The ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics

South African Journal of Philosophy 31 (2):447-463 (2012)
  Copy   BIBTEX


In this paper, we investigate the implications that a general view of complexity - i.e. the view that complex phenomena are irreducible - hold for our understanding of ethics. In this view, ethics should be conceived of as constitutive of knowledge and identity, rather than as a normative system that dictates right action. Using this understanding, we elaborate on the ethics of complexity and the complexity of ethics. Whilst the former concerns the nature and the status of our modelling choices, the latter denotes a contingent and recursive understanding of ethics. Although the complexity of ethics cannot be captured in a substantive normative model, we argue that this view of ethics nevertheless commits one to, what we term, ‘the provisional imperative’. Like Kant’s categorical imperative, the provisional imperative is substantively- empty; however, unlike Kant’s imperative, our imperative cannot be used to generate universal ethical principles. As such, the provisional imperative simultaneously demands that we must be guided by it, whilst drawing attention to the exclusionary nature of all imperatives. We further argue that the provisional imperative urges us to adopt a certain attitude with regard to ethical decision-making, and that this attitude is supported and nurtured by provisionality, transgressivity, irony, and imagination



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 93,069

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

JAK PRZEKONAĆ KANTA DO KŁAMSTWA? APORIE IMPERATYWU KATEGORYCZNEGO.Michał Piekarz - 2015 - Hybris, Revista de Filosofí­A (30):[113-131.
Understanding Kant's Ethics.Michael Cholbi - 2016 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Immanuel Kant, Jürgen Habermas and the categorical imperative.Anders Bordum - 2005 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 31 (7):851-874.
Board oversight of community benefit: An ethical imperative.Gerard Magill & Lawrence D. Prybil - 2011 - Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 21 (1):25-50.
Can Positive Duties be Derived from Kant’s Categorical Imperative?Michael Yudanin - 2015 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (3):595-614.
Kantian Right and the Categorical Imperative: Response to Willaschek.Michael Nance - 2012 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 20 (4):541-556.
Nietzsche’s Criticism of Kant’s Categorical Imperative: An Inquiry.Mohammad Anbarsooz & Sheyda Kaviani Tabriz - 2022 - Journal of Philosophical Theological Research 24 (4):127-145.


Added to PP

57 (#288,482)

6 months
9 (#355,594)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Minka Woermann
University of Stellenbosch

Citations of this work

Reconceptualising Whistleblowing in a Complex World.Julio A. Andrade - 2015 - Journal of Business Ethics 128 (2):321-335.
An Introduction to Engaged Phenomenology.Jessica Stanier - 2022 - Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 53 (3):226-242.

View all 10 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

Trust and antitrust.Annette Baier - 1986 - Ethics 96 (2):231-260.
Difference, Identity, and Complexity.Paul Cilliers - 2010 - Philosophy Today 54 (1):55-65.

Add more references