Dear Terry and colleagues,

(...) , there cannot be interminable regress of this displacement to establish these norms. At some point normativity requires ontological grounding where the grounded normative relation is the preservation of the systemic physical properties that produce the norm-preserving dynamic.
I have problems with the words "ontological" and "physical" here, whereas I agree with the need of grounding the normative. Among human beings, this grounding of subjective normativity can be found in intersubjectivity. Whereas the subjective remains cogitans (in doubt), the intersubjective can be considered as cogitatum (the thing about which one remains in doubt).

For Descartes this cogitatum is the Other of the Cogito. The Cogito knows itself to be incomplete, and to be distinguished from what transcends it, the Transcendental or, in Descartes' terminology, God. (This is the ontological proof of God's presence. Kant showed that this proof does not hold: God cannot be proven to exist.) Husserl (1929) steps in on this point in the Cartesian Meditations: the cogitatum which transcends us is intersubjectivity. It is not physical. The physical is res extensa, whereas this remains res cogitans. It cannot be retrieved, but one has reflexive access to it.

Interestingly, this philosophy provides Luhmann's point of departure. The intersubjective can be operationalized as (interhuman) communication. The codes in the communication can relatively be stabilized. One can use the metaphor of eigenvectors of a communication matrix. They remain our constructs, but they guide the communication. (Luhmann uses "eigenvalues", but that is a misunderstanding.) Using Parsons' idea of symbolic generalization of the codes of communication, one can continue this metaphor and consider other than the first eigenvector as "functional differentiations" which enable the communication to process more complexity. The model is derived from the Trias Politica: problems can be solved in one of the branches or the other. The normativity of the judiciary is different from the normativity of the legislative branch, but they both ground the normativity that guides us.

The sciences are then a way of communication; namely, scholarly communication about rationalized expectations. Scholarly communication is different from, for example, political communication. An agent ("consciousness" in Luhmann's terminology) recombines reflexively and has to integrate because of one's contingency. The transcendental grounding is in the communication; it remains uncertain. Fortunately, because this implies that it can be reconstructed (by us albeit not as individuals).

A non-human does not know oneself to be contingent. Lots of things follow from this; for example, that the non-human does not have access to our intersubjectivity as systems of expectations.


Loet Leydesdorff

Professor emeritus, University of Amsterdam
Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) <>; Associate Faculty, SPRU, <>University of Sussex;

Guest Professor Zhejiang Univ. <>, Hangzhou; Visiting Professor, ISTIC, <>Beijing;

Visiting Fellow, Birkbeck <>, University of London;

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