The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Harry Hillman Chartrand

April 2002

Jean Piaget                                                        


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Table of Contents

Section Index


        Introduction                                                                                  7

I - POSITION OF THE PROBLEMS                                                 9

1. Interdisciplinary collaboration in the                                     9

          natural sciences                             

2. Convergence of problems within the human sciences         12

      and their relative affinity with those of the life sciences

3. From problems to general processes: structures,                 14

          functions and meanings

4. Logic, law and signs                                                                  18



The pages which follow will be continually inspired by a certain structuralism - one which we have chiefly developed since they were written (see the little Que sais je, ‘Le Structuralisme’, 4th edn 1970), and which seems to us to be common to the sciences of man and to those which are often described as ‘exact and natural’.  In the areas of logico-mathematics and physico-chemistry it is essentially a question of operative structures, which are, however, always interdependent with a constructivism outside which they lose their explanatory meaning.  Starting at the level of biology and in all the sciences of man, structures involve a character of autoregulation in the cybernetic sense of the term, and we have become accustomed to describe this study of autoregulatory structures by the term ‘genetic structuralism’. In his book Marxism and Human Sciences, Goldmann writes: “We have . . . defined the positive method in human sciences, and more precisely the Marxist method, with the help of a term. . . (which we have borrowed from Jean Piaget) genetic structuralism”.  We should only like to note, in making this connexion, that, if there is an effective relationship between constructivist, dialectic and structuralist methods - so long as one does not separate structures from their function and their origin - it is that the positive character that one can find in certain forms of dialectic depends on resorting to phenomena of autoregulation which are the constituents of all formative development, and that these regulations are themselves the antecedents of the autoregulating (autoréglage) which is characteristic of the whole operative activity of the human subject in its logico-mathematical constructions as well as in its explanatory or causal models.

When we speak of ‘structures’, in the most general sense of the term (mathematical, etc), our definition will nevertheless remain limiting in the sense that it will not include any static ‘form’ at all.  We shall, indeed, give to this idea the three following characteristics: a structure implies first of all laws of totality distinct from those of its elements, which even permit complete disregard of those elements; secondly, its properties as a whole are laws of transformation as contrasted with any formal laws; thirdly, every structure implies an autoreglage in the double sense that its compositions do not go outside its own frontiers and that they make no appeal to anything outside such frontiers.  However, this does not prevent the structure from being able to divide itself into sub-structures which inherit its characteristics but at the same time show their own individual characteristics.  In its final state (as opposed to its eventual states of formation and construction) a structure constitutes therefore a ‘closed’ system, while at the same time it is able in its turn to integrate itself into new and wider structures, as a sub-structure.  This ‘closing’ assures its autonomy and its intrinsic powers.  When Lazarsfeld (Main Trends, Vol. I, p. 58) says: ‘One sometimes has the impression that Piaget thinks that wherever mathematical models are used they are by definition part of the structural movement’, he is mistaken about our ideas: in the field of mathematics we think that we remain faithful to the spirit of Bourbaki whose structuralism is highly specific and to the later researches on categories of McLane Eilenberg etc.


One last remark.  In Section I there will be found a defence of the idea that there is no hierarchy in the science of man, as one finds partially in the natural sciences (subordination of chemistry to physics or of biology to physico-chemistry, etc.).  R. Jakobson holds an opposite view and naturally sees in his own discipline the key science which makes certain the passage of biological information (code ADN) to the human sciences which linguistics would dominate in one way or another.  But he has hardly convinced us, and for two reasons.  Firstly because, as Chomsky has shown, language is subordinate to intelligence or its logic and not the other way round, as contemporary positivism used to believe.  However important psycholinguistics may be, especially in its psychogenetic aspects, it is thus impossible to subordinate the psychology of the cognitive functions to linguistics.  Secondly, the genetic code ADN is a system of indicated and not of indicating (except, naturally, for the biologist as a subject of knowledge) and the information that it transmits belongs to such a system.  To say that the theory of information forms in this case a fundamental interdisciplinary instrument (which does not go as far as a necessary imperialism) is one thing, but it certainly does not involve attributing these powers to linguistics itself, for information and language are far from being synonymous!  We shall, therefore, more than ever stand by our model of a circular, and not a linear, classification.

J. Piaget

1. In his famous work on the fundamentals of language (Ourkring sprogteoriens Grundlaeggelse, Copenhagen, 1943) Hjelmslev has, in effect, shown that a language necessarily postulates the presence of two plans not in accordance one with each other (a lack of univocal correspondence and also duality of nature between indicating and indicated (significant and signifié); this prevents us from classifying as languages structures like those of algebra, or the genetic code, etc.


Interdisciplinary Research

Interdisciplinary research can result from two sorts of inquiry, one relating to common structures or mechanisms and the other to common methods, although both sorts may of course be involved equally.  As an example of the former we could quote this or that analysis of linguistic structuralism leading to the question as to whether the elementary structures discovered have any relationship with logic or with the structures of intelligence; this kind of question has been revived in the works of N. Chomsky, 1 for, contrary to the ‘positivist’ view that logic can be reduced to language, this author returns to the traditional subordination of grammar to ‘reason’.  As an example of the latter sort of inquiry or the two combined, we could quote the many applications of ‘games theory’, initially peculiar to econometrics.  As this mathematical procedure can be applied to many psychological behaviours (problem solving, thresholds of perception, etc.) it was only natural that econometrists and psychologists should conduct joint research on economic behaviour itself.  This is the case with the works of R. D. Luce (Individual Choice Behavior, N.Y., Wiley & Sons, 1959) and S. Siegel and L. E. Fouraker (Bargaining and Group Decision Making, N.Y., McGraw Hill, 1960).

In this volume, special attention will be paid to common mechanisms.



1. Interdisciplinary collaboration in the natural sciences

In order to understand the situation of the social and human sciences it is essential to start by examining that of the natural sciences, for the differences separating these two situations, seen from the interdisciplinary point of view, are instructive and do not appear to be due solely to the fact that the natural sciences have a lead of a few centuries over the human sciences.

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Two differences, which still obtain but may diminish in the future, oppose the natural sciences to the nomothetic sciences of the manifold forms of human behaviour.  On the one hand, the former involve a hierarchical order, not of course as regards their importance, but as regards the filiation of ideas and their decreasing or increasing generality and complexity.  On the other hand, by their very development they give rise to all manner of problems of reduction or non-reduction of phenomena of the ‘higher’ degree to those of the ‘lower’ degree.  In view of these two circumstances, each specialist is obliged continually to look beyond the frontiers of his own discipline.

No doubt the natural sciences do not all follow a linear order and disciplines such as astronomy, with its many chapters, or geology, can only find their place on the lateral branches of the common trunk.  But there is a common trunk and, going from mathematics to mechanics, then to physics and from there to chemistry, biology and physiological psychology, we can certainly discover in the main a series of decreasing generality and increasing complexity in accordance with Auguste Comte’s famous criteria.  Without entering into the arguments of various kinds to which such a classification can give rise, we shall deduce from it but two facts beyond dispute.  The first is that one would seek in vain a similar ordering in the human sciences today, and so far no one has suggested such a thing.  One can hardly imagine placing linguistics before economics, or vice versa, for example. 2  The second is that each of the specialists in these natural sciences actually needs a fairly good grounding in the disciplines preceding his own in that hierarchical order and often even needs the collaboration of research workers belonging to these preceding sciences, which leads to the latter taking an interest in the problems raised by the following sciences.

Thus a physicist is constantly in need of mathematics, and theoretical physics, while lending itself to experimentation; is essentially mathematical in its technique.  Conversely, mathematicians are often concerned with physics and they are responsible for a ‘mathematical physics’ which, despite its name, is not experimental but solves by deduction some of the problems posed by physics.  Nor would a chemist go far without physics: theoretical chemistry is often called ‘physical chemistry’.  Similarly, a biologist needs chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc.  In all these fields, therefore, interdisciplinary research is becoming increasingly imperative by the nature of things, given the hierarchy of scales of phenomena, which corresponds to the hierarchical order of disciplines.  Whole sciences such as contemporary biophysics or biochemistry are the inevitable products of this situation.

But although even here we have a rather different picture from that of the human sciences, another contrast is even more striking.  In some of the social sciences there is certainly a tendency to reduce or, more precisely, annex, for the ‘reduction’ desired is generally in the direction of the science represented by the author.  Sociologists have been known to reduce everything to sociology, for example.  However, no economist has, to our knowledge, claimed that the facts studied by him can be reduced to linguistics (or vice versa).  Now in the natural sciences, by very reason of the hierarchical filiations to which we have just referred, the problem of reduction is constantly coming up, according to

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the order indicated above.  Consequently interdisciplinary trends receive a continual impetus.

This certainly does not mean that everyone is of the same opinion or that any problem of reduction actually leads to three possible solutions.  But these very possibilities result in a closer investigation of the problems so that all three lead to interdisciplinary discussions.  These solutions are: i) reduction from the ‘higher’ to the ‘lower’; 2) irreducibility of the phenomenon of the “higher’ level; and 3) reciprocal assimilation by partial reduction of the ‘higher’, but also by, enrichment of the ‘lower’ by the ‘higher’.

Many examples of these three kinds of solution are to be found.  For instance, Auguste Comte is known to have considered chemistry as necessarily separate from physics because the phenomenon of ‘affinity’ did not seem to him to be reducible to the known mechanisms.  History has shown, on the contrary, that reduction was possible, and even necessary.  On questions on which the current state of knowledge remains ‘open’, such as the relations between life and physico-chemistry, biologists are divided between the three trends.  Some are of the opinion that there can only be reduction to the physico-chemical phenomena known at present, and the new links discovered between unorganized and living bodies confirm them in this way of thinking.  Others are of the opinion that the vital phenomenon remains irreducible, but in order to defend this vitalism against the former tendency they are of course obliged to study possible connexions with chemical or physical facts just as closely.  Others again quote opinions such as that expressed by the physicist Ch. E. Guye in his Frontières entre la biologie et Ia physico-chimie.  According to this profound author, reductions on the physical terrain itself consist almost always in the subordination of the simple to the complex, as well as the converse, in a finally reciprocal co-ordination, so that if a physico-chemical explanation of life can be expected, our present physico-chemistry will gain new properties thereby, thus becoming more ‘general’ instead of being applied exclusively to more and more special fields.

Analysis of such thought-processes in the development of explanations - those which have already proved acceptable and also those which are anticipated - is very instructive for our purposes.  On the one hand, it shows the reasons for interdisciplinary collaboration in branches where it has become current practice and where its usefulness needs no further proof.  But on the other hand, it overcomes at the outset any prejudices we might have and it dispels the belief that any connexion going beyond the frontiers of our own discipline is likely to lead to exaggerated reductions and to a weakening of the specific character of the phenomenon under study.  In particular, when we realize that ‘it is the scale which gives rise to the phenomenon’ - a fact fully brought home by the same physicist cited above - relationships established between processes on different scales both explain very well and respect the specific aspects.  The first half of this century witnessed a series of partly sterile arguments between the two human sciences best fitted to co-ordinate their findings - psychology and sociology.  We shall see, in section 16 and elsewhere, how, in this particular matter, the method of establishing mutual relationships has made it possible to dismiss a

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number of false problems and, on certain points, achieve an as yet very small measure of collaboration.

As for the hierarchies which might be established between the human sciences, this of course remains an open question so long as the central problem of sociology, that of society considered as a whole and the relations between the sub-systems and the whole system, is still not solved.  Meanwhile, each discipline employs parameters which are strategic variables for other disciplines, and this open ups a vast field of research for interdisciplinary collaboration; but as there is no linear breakdown of the system into sub-systems, collaboration is only too often reduced to mere juxtaposition.  On the other hand, it is very likely that new light will be thrown on the prob1em of the hierarchy of scales of phenomena and the related studies by the future progress of two essentially synthetic disciplines and their repercussions on the question of infrastructures and superstructures.  These are ethnology, the multidimensional character of which is manifest, and history, regarded not as the mere reconstitution of events, but as interdisciplinary research dealing with the diachronic aspects of each of the fields studied by the various human sciences.  As these various aspects are of course interdependent, it can be hoped that, when history eventually achieves nomothetic status, its lessons, combined with those of ethnology and sociology in general, will bring us nearer to solutions of the central problem of relations between the sub-systems.  The future of interdisciplinary research in the human sciences (with or without hierarchy) depends not only on these solutions, but on many internal questions peculiar to the various disciplines (macro- and micro-economics, etc.).


2. Convergence of problems within the human sciences and their relative affinity with those of the life sciences

A number of circumstances explains why interdisciplinary research in the social and human sciences, although generally recognized as having a great future is not taken nearly so far as in the natural sciences.  We have just had the two main and basic reasons.  But to these must be added at least two kinds of contingent circumstances which have, even if contingent, played an undisputed historic role.  One is the tragic splitting up of courses among university faculties which are more and more cut off from each other, or even among sections within these faculties, but watertight nonetheless.  Whereas in a science faculty the training of any specialist requires a more or less extensive culture, a psychologist may know nothing about linguistics, economics, or even sociology.  If an economist is trained in a law school, he may be completely ignorant of linguistics, psychology, etc.  Whereas some universities, such as that of Amsterdam, for instance, in an effort to combat this partitioning, have placed philosophy in an inter-faculty institute so as to re-establish contact between it and the natural and social sciences, nothing similar yet exists, to our knowledge, to co-ordinate the disciplines with which we shall be dealing here.

The second factor of a general nature which has weighed on the human scien-


ces in the past is the idea that going over the bounds of one’s own discipline implies a synthesis and that the discipline specializing in synthesis, if any can be said to do so (and the very fact of expressing oneself in this way shows the weakness of such an assumption), is no other than philosophy itself.  Now philosophy certainly includes a position of synthesis, which relates, however, to the co-ordination of all human values, and not to the co-ordination of knowledge alone. Consequently if disciplines such as scientific psychology or sociology have after much difficulty achieved their independence by opposing experimental or statistical test methods to methods of abstract reasoning, it is not in order to return to these methods when interdisciplinary links imposed by the facts and not by the desire for systematization are involved.

Nevertheless, if we want to have an idea of the future of interdisciplinary research between sciences all of which have their tried methods of approach and testing, but are not yet accustomed by tradition to what is now current practice in the natural sciences, the best course is perhaps to begin by comparing their problems.

Here we are immediately struck by three fundamental facts: firstly, the convergence of certain general problems, which are to be found in all the sectors of our huge field; secondly, the fact that these general problems have little connexion with those of the inorganic world, but do link fairly directly will certain central questions of the life sciences; thirdly, that in order to solve these problems, we must have recourse to certain cardinal ideas which actually rest on common mechanisms.  If all this is true, we see immediately to what extent the study of these common mechanisms demands, and will increasingly demand, a concerted interdisciplinary effort which should be encouraged in every way, among the human sciences of course, but sometimes also in relation to biology.

First of all, confining ourselves to the most general problems, there is little doubt that the three questions most central and most specific of the biological sciences (for they have little significance on the physico-chemical level) are: 1) that of the development or evolution in the sense of gradual production of organized forms with qualitative transformations at different stages; 2) that of organization in its balanced or synchronic forms; and 3) that of the exchanges between the organism and its environment (physical environment and other organisms).  In other words, the three cardinal ideas expressing the principal facts to be explained are: 1) that of the production of new structures; 2) that of equilibrium, but in the sense of regulation and self-regulation (and not merely the balance of forces); and 3) that of exchange, in the sense of material exchange, but equally (for this is also the language of contemporary biologists) 3 the exchange of information.

It is worth noting that the study of these central problems is conducted more and more in the light of three instrumental methods inspired more or less directly by the human sciences, or in any case by human activities.  Although there is no common semantic correspondence between these problems and methods (each method helps to solve each problem), those methods are games or decision theories (Waddington refers in this connexion to the ‘strategy of

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genes’), information theory in general, and cybernetics to the extent that it concerns communication, guidance or control.

This being the case, it is evident that these three problems of transformation (particularly diachronic transformations), balancing and exchanges are also the three principal questions encountered in all the human sciences.  Not only are they encountered in very specific forms in each of those sciences, but also the relations between the diachronic and the synchronic dimension differ very significantly according to the type of phenomenon studied: structural linguistics has thus revealed, since F. de Saussure, that the meaning of words at a given moment in history depends much more on the total system of the language seen from the standpoint of its synchronic balance than on its etymology or its history.  In the psychological development of an individual, on the contrary, the final balance of the structures of the mind, for instance, depends much more on the balancing process which characterizes the whole of its previous development.  Economic history, for its part, when it studies the price of wool on the London market in the thirteenth century or that of pepper in Lisbon in the sixteenth, does not see an explanation of the prices of these commodities on the same markets today, but attempts to throw light on these examples from history by recourse to the synchronic dimension, which predominates in questions of values. 4  On the other hand, problems of economic structure, as opposed to economic situations, depend upon another kind of relationship between the diachronic and the synchronic.  Exchange problems, too, whether they be exchanges with the environment in physical or mental production or exchanges between individuals, are common to all the human sciences.  And they combine in very different ways with the various processes - diachronic or evolutionary and synchronic or self-controlling.

This convergence of problems does not of course mean that the human sciences can be reduced to the life sciences.  The former remain specific because of the existence of cultures transmitted socially and involving an inextricable complex of factors.  But if this specificity in itself raises a question, this is no reason for not starting with common problems, all the more since, as we shall see, their solutions are neither uniform, which would render their terms simply trivial, nor uniformly different from one discipline to another, which would deprive their comparison of interest, but are to be differentiated from one type of structure or phenomenon to another, which means on the contrary that interdisciplinary research is essential.


3. From problems to general processes: structures, functions and meanings

The first question to be discussed in connexion with the principal problems which have just been mentioned is that of the criterion for this choice and consequently of its exhaustive or arbitrary nature.  We have a striking example to guide us in this connexion: that of the determination of elementary,structures (so-called ‘mother-structures’) by the Bourbaki school in mathematics.  In order to determine these fundamental structures, from which all the others are supposed to derive by combination or differentiation, these well-known authors,


although working in a purely deductive science the exactitude of which is universally recognized, state that the only method they could follow was inductive and not a priori.  It was by simple procedures of systematic comparison (creation of isomorphisms) and regressive analysis that they arrived at three structures which could not be reduced to one another, it remaining an open question whether or not further structures should one day be added.  In this particular case one could not a fortiori proceed differently.  This simply means that the other central ideas which might be added to those of production of structures, balancing and exchange, seem in the present state of affairs to be reducible to them.  For instance, the idea of ‘direction’, which is so important (in biology, in developmental psychology, etc.) appears to be the result of a compromise between the production of structures and their gradual balancing, when the situations are sufficiently analysed. 5

This being the case, let us see what our three ideas stand for.  First of all, when we compare the use of the term ‘structure’ in the various natural and human sciences 6 we find the following characteristics.  Structure is, in the first place, a system of transformations having its law, as a system, these therefore being distinct from the properties of the elements.  In the second place these transformations have a self-regulating device in the sense that no new element engendered by their operation breaks the boundaries of the system (the addition of two numbers still gives a number, etc.) and that the transformations of the system do not involve elements outside it.  In the third place, the system may have sub-systems by differentiation from the total system (for example, by a limitation of the transformations making it possible to leave this or that character constant, etc.) and there may be some transformations from one sub-system to another.

However, from the standpoint of the various disciplines, two kinds of structure must immediately be distinguished.  The first are completed, because the way in which they are produced comes under the head of inventive deduction or axiomatic decision (logico-mathematical structures) or physical causality (for example, ‘group’ structures in mechanics, etc.), or because these structures constitute the form of final or momentarily stable equilibrium of a previous mental development (structures of the mind) or social development (juridical structures, etc.).  The second, on the contrary, are in the process of constitution or reconstitution; the ways in which these structures are produced come under the head of vital processes (biological structures) or a spontaneous or ‘natural’ human genesis (as opposed to formalizations): mental or social structures in the formative stage, etc.

The preceding definition can be applied forthwith to the former of these two categories, for we are concerned here with completed structures, hence structures closed in on themselves.  In this case the whole ‘production’ of the structure becomes one with its internal transformations, without there being any necessity for distinguishing formation and transformation, since a completed structure is at the same time structured and indefinitely ‘structuring.  In the second place, the self-regulating system of the structure accounts for its ‘balance’, its stability being due to the laws governing that structure, or to a set

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of ‘norms’.  There is thus no need to distinguish structures and functions (in the biological and not the mathematical sense of the term), for the functioning of the structure is reduced to its internal transformations.  In the third place, there are no ‘exchanges’, except those of an internal nature, which take the form of possible (and mutual) transitions between one sub-structure and another.

On the contrary, in the case of structures in the formative stage or in the process of continual reconstitution (as with metabolism in biology) or of momentary reconstitution, the three characteristics - production, balance and exchanges - appear in appreciably different aspects, although the forms just described may be regarded as the extremes of those with which we shall be concerned, the essential distinction between the two being that the former correspond to a stable completion and the latter to processes or developments.

In the first place, the production of the structure appears in two forms, the second being the end-result of the first: a formation and transformations.  Consequently the organism, the thinking being or the social group, builders of structures, are only centres of functioning (or structuration) and not completed structures containing all possible structures by a sort of ‘pre-formation’. 7   In other words, a distinction should be drawn in this formative process between the function as a ‘structuring’ activity and the structure as a structured result.

In the second place, in the case of structures in the formative stage, the self-regulating system can no longer be reduced to a set of rules or norms characterizing the completed structure: it consists of a system of regulation or self-regulation, with correction of errors, after the event, and not the ‘pre-correction’ to be found in the final system (where self-regulation, moreover, marks the extreme of the self-regulation which functions during the formative stages).

Lastly, in the case of structures in the process of constitution or continual reconstitution (as with biological structures), exchange. is no longer limited to internal reciprocities, as is the case between the sub-structures of a completed structure, but involves a considerable proportion of exchange with the outside, to enable these structures to obtain the supplies necessary for their functioning.  This is so with structures in the formative stage, as regards the development of the intelligence, when the subject must constantly have recourse to trial and error (even in the case of specifically logico-mathematical experiments, when the information is drawn not from the objects as such but from the actions exerted upon them).  This is especially so with biological structures, which are elaborated solely by constant exchanges with the environment, by means of those mechanisms of assimilation of the environment to the organism and adjustment of the latter to the former which constitute the transition from organic life to behaviour and even mental life.

A living structure, as Bertalanffy has shown, constitutes an ‘open’ system in the sense that it is preserved through a continual flow of exchanges with the outside world.  Nevertheless, the system does have a cycle closing in on itself in that its components are maintained by interaction while being fed from outside.  Such a structure can be described statically since it is preserved despite its perpetual activity, but as a rule it is dynamic since it constitutes the more or less stable form of continual transformations.


Considered from the standpoint of its activity, therefore, an ‘organized’ structure has a way of functioning which is the expression of the transformations characteristic of it.  The word ‘function’ is usually applied to the role (sector of activity or sector of functioning) played by a sub-structure in the functioning of the total structure and, by extension, the action of the total functioning on that of the sub-structures.

Any functioning involves production, exchange and balancing, that is, it continually presupposes decisions or choices, information and regulation.  The result is that, even in the biological field as such, the very ideas of structure and function carry with them the derived ideas of functional utility or value and meaning.

In the first place, any function or functioning involves choices or selections among the internal or external’ elements.  Consequently an element can be said to be useful when it enters as a component into the cycle of the structure, and harmful if it threatens to interrupt the continuity of the cycle.  But two sorts of functional utility or ‘value’ must be distinguished:

1. Primary utility, that is, the utility of an internal or external element (production or exchange) in relation to the structure concerned, but insofar as this element has a qualitative effect on the production or preservation of the structure as an organized form; for example, the utility of a food containing calcium for bone preservation or the utility of a group of genes in a genetic recombination likely to survive.

2. Secondary utility: related to the cost or gain stemming from the element which is useful in sense 1: cost of a transformation, of an exchange, etc., in its functioning.

Consequently this distinction refers, on the one hand, to the relational or formal aspect of the structures, hence to the structural aspect as such, and, on the other hand, to the energetic aspect of the functioning.  These two aspects are of course inseparable, for there is no structure without functioning, and vice versa.  But they are different, for in any production and in any exchange it is necessary to distinguish a) what must be produced or what must be acquired or exchanged, having regard to the structures to be maintained or built up; and b) what that production or exchange costs or earns having regard to the energy available.

Yet another distinction should be made as we review these general principles of biology capable of serving as a background for the analysis of the common mechanisms peculiar to the various human sciences.  This distinction relates to the role of information, the latter being necessary for production, as it is for exchanges and control:

1. Information can be immediate, when a stimulus identified at once proyokes a response forthwith, which means that spatio-temporal distance is abolished.

2. Information can, on the contrary, be mediate if there is an encoding in accordance with a fixed code and a decoding which occurs later (which means that spatio-temporal distance is not zero).  The genetic information stored in germinal materials (deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, whose code is made up of sequences, as Watson and Crick discovered in 1953) is described in this way.

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Special mention should be made of the ‘signals’ (indices significatifs) which release instinctive behaviour (Lorenz, Tinbergen, Grassé and others).

It is therefore essential to take into account the idea of communication in addition to the structures and values of functioning, insofar as it is possible that a given element cannot be integrated as such, at least at once, in an existing structure or may have no direct or immediate functional value, but can constitute the representative or announcer of subsequent structurations or functioning.  Two cases have then to be distinguished: a) the representative is not recognized as such by the organism, in other words, it does not affect behaviour, but participates in a kind of storage or reserve of information which is used later - it is in this sense that we speak of genetic information etc.; or the transmission of information which characterizes the feedback as opposed to the main energetic process the adjustment of which is controlled by the feedback; b) this representative is used in ‘behaviour’ and thus becomes a signalling stimulus, etc. This brings us to the threshold of the systems of messages affecting human behaviour.

In all, we thus have before us three broad categories of ideas: structures or forms of organization; functions, sources of qualitative or energetic values; and messages.  All three of course give rise to problems which may be diachronic - problems of evolution and construction - or synchronic - problems of balance and control, or problems of exchanges with the environment - but obviously the relations between the diachronic and the synchronic dimensions cannot be the same, according as to whether structures, functional utilities or messages are in question.

What should be done in order to enter upon the analysis of the common mechanisms considered by the various human sciences is thus to translate this general theory into terms of human behaviour.  Here a preliminary remark is called for.  The production, regulation or exchange which occurs in the forms we have just reviewed may be organic as much as mental or intra-physic, and we started speaking of the organic as our initial frame of reference.  Although most of the human sciences deal with human behaviour without attempting to delimit in detail what is conscious and what is unconscious, the disciplines in which an explicit relationship between mind and body can continually give rise to problems, as in psychology, have moved in the direction of parallelism and isomorphism.  We can interpret the ‘psycho-physiological parallelism’ in terms of a more general isomorphism between causality, the field of application of which is actually restricted to matter, and implication in the broad sense, which is the sui generis relation uniting messages peculiar to the conscious state.  The few general ideas referred to in the present section should be viewed in terms of conscious implications.


4. Laws, Values, and Signs

While all the human sciences deal with production, regulation and exchange and all use for this purpose the ideas of structure, functional utility and meaning envisaged diachronically and synchronically by turns, these ideas appear in


different forms according as the researcher takes a theoretical or abstract standpoint, or again takes into account the behaviour of the subjects and even the way in which that behaviour impacts upon their minds.  From the first of these two standpoints the specialist will seek the most objective language to describe structures.  This he will do in varying terms but as a rule they will be capable of formalization or of mathematical expression.  For instance, he will describe kinship structures in terms of algebraic systems, in the same way as Levi-Strauss; transformational grammars in terms of monoids, in the same way as Chomsky; or micro- and macro-economic structures in terms of contingency or cybernetic diagrams, etc.  However, none of all this directly affects the mind of the subject.

On the contrary, in the psychological research which we are pursuing concerning the development of the intelligence in the child and the adolescent, we also try of course to translate into abstract language the structures of intellectual operations evidenced by the behaviour of the subjects, and we use for this purpose various logico-mathematical structures coming under the head of ‘groups’, ‘networks’ and ‘groupings’; but we also try to discover the form these structures take in the minds of the subjects, 8  insofar as their reasoning is expressed in words and is accompanied by various intentional justifications: what we discover is of course no longer an abstract structure but a set of intellectual rules or norms which take the form of impressions of ‘logical necessity’, etc.  When a sociologist of law investigates why, a legal system (formalizable or codifiable as a ‘pure’ normativist construction in the manner of Kelsen), is ‘recognized’ as valid by the subjects of laws, he is confronted with a series of bilateral or multilateral relations such as that a ‘right’ for some corresponds to an ‘obligation’ for others, etc., and what these facts imply is in turn expressed in terms of specific rules.  When a logician axiomatizes a certain number of operations with the consequences which derive from them, he does not have to pay the slightest attention to the subject who performs them.  But he may perfectly well concern himself with the normative aspect of the connexions he is manipulating and may even end by constructing, with Ziembinski, Weinberger, Peklov, Prior and others, a logic of ‘norms’ 9 (and even, with Weinberger, applying it to the legal norms). 10  Likewise, linguistic structures are translated in the consciousness of subjects by rules of grammar, even if this translation is inadequate, as indeed are many other translations (through realization) of structures in the form of rules.

The general and interdisciplinary problems that are going to arise in this connexion (see sections 5 to 9 below) now become evident at once: comparison of various types of structures, comparison of systems of rules (depending on whether these systems come close to the methods of logical composition or diverge from them in the direction of simple constraints or miscellaneous dominance), comparison of various translations or realizations of structures in the form of rules (adequate or inadequate, and why), etc.

Another major system of notions concerning the actual experiences of individuals in their mental life or in their collective relations is the system of values or realization of functional utility which we mentioned in section 3 above.  The re-

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markable thing, showing once more the profound unity of reactions of all living beings in the social and human as well as the biological spheres, is that the distinction between primary utility or utility relative to the qualitative aspects of production or of the conservation of structures, and secondary utility or that relative to the energetics of functioning, recurs in the sphere of experienced values in the form of what we shall call ‘values of finality’ and ‘values of yield’.

Values of finality include, in particular, normative values which are determined by rules: a moral value such as those which, in all human societies, distinguish actions judged to be good from those judged to be bad or indifferent, refers of necessity to a system of rules.  The same applies a fortiori to legal values.  In the sphere of individual or collective representations, judgements are valorized as true or false (bivalent values) or true, false, or plausible but not yet determinable, etc. (trivalent or polyvalent values) in terms of the accepted rules.  Notions are elaborated, accepted or rejected by virtue of multiple value judgements and, while constituting structures, are constantly valorized, but once again in terms of overall normative structures.  Aesthetic values do not depend on rules as imperative as these, but nevertheless refer to more or less regulated structures.  On a more individual level, a subject’s interest in a particular group of objects or a particular kind of work in the form of miscellaneous finalities may be remote from any normative structure and depend solely on regulations, but may also be organized according to more or less stable scales of values.

However, there also exist values of yield linked with the costs and profits of functioning.  It may be argued that economic and even praxeological values are all more or less hedged around by legal norms: an individual who does not pay his debts is proceeded against and another who steals, i.e. practises what Sageret jocularly described as the most economical form of conduct (maximum of profit with minimum of expense), is punished by law.  But the definition of the frontiers between what is perrmitted and what is forbidden is one thing and the actual determination of a value by a norm is another.  Economic value obeys its own laws which legal rules cannot determine and which do not in themselves lay down any obligation (a norm is recognizable by an obligation which may be honoured or violated, as opposed to a causal determinism which constrains but does not ‘oblige’ in this normative sense).  Economic value is of course inseparable from all kinds of values of finality and normative values; likewise, the internal praxeology of an organism or of individual behaviour (that ‘economy’ which certain psychologists hold to be the principle of elementary affectivity) is connected with many questions of structure.  But the general problems of cost and profit are quite distinct from those raised by other forms of evaluation and cannot but lead to multiple interdisciplinary research, as the numerous and increasingly widespread applications of the theory of games demonstrate.

Thirdly, in all spheres of human behaviour there are systems of meanings or messages, the essential part of which is studied by linguistics within the collective system of language.  But while language has played a role of the first importance in human societies by the oral and written transmission of values and rules of every kind, it does not constitute the only system of signs and especially of symbols belonging to the mechanism of messages.  Without mentioning the


language of animals (bees, etc.), which raises all kinds of problems of comparison, it should be remembered that the appearance of representation in individual development is not due to language alone but to a much wider semeiotic function also including symbolic play, mental image, drawing and all forms of deferred and interiorized imitation (the latter constituting the transitional term between sensori-motor functions and representational functions).  Further, language - which constitutes, so to speak, a system of messages to the power of one - is accompanied in collective life by systems to the power of two, such as myths which are simultaneously symbol and semantic characters carried by verbal or graphic sign-vehicles.  Thus general semeiology gives rise to interdisciplinary problems of the broadest kind.



1. See N. CHOMSKY, Cartesian Linguistics, London, 1966.

2. It is worth mentioning, though, that F. de Saussure took inspiration from economic doctrines of equilibrium when founding his synchronic structuralism.  But he might just as easily have based his distinctions on that between organ and function in biology.

3. For instance, Schmalhausen.

4. In this connexion cf. J. F. BERGIER and L. SOLARI, Pour une méthodologie des sciences economiques, Geneva, Librairie de l’Université, 1965, p. 15, where J. F. Bergier refers to ‘a verification of the mechanisms of price formation insofar as these are timeless and imperative’, an opinion on which Chapter IV shows that economists are not always in agreement.

5. On the contrary, it is clear that different degrees and types of balancing or controls giving a direction must be distinguished.  Soviet authors, while emphasizing that the mechanisms of retroaction are an indispensable attribute of the higher degrees of organization of structures, maintain that ‘plan regulators’ are necessarily accompanied by ‘regulators of statistical structure’, which are not identical with them (see Y. A. LEVADA, ‘Knowledge and Direction in Social Processes’, Voprosy filosofli 5, 1956).

As for the problems of typology in general, they are studied closely in economics and linguistics, less effectively in psychology and sociology But it is doubtful whether they could lead to interdisciplinary research at the present time (except in economics and sociology), for the ‘types’ differ considerably from one field to another.

6. For this comparison see J. PIAGET, Le structuralisme, Paris, P.U.F., 1968, translation London, 1971.

7. If the human subject or the social group were more than centres of functioning, if they constituted a ‘structure of all the structures’ (which is impossible both because of the known categorical antinomies and because of the theorems on the limits of formalization), they would merge with the ‘transcendental subject’ of a priori idealism.

8. This does not mean, as just stated, that consciousness is cause, since it remains parallel to its physiological concomitants; but it involves systems of meanings mutually connected by implications, in isomorphism with the sequences of neurological causality.

9. B. PEKLOV, ‘Ueber Norminferenzen’, Logique et Analyse 28, 1964, pp. 203—211.

10. O. WEINBERGER, ‘Einige Betrachtungen Uber die Rechtnorm vom Standpunkt des Logik und der Semantik’, Logique et Analyse 28, 1964, pp. 212—232.


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