis


On the Definition of Complexity



From the simple to the complex

  What is not simple

  Less and less simple

  More and more complicated

Biological complexity or self-organization

  Complexity and the organization of diversity

  The mysterious automated factory

  The natural automaton-generativity and disorder

  ‘Life from death, death from life’

  A principle of development

  Complexity of complexity

Levels of complexity

  The many roads leading to complexity

  Unequal complexity within one and the same system

  The problem of hypercomplexity

The logic of complexity. Logical complexity

  The challenge to knowledge: uncertainty and ambiguity

  The logic of living things: a generative logic

  Dialectical logic

Generative logic

  Arborescent logic. Symphonic logic


Organization and Complexity

Unitas multiplex


The complexity of the notion of organization

Basic complexity


From the Concept of System to the Paradigm of Complexity

Introduction: Mastering the Concept of System

The System Paradigm

  A. The Whole is Not a Catch-All

  B. The Macro-Concept

  C. The Psychophysical Nature of the System Paradigm

  D. The Paradigm of Complexity

Systemized Theories



Complex Thinking for a Complex World: About Reductionism,

Disjunction and Systemism


The Concept of System

  1. Beyond holism and reductionism: The relational circuit
  2. The whole is not all

                Scissions in the whole (the Immersed and the Emergent, the Repressed

                and the Expressed).

                The Insufficient Whole

                The Uncertain Whole

3              Beyond formalism and realism: From Physis to understanding,

                from understanding to Physis; the subject/system and the


                The Rootedness in Physis

                The System is a Mental Abstraction

                Phantom Concept and Pilot Concept

                The Subject/Object Transaction

                Observing and Observed System


RE: From Prefix to Paradigm

Part I: From the RE of Physics to the RE of Biology

Toward a Radical Conceptualization of RE

The Meaning of RE in Physics

Takes and Gives Life

Part II: From Repetition to Recursion

Part III: Poly-RE

Conclusion: Complex RE


Beyond Determinism: The Dialogue of Order and Disorder

Uncle Thom’s Empty Cabin

From the Simplicity of Determinism to the Complexity of Order

On Disorder

The Metaphysical/ontological Opposition and Methodological


The Dialogue of Order and Disorder

Scienza nuova

A knowledge that should know of its own ignorance


Social Paradigms of Scientific Knowledge

The Sociological Insertion of Describer and Description

  Personal Self-scrutiny

  From the Analysis of the Analyzer to the Inscription of the Description

  The Socio-Cultural Hinterland of Knowledge—From Bacon to Habermas

  The Sociology of Truth

  The Necessity and Insufficiency of the Sociology of Knowledge

  The Paradigmatic Gordian Knot

  Translator’s Notes


The Fourth Vision: On the Place of the Observer


Self and Autos


Auto- (Geno-Pheno-) Organization

Communicational-Computational Auto-organization

Being for Self and Auto-centrism


Can We Conceive of a Science of Autonomy?1 and 2



What Could Be a Mind Able to Conceive a Brain Able to

Produce a Mind?

The Extraordinary Problem

The Great Schism


The New Monism

The Idea of Subject



The Emergence of Thought

The Prehistory of Thought

Language and the Emergence of Thought

The Use of Dual Thought

The Seculariztion and Individualization of Thought

The Modern Adventures of Thought



For a Crisiology


The Anti-or-organizational Principle of Organization

The Problem of Antagonism

The Theoretical Complexity of Crises

The Components of the Concept of Crisis

  1) The idea of disruption

  2) The increase of disorder and uncertainty

  3) Freeze/unfreezing

  4) Unfreezing/Refreezing: The Multiplication of Double-Binds

  5) The Increase of Research Activities

  6) Mythical and Imaginary Solutions

  7) The Dialectic of All These Components

Crisis and Transformation

  1) Of Action

  2) Change: Progression/Regression

  3) Crisis Theory and Evolution Theory

Toward a Crisiology?


Commandments of Complexity


Part II Sociology of the Present

Chronicle of a Film

For a New Cinéma-Vérité




The Multidimensional Method

The Means of Investigation

Phenomenographic Observation

The Interview

Groups and Praxis

Subjectivity and Objectivity

The Research Workers

Development of the Inquiry


The Principles of ‘Contemporary Sociology’

The Phenomenon

The Event or Happening


Social Temporality

Clinical Sociology

The ‘Field of the Present’



Part III Social and Political Reflections

Hoping Against Hope

Doubts about Development

A New Approach


Our Common Home

A World in Disarray

Living Together on Earth

Civilizing the Earth

A Multidimensional Way of Thinking


A Shared Crisis


The Anti-Totalitarian Revolution

What is Totalitarianism?

The Breaking of the Vessels

A Change of Direction

The Revolution

The Disintegration of Totalitarianism

The End of the Soviet System


Realism and Utopia

The Unknowable Real

The End of the Future and the Return of Mythified Pasts

Real-politik and ideal-politik

Towards Complexity of Thought

Towards an Anthropolitics


Future Ethics and Politics

Ethics Against Politics

Political Realism

Towards an Ethics of Humankind


The Agents of Double Globalization

Globalization is Note All-embracing

The Insufficiencies of ‘Economism’ for the Economy

To Regulate? To Decelerate?

A New Approach

Prospects and Aims for a Common Home

The Earth in Danger

The Die Has Not Been Cast Yet


European Civilization: Properties and Challenges

From Europa to Europe

The Cultural Whirlwind

Of Humanity Reconciled, and Happiness on Earth

The European Cultural Identity

Europe and Global Challenges

Conclusion: A New Crisis of European Civilization?


The VI International Catalonia Prize

A Warning


Ecology: The Uses of Enchantment


Demythicising and Remythicising the Mediterranean


Review Quotes to Follow

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