Science has lost its ethical imperatives as it moved away from a science of ought to a science of is. Subsequently, it might have answers for how we can address global challenges, such as climate change and poverty, but not why we should. This supposedly neutral stance leaves it to politics and religions (in the sense of non-scientific fields of social engagement) to fill in the values. The problem is that through this concession, science implicitly acknowledges that it is not of universal relevance. This leaves the ethics embodied in current economic and legal systems fundamentally unchallenged.  This split into scientific and non-scientific domains of existence is rather odd. One would assume that science to fulfill is claim for universal validity is equally interested in the domains of matter as well as that of ideas. Objective knowledge, as Karl Popper calls for, might be less easily attainable in the world of ideas and within the confines of scientific idealism. However, if ideas, values and meaning have equal claim to be drives of change in the sense of causation, aspiring to identify objective knowledge about the world of ideas and of meaning is necessary. If the sciences and disciplines aim to give objectively valid reasons for our actions (and for how to address global challenges), we need to elevate the study of meaning beyond the cultural, disciplinary and ideational delineations. As scientists we need to bridge between the ideological divides, which separate the what and how from the why and what for in the struggle to solve complex global challenges. We need to come to a meta understanding of values and meaning equal to objective knowledge about the material world. But differently than in the material world this meta-understanding needs to incorporate individual and subjective experiences as cornerstones of objectivity on a meta-level. We need a science of meaning; one that can scientifically answer Kant’s third question of “what may we hope for”. Furthermore, if science needs to be able to deal with the complex challenges that’s the world is currently facing, it needs to be able to adapt complex solutions that also reflect the experiential world of human society, culture, and religion. The question of meaning and hope is thereby inextricably connected with the application of complex solutions to solve global complex challenges.

Andrej Zwitter is Director, Cyan Centre on Climate Change Adaptation / Professor, Department of Governance and Innovation, University of Groningen.

Takuo Dome is Advisor to the President / Director, Social Solution Initiative / Professor, Graduate School of Economics, Osaka University.

With contributions of Brendan Barrett, Jacques Buith, Yasuo Deguchi, Takuo Dome, Michael Hoelzl, Michihiro Kita, Michael Mulqueen, Clíona Saidléar, Chihiro Takayama, Indira van der Zande and Andrej Zwitter.



The physical books of the University of Groningen Press are distributed in collaboration with Uitgeverij kleine Uil.

The Open Access editions are available University of Groningen Press

ISBN ePDF: 9789403430355
DOI 10.21827/648c59a2087f2

Meta Science – Towards a Science of Meaning and Complex Solutions

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