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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.


Edgar Morin is the archetypal thinker. Difficult to classify, he impresses the reader with his erudition, critical attitude, and trespassing of intellectual boundaries. In this wonderful book, long overdue in English, he invites us to appreciate, understand, and handle the complexity of the world by complexifying our ways of thinking. For him complexity (from complexus—inter-weaving) is not a technique but a generalized epistemology—wonder about the heterogeneous constituents that make up the world and seeking ways of understanding them. With this brilliant book we now have a reliable guide to the thinking of one of the most insightful thinkers of our era.  Haridimos Tsoukas, University of Cyprus and University of Warwick

Edgar Morin is one of the most prestigious figures in French, and indeed European, culture.Giovanni Reale, author of A History of Ancient Philosophy, Professor, Università San Raffaele, Milan, Italy

 Edgar Morin has been urging for a shift towards complexity thinking for many decades. He has a unique capability to move between the natural and social sciences—without doing either of them any injustice—and is ideally placed to address the epistemological, ethical and practical problems of our times. What makes Morin unique amongst complexity theorists is the way in which he turns a critical eye on complexity theory itself, resisting a return to determinism, reduction and disjunction in come approaches to complexity.

     In this extremely valuable volume of translated essays he turns his attention to the technical and philosophical underpinnings of complexity theory and applies it to a wide-ranging number of issues including the nature of scientific thinking, self-organisation, action theory, the notion of the subject, education, the idea of solidarity and the idea of the “enterprise.” These essays will certainly stimulate the critical debate within complexity circles, but is also essential reading for anybody interested in our complex world and how to live in it.

Paul Cilliers, University of Stellenbosch, Author of Complexity and Postmodernism

 Morin has opened the way to real thinking about human nature, not reducing it to one of its components, bio-physico-chemical, social, psychological, religious, or political. Understanding the interactions between these components without confusion is the challenge of the sciences of complexity.

Henri Atlan, author of Enlightenment to Enlightenment: Intercritique of Science and Myth, Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel, EHESS, Paris


The biology of 21st century is moving from the reductionist approach of molecular biology to the systems approach of the new science of systems biology. More than 40 years ago Edgar Morin had already articulated the paradigm of complexity that gives us the clues needed to address the conceptual changes in modern biology.

Magali Roux-Rouquié—Senior scientist-CNRS (French National Research Center), Deputy director USAR-CNRS


Morin is a representative thinker of humanity’s planetary age. In remedying the deficiency of Western classic analytic thinking, Morin's complex thinking shows some affinities to the Chinese classic synthetic thinking, such as the emphasis on the union of the universal and the particular. Morin path indicates that the creation of the paradigm of complexity depends on the fusion of Western and Eastern thinking, each of which has its strength and weakness. Yi-zhuang Chen—Professor of Philosophy, Central-South University, People’s Republic

of China The Apollo of complexity, Edgar Morin is a solar presence, helping us to live and to hope. His work constitutes a major contribution to transdisciplinarity.

Basarab Nicolescu—Theoretical physicist, CNRS, University of Paris 6, Professor, University Babes-Bolyai de Cluj, Rumania, President, CIRET (International Center

for Research on Transdisciplinary, Studies) Author of Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity  Edgar Morin's writing on film, its stars, and the human beings who engage with them, remains the

richest treatment of these phenomena available. Magic, wonder, the poetic as well as the prosaic, are a feature of his work generally, which refuses reductiveness while maintaining rigor. An intellectual monument in France, his theory and commentary—passionate, ethically engaged and never leaving the life out of life—is at last beginning to have the impact it deserves in the English- speaking world.

Lorraine Mortimer—Senior Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology, La Trobe University, Melbourne


Morin reinvigorates general systems theory, and its close companion complexity theory, by giving their epistemological foundations some much needed attention. He has laid down a tantalizing challenge to think more complexly about everything from self to society and provided plenty of inspiration for doing so.

Mary Jo Jatch, author, Organization Theory: Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives. Professor Emeritus, McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia, USA

 Morin has been one of the key figures of French green thought for over four decades. Anti-authoritarian and humanistic, his complex thought shows the urgency favoring diversity, life, imagination and freedom in the co-evolution of nature and society.

Kerry Whiteside, author of Divided Nature, French Contributions to Political Ecology. Professor of Government, Franklin and Marshall College.

 What I like best in the work of Edgar Morin is the fundamental difference he makes between what is complex and what is just complicated. The real world is complex, meaning that antagonism and complementarity go hand in hand. Once I understood this, and other aspects of Morin's paradigm of complexity, my research took a new turn. Peter Westbroek, Professor of Geophysiology, University of Leiden, The Netherlands

 The life sciences of biology, evolution, sociology, and business organization—all would benefit from this refreshing and novel approach that looks at the world as we encounter it, not as it is filtered through the lenses of specialized and isolated scientific disciplines.

Albert Low, author of The Origin of Human Nature, Teacher and Director, Montreal Zen Center

Pioneer of transdisciplinarity, prophet of the Planetary Era, a man of deep wisdom and humanity, Edgar Morin is an essential guide for our times. His writings show us how to weave together otherwise isolated fields of knowledge and the corresponding fragmented aspects of our world. The method or “way” of complexity exemplified in these collected essays is a much needed antidote to the simplistic, reductive, and therefore destructive habits of mind that continue to characterize much academic and public discourse. 

Sean Kelly, Ph.D., California Institute of Integral Studies, author of Coming Home: The Birth and Transformation of the Planetary Era and of Becoming Gaia: On the Threshold of Planetary Initiation.

Edgar Morin is a person with a deep understanding of the social and historical aspects of human life. This understanding is the source of his concern and reflections on epistemology and complex systems. It is also the reason that what he says in those domains deserves to be read carefully.

Humberto Maturana Romesin, co-author of The Tree of Knowledge, Instituto de Formacion Matristica

 Edgar Morin’s life and his work are a profound meditation on the meaning of the unsettling time of transition humanity is currently experiencing. Through an extraordinary exploration of the human condition in a global age, Edgar Morin outlines the horizon of a new planetary humanism. With the help of complex thought, for Morin this means mastering ambivalent forces—forces which could also lead to a catastrophe—with a view to orienting them towards a great metamorphosis, one that is as deep as the one humanity experienced in the transition from prehistory to the first societies.

Mauro Ceruti, Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science, Director of the Doctoral School for Communication Studies, Rector’s delegate to the “Laboratorio delle Idee, IULM University, Milan, Italy



Hardback ISBN: 978-1-78976-114-6
Hardback Price: £85/ $99.95
Release Date: June 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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