The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Harry Hillman Chartrand

April 2002

Jean Piaget


DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH - Section III Functioning and Values

  APA Homepage

Table of Contents

Section Index


III - FUNCTIONING AND VALUES                                                                                        35

10. Functioning and functions. Affectivity and praxeology                                             36

11. Classification of Values                                                                                                    40

12. Regulations and operations relative to valorizations of finality                              43

13. Cybernetic circuits and economic adjustments                                                            46

14. Synchronic and diachronic problems in the sphere of function and value            49



In all the sciences of life and of man there has always been opposition between so-called functionalist trends and structuralist trends.  In biology Lamarck


maintained long ago that ‘the function creates the organ’, whereas the neo-Darwinian theory of fortuitous variations and of selection after the event tended to deprive Lamarck’s formulation of any significant content; but the contemporary views; according to which the phenotype is a ‘response’ of the genome to the tensions of the environment; tend to go beyond both terms of the alternative by creating a new synthesis.  In the psychological and social disciplines the conflict is equally general between a functionalism some of whose adherents see in the ‘structures underlying the observables’ no more than simple abstractions created by theoreticians, and a structuralism some of whose adepts regard the functional aspects of behaviour as secondary characteristics without explicative meaning.  It is therefore a major interdisciplinary problem to identify the common mechanisms which might be capable of co-ordinating functions and structures in all human behaviour.  This problem naturally leads to that of utility or values as objective or subjective indices of functioning, and also to the problem of the possibility of a general theory of values based not on a priori reflection but on possible convergences that may emerge from mutual connexions between research in all our fields.


10. Functioning and functions. Affectivity and praxeology

We must first ask ourselves whether the conflicts between functionalism and structuralism do not in part stem from too narrow a conception of structures which emphasises only their characteristics of totality and internal transformations but overlooks their essential property of self-adjustment.  For if this property is neglected, the structure takes on a static aspect which devalorizes functioning, thus giving the impression that with structure one has established a kind of permanent ‘entity’ related to the unchangeable properties of the human spirit or of society in general.  Hence the scepticism of functionalists vis-à-vis such a hypothesis, which can in effect lead to anti-functionalism.

But if one distinguishes between formal or formalized structures, whose adjustment is due to the axioms conferred upon them by theoreticians, and real structures which exist independently from theory, it is necessary to ask how structures are conserved and how they act, which comes down to raising the question of their functioning.  Their self-adjustment can in some cases be assured by rules or norms, as we have seen under II, but then these rules already represent a function, that of maintaining the integrity of the structure by a system of constraints or obligations.  On the other hand it may be that the structure is not completed; in its formative stages its self-adjustment will of course as yet imply not a system of rules but a self-regulation whose functioning may involve multiple variants.  In particular it may happen that a structure is not capable of ‘closure’ but depends on continual exchanges with the exterior (see section 3).  It is in such situations that functions are distinct from structures and that functionalist analysis becomes necessary to such a point- that its partisans sometimes forget that it is difficult to conceive of functions without organs or overall structure.

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Thus the problem of accurately defining the relations between structures and functions is a general one in the human sciences and requires constant interdisciplinary help.  In this connexion we should recall how K. Lewin, whose social psychology is the product of Gestaltist structuralism, came to describe the actual needs in that language and how W. Köhler, his teacher, wrote a whole work on ‘the place of values in a world of facts’.  Let us also recall how T. Parsons called his method in sociology ‘structural-functional’, considering structure to be the stable arrangement of the elements of a social system unaffected by fluctuations imposed from outside, and function as occurring in the adaptations of structure to situations exterior to it. 21  In economics, J. Tinbergen sees structure as ‘the consideration of not immediately observable characteristics concerning the manner in which the economy reacts to certain changes’.  These characteristics, expressed in terms of econometric coefficients, give on the one hand an architectural picture of the economy but, on the other hand, indicate the ways in which it reacts to certain variations; thus we find once again that structure is accompanied by functions because it is capable of ‘reactions’.

If the structuralism of Levi-Strauss leads to a certain devalorization of functionalism, that is essentially due to the fact that genetic and historical factors are, so to speak, bound to be overlooked when one is studying societies whose past is unknown and doubtless lost without recall.  On the other hand it is interesting to note that the ‘neo-functionalism’ of young American sociologists such as A. W. Gouldner and P. M. Blau is by no means closed to structuralist perspectives.  Thus both these authors endeavour to clarify the relations between sub-systems and system, and to re-examine the classical problem of social stratification, basing their analyses, however, on the central notion of ‘reciprocity’ in the one case and on that of elementary ‘exchanges’ in the other.  It seems clear that such viewpoints in no way conflict (quite the reverse) with what we described in section 5 as relational structuralism, their specific nature being that they do not proceed from totalities in order to come down to constituent relations but from the latter in order to illuminate the functioning of sub-systems.

Generally speaking one may (cf. section 3) consider functioning as the structuring activity whose structure constitutes the result or the organized event.  In the case of a completed structure functioning is identical with those transformations which are real among all those which are possible, and which characterize the system as such.  As to function, the term can be used to designate the particular role played by a specific transformation relative to that entire set of transformations (the two meanings, biological and mathematical, 22 of the word ‘function’ then tend to become interchangeable).  But in the case of a structure in process of formation or of development, or generally not ‘closed’, where for that reason self-adjustment so far consists only in regulations and where exchanges are open to the exterior, functioning is formative and not merely transformative and functions correspond to utilities (or values) of various kinds depending on the roles of conservation, reinforcement or perturbation which the functioning of sub-systems may play in relation to the total system, or vice versa.

It is from this viewpoint, among others, that an interdisciplinary model


such as that of the theory of ‘general systems’ is of particular value (a system being defined as a complex of elements in non-contingent interaction).  In his works on scientific thought A. N. Whitehead already supported the notion that interpretations usually denounced as being ‘mechanical’ could not deal exhaustively with the analysis of the real and that the concepts of organism or organization have specific characteristics which ought to be used.  Proceeding from biology (but also from a Gestalt-oriented psychological view), L. von Bertalanffy studied this problem by seeking to derive from this ‘organicism’ certain general models whose interest is not merely biological (theory of ‘open’ systems and their specific thermodynamics) but also extends to a certain number of the human sciences insofar as it is possible to generalize the notions of homeostasis (inter alia for the theory of needs), differentiation, stratification, etc. 23  Experiments in the mathematical analysis of such structures having an ‘organized complexity’, with which A. Rapoport and others have been associated, rapidly showed the convergence between some of these anticipations and N. Wiener’s 24 cybernetics, especially in the field of ‘equifinality’ (arrival at final states which are relatively independent of initial conditions).  But the central problem remains that of relations between sub-systems and the total system when (and this is the general case of structures not yet reducible to algebraic forms) the composition of the whole is not additive or linear.

To return to functions, utility or values, it therefore seems evident that to the extent that the structures under consideration are in process of development (or of regression), questions of functioning are at the heart of the problems.  Any genetic process which results in structures undoubtedly consists of balancings alternating with imbalances followed by rebalancing (which may succeed or fail), since human beings never remain passive but constantly pursue some aim or react to perturbations by active compensations consisting in regulations.  It follows from this that every action proceeds from a need which is connected with the system as a whole and that values likewise dependent on the system as a whole are attached to every action and to every situation favourable or unfavourable to its execution.  In the sphere of cognitive structures, where needs and values are relative to the activities of comprehension and invention, such a model makes it possible to explain simultaneously the psychological progression of stages of mental development and the logical nature of the structures thus achieved (since regulations lead to operations and balancing leads to their reversibility; see section 7).  This cognitive development is already a social as much as a psychological or even a biological one, since the operations of the individual are indissociable from inter-individual co-operation (in the most etymological sense of the word).  Thus the model seems to be partly open to generalization in the social field as a whole (we shall return to this issue in section 14), but only on condition that consideration is given to needs and values of whatever nature, not only in their cognitive forms.

In this connexion reference should undoubtedly be made to a specific type of research which may be called ‘praxeology’ (cf. Main Trends, vol. 3) and which is a theory, essentially interdisciplinary, of behaviours as relations between means and ends from the viewpoint of yield as well as of choice.  Certain authors

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have tried to reduce all economics to this question, e.g. L. Robbins who speaks of ‘relations between rare (or limited) ends and means with alternative uses’ (An Essay on the Significance of Economic Science, 1932) and L. von Mises; but although economics does in certain respects constitute a sector of praxeology, it is a sector which involves many other factors and a complexity of social interactions and which cannot be reduced to these simpler relations already present in exchanges between the individual subject (or the organism itself) and his physical and inter-individual surroundings.

In order to understand the very general scope of these praxeological analyses and their effects on the theory of values as a whole, it is necessary to start by recalling the present state of trends as regards relations between affective life and cognitive functions.

A highly significant fact likely to concern all the human sciences strikes us from the outset, namely the surprising difficulty met in trying to characterize affective life in relation to cognitive functions (insofar as these relate to structures) and especially of defining their inter-relations in the actual functioning of behaviour.  This fact immediately gives rise to the general problem as to whether values, or at least some values, are determined by structures and in what sense; whether these values or some of them (on the contrary or in turn) modify structures and which ones; or whether values and structures are two aspects - indissociable but so to speak parallel - of all behaviours whatever they may be.  It is immediately evident that the problem goes well beyond the sphere of psychology, for whereas praxeology, as the ‘general theory of effective action’ (E. Slucki as early as 1926, T. Kotarbinski 1955, O. Lange, etc.) invokes a ‘principle of rationality’ (maximum effects with a minimum of means), that principle concerns affective values as much as cognitive structures.

In psychology the general trend today is to distinguish in any behaviour a structure which corresponds to its cognitive aspect and an ‘energetic’ element which characterizes its affective aspect.  But what is the meaning of this somewhat metaphorical term ‘energetic’?  Freud, who was reared in the atmosphere of the ‘energetic’ school (as opposed to atomism) of the physicist E. Mach, himself sometimes a psychologist, saw instinct as a reserve of energies whose ‘charges’ are stored in certain representations of objects which by that fact become desirable or attractive.  The terms ‘investment’ or cathexis have become current in this connexion.  K. Lewin visualizes behaviour as a function of a total field (subject and objects) in the Gestalt manner, the structure of this field corresponding to perceptions, acts of intelligence, etc., while its dynamics determine functioning and eventually attribute positive or negative values to the objects (characteristics of attraction or repulsion, barriers, etc.).  But the problem which remains is that an operational mechanism unquestionably involves a dynamic and that it is necessary to distinguish within it the structure of transformations as such and what makes them possible in their desirability, interest, speed, etc.; and this second aspect brings us back to an ‘energetic’.  P. Janet distinguishes in all behaviour a primary action or relation between subject and object, which corresponds to (cognitive) structures, and a secondary action which regulates the former as to its activations (interest, effort, etc., on


the positive side or fatigue, depression, etc., on the negative side) and to its terminations (rejoicing in the case of success, sadness in that of failure).  This suggests that elementary affective life expresses behaviour adjustments, but what kinds of adjustments (for these may be structural or cognitive)?  Janet explicitly puts forward the hypothesis of a reserve of physiological forces which are stored, used up or reconstituted in accordance with variable rhythms, and suggests that it is these forces which affectivity regulates in accordance with a ‘behaviour economy’ co-ordinating gains and losses of energy.  Going on to generalize at the inter-individual level, Janet analyses sympathy and antipathy from this point of view, people for whom one feels sympathy being energy sources or excitants and those for whom one feels antipathy being tiring or ‘costly’.

This brings us to a first problem: does affectivity as ‘investment’ or as a series of regulations depending on gains and losses actually modify structures or does it merely ensure their functioning in terms of energy?  Some authors believe the former, arguing that the systematic defect of ‘investment’ characteristic of schizophrenics who are not interested in reality leads to a schematic and pathologically formal type of thought, while the ‘over-investments’ of paranoiacs lead to loss of reason (delusions of grandeur, etc.).  Other authors (including the writer) think that a child with a lively interest in arithmetic and another suffering from multiple complexes regarding itself will both recognize that two and two make four and not three or five, because activity makes structures function by accelerating or retarding their formation but without modifying them; and that the behaviour difficulty in a schizophrenic or a paranoiac can simultaneously affect structures and their affective functioning according to a dynamic which always involves both aspects at once. 25  But of course it remains possible that a distinction should be made between structures whose form determines the content (logico-mathematical structures) and those whose content depends on a variety of values, although in a ‘value judgement’ the form (or judgement) is structural and therefore cognitive and the content is relative to affectivity precisely as a value.

The second problem, however, is even more important and concerns all the human disciplines to a still greater extent, namely that of the multiplicity of values or of their reduction to their energetic ‘economic’ (in the praxeological sense) dimension alone.  When the economist speaks of production, exchange, consumption, reserves or investments, etc., we see clearly enough that these terms recur in exactly the same form in every field, including that of the affectivity of infants before all language (in terms of expenditure or recovery of energies, ‘investing’ in objects or people, etc.); but it remains to be known whether the meanings involved are always comparable.  And it is impossible to attempt a classification without immediately finding that it applies to all the sciences of man (certainly including linguistics, if only because F. de Saussure drew his inspiration from economics and because the ‘affective language’ described by Ch. Bally gave rise to a theory of values by the sociologist G. Vaucher).

As an introduction to this classification (in section II) we should first recall that in the sphere of individual as well as inter-individual values there exists a

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fundamental duality which recurs everywhere, 26 namely that of values of finality (or instrumental values, i.e. means and ends) and values of yield (costs and benefits) which are inseparable but clearly distinct from one another.  In the individual sphere this distinction is based on the double meaning of the word interest.  On the one hand all behaviour is dictated by interest in the general qualitative sense, in that it pursues an end which has value because it is desired, and this end can be entirely disinterested (in the second meaning of the term) although it is of great interest in the first sense.  On the other hand interest is an energy adjustment which releases the available forces (Claparède and Janet), that is to say increases the yield, and from this second point of view a behaviour is called ‘interested’ if it is intended to increase the yields from the viewpoint of the subject’s ego.  By playing on these two meanings of the term while refusing to distinguish between them, utilitarianism sought to explain altruism by selfishness under the pretext that all behaviour is interested - which is false since behaviour is always directed by interest in the first meaning of the term and can therefore be, as we have just shown, disinterested and interested at the same time.  This sophism is sufficient in itself to justify the two types of values.  Furthermore, when Janet explains sympathy and antipathy in terms of values of yield he is right in a large number of cases, e.g. when one chooses a travelling or table companion, but it is possible to love an extremely tiring person, and one does not always marry a woman for the sole reason that she is ‘economical’ in the sense that she will not prove very wearying.  We may even consider that ‘investments’ of affective charges which occur in love are a function of a common scale of values, of twin production projects in the broadest sense and even of values which are highly disinterested although they involve interest (in the other sense of the term) to an exceptional degree.


11. Classification of values

The gist of the foregoing is that praxeology is everywhere, but nowhere by itself.  It is impossible to accomplish a moral act or to perform a logical operation without expenditure of energy, which is a matter of values of yield, whereas the behaviours studied by economic science may have no matter what intrinsic finality and whereas concepts of production and consumption are necessarily related to structures accompanied by their own values or finalities.  It is therefore evident that all the sciences of man lead to the search for a classification of values.

1. One must first justify the first dichotomy suggested by the psychology of affectivity, which recurs everywhere.  Values of finality, or instrumental values, bring together those which are by their very quality related to structures, in other words which correspond to the needs of qualitatively differentiated elements, with a view to the production or conservation of structures.  That is not to say that values and structures are identical; a structure exists on the strength of its own laws, which can be described in terms of algebra (including logic) or topology without reference to speeds, forces or energies as working capacities;


and this same structure can be desirable and indeed must be so for the subject to take an interest in it; this then presupposes an intervention of affective charges or ‘investments’, etc., i.e. of energy.  From this second point of view a further distinction has to be drawn between the choice of elements to be invested (values of finality) and the quantities involved.  Values of yield are then precisely relative to this quantitative aspect if we admit by definition that a yield is distinguished from a qualitative result by reason of the quantity produced or expended (quantity of energy in the case of intra-individual ‘economy’ or technical production, conventional or accountable quantity in the case of commercial exchanges).

2. Values of finality may give rise to a second dichotomy.  Structures to which these values are attached can be translated by rules which are to a greater or lesser extent capable of logical expression, or which may remain at the level of simple regulations.  In the former case we may speak of normative values to the extent that the value is influenced or actually determined by the norm, whereas in the case of spontaneous and free exchanges we may speak of non-normative values.  As to the former, one may once more wonder whether value and norm or structure are identical.  But, once again, that is not the case since the norm comprises its (cognitive) structure on the one hand and its value on the other, the latter being as usual related to affectivity; we have seen (in section 8) that a moral norm is accepted only as a function of specific feelings of respect which are a valorization of the person issuing instructions or of partners in a relationship of reciprocity.  A legal norm, on the other hand, is valorized only as a function of an attitude of ‘recognition’ which is the valorization of a custom or of a trans-personal relationship.

Non-normative values of finality extend to many diverse fields.  In the first place, they grow from individual interests to inter-individual sympathies and to those in numerable exchanges which make up everyday social life, whether these be exchanges of information, economically non-quantified services of all kinds, politics, courtesy, etc.  In addition they also include those valorizations which occur in symbolic expression by means of gestures, clothes, words, etc., since systems of symbols or signs include - besides their strictly semeiotic laws -a body of values which tend either to reinforce or diminish expressivity, as Bally has shown with regard to what he called ‘affective language’.

3. Lastly, values of yield accompany all the foregoing but give rise to specific valorizations which express themselves both in the internal energetic praxeology of action (cf. in section 10 the conceptions of P. Janet) and in inter-individual economics dealt with by economic science.  In both cases it is striking to note the predominant importance of quantification as compared with the qualitative nature of values of finality.  In other words, as soon as there is a question of yield, what counts is no longer the quality of the objective judged in relation to a differentiated need (that need itself expressing either a gap or a momentary imbalance in a structure which has to be completed or re-balanced), but the quantum of the result obtained in relation to the expenditure required in order to obtain it.

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12. Regulations and operations relative to valorizations of finality

The concept of finality has a bearing on all the human sciences since there is scarcely a form of human behaviour that does not involve intention.  Yet we know well enough that finalism has given rise to many difficulties and presented a problem in biology until the formulation of present-day solutions which seem to offer satisfaction, at least on the level of principles.  Three phases may be distinguished in this connexion.

During the first phase, which was of psychomorphic origin, finality seemed to carry its explanation within itself as being a causal principle.  Aristotle, who attributed finality to all physical movement as well as to living processes, separated ‘final causes’ from ‘efficient causes’, as though the existence of an aim entailed ipso facto the possibility of attaining it, which presupposes either a consciousness (within which the aim corresponds to an existing representation) or an effect of the future upon the present.

In the second phase, the unintelligible nature of this final cause led to the concept of finality being broken down into its components, a causal explanation being sought for each.  Thus the concept of direction found its explanation in processes of achieving balance; that of anticipation in the utilization of previous information; that of functional utility in the hierarchic nature of organization, etc.  As to the central concept of adaptation, efforts were made to reduce it to two concepts of fortuitous variation and of selection after the event, which replaces finality by a set of tentative efforts (at the phyletic as well as the individual level) directed from the outside through successes and failures.

The present phase, which is marked by very comparable schools of thought in the sphere of the human sciences, results from the conjunction of three kinds of influences.  In the first place, while finalism has never supplied satisfactory explanations, it has always excelled at denouncing the inadequacies of over-simplified mechanistics.  To explain the eye by hazard and- selection is all very well if one has plenty of time, but if it requires more generations than the age of the earth will allow, as has been calculated on the basis of, if anything, favourable postulates, it is best to search in other directions.  Secondly, analysis of phenomena - which always begins in an atomistic mood - leads in all spheres of life to the unveiling of regulations; after the discovery of physiological (homeostasis) and embryogenetic regulations, the notion was abandoned that the genome is an aggregate of independent particles, and it was sought instead to establish the existence of co-adaptations, regulator genes, ‘responses’, etc.  Thirdly and particularly, these organistic trends, which originated in part independently from mathematical models, were found to converge with one of the fundamental discoveries of our age, that of the mechanisms of self-regulation or self-direction studied by cybernetics.  This was rapidly followed by the realization of the possibility of supplying a causal interpretation of finalized processes and of finding ‘mechanical equivalents of finality’ or, as one says today, a ‘teleonomy’ without teleology.

It is in this context, needless to say, that a certain number of trends are at present evolving towards an analysis of regulations in the field of functioning


and values as well as in that of structures.  But it should also be noted that in the human sciences as in all others, but in the biological disciplines in particular, efforts are directed first of all - and rightly so - towards the two extreme ends of the range of phenomena, for it is the comparison between these extremes which offers the best chance of understanding the whole range of mechanisms involved.  This pendulum action is particularly evident in economics.  After limiting itself in many cases to micro-economics, economic science - following the intuitions of Quesnay and especially the conceptions of Marx - struck out on the path of macro-economics, and the same is true of the differently oriented work of Keynes.  However, with operational research and econometrics there has been a new trend to re-establish the micro-economic approach.  In sociology, where the degree of precision is naturally much smaller owing to the complexity of the problems involved, we observe an instructive process of shuttling back and forth between macro-sociology and micro-sociology.  In the sphere of values of finality it goes without saying that a double approach is needed, since while global exchanges, etc., show irreducible aspects depending on overall mechanisms, it is only in the sphere of elementary reactions and exchanges that we may hope to witness the birth of valorizations and in certain cases to determine their connexions with psycho-biological functioning.

In the sphere of normative values it goes without saying that moral facts are studied principally from their psychological and micro-sociological angles, especially as there exists no adequate method at the higher levels except where societies are of limited dimensions, like those studied in cultural anthropology.  But even in fields where consideration of wholes would appear to be necessary, as for instance in the sociology of law (since positive law is linked with the life of the entire State down to its most individualized applications), there exists a movement which has attempted the study of, as it were, micro-juridical processes.  Thus, marginally to codified law, or at the point where it begins, Petrazycki has analysed attributive imperative relations such as that the right of one partner corresponds to an obligation for the other.  This relation, which is distinguished from the moral relation (although less so than Petrazycki believes, since while it is true that the moral obligation of a subject B confers no right upon his ‘neighbour’ C, it nevertheless results from the right which A or C had to issue instructions to him or to enter into reciprocity with him), is also clearly distinguished from codified or structured legal order and thus characterizes a kind of spontaneous or deontological juridical view which is interesting from the viewpoint of mechanisms of valorization.

In the sphere of non-normative qualitative values the writer has attempted to analyse the mechanism of the exchange which determines valorization and its relations with normative consolidations. 27  In any relationship between two individuals A and B, what is done by one of them, say rA, is evaluated by the other according to a satisfaction sB - positive or negative - which may be conserved in the form of a kind of debt or psychological gratitude tB, the latter for that reason constituting a credit or a valorization vA for A (process naturally following a sequence rB, sA, rA and vB).  A large number of circumstances may of course prevent a balance in the form of equivalences r = s t = v: over- and

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under-evaluation, forgetfulness, ingratitude, using up of credit, inflation, etc., and especially discordances between momentary or durable individual scales of values.  Nevertheless the formula can be used to describe the most varied situations: sympathy between two individuals as based on a common scale and profitable exchanges; a person’s reputation with or without inflation; real or fictitious exchanges of services which affect credit in micro-politics, etc.  Although without practical interest, this type of analysis helps to establish two small theoretical assumptions.

One is the often striking analogy between such processes of qualitative exchange and certain elementary economic or praxeological laws.  In the first place it goes without saying that evaluations and reputations s and v are rather closely subject to the law of supply and demand: the same average talent gives rise to entirely different estimations in a small town, where it enjoys a certain ‘rarity value’, and in a more dense environment.  Furthermore one finds here, despite the absence of quantification, an equivalent of Gresham’s law (‘bad money drives good money out’) in situations of crisis or imbalance where new scales of values take the place of others and where reputations are readily inflated but fragile, etc. -

Secondly, it is easy to see that the conservation of the virtual values t and v (as opposed to the real or existing values r and s) remains partially contingent so long as the exchange remains non-normative, whereas any course of action launched in accordance with an obligation leads to new relationships imposed by this structure (just as in economic exchange, cash sales involve few legal relations while credit sales presuppose a greater measure of protection).  Thus the value t is eroded of its own accord through forgetfulness or ingratitude, etc., whereas the intervention of a moral sense of reciprocity leads towards conservation (the French word ‘reconnaissance’ means both spontaneous gratitude and the fact of recognizing a debt or an obligation).  The transition from spontaneity to normative reciprocity is marked by a new type of exchange where there is no longer simply an approximate correspondence between services and satisfactions, etc., but substitution of points of view, that is to say access to decentred or disinterested attitudes.

The above is only a small example of possible analysis.  Many others can be found in the current, highly lively work of American neo-functionalism already referred to (Gouldner, Blau, etc.).  Hence the sphere of qualitative values represents a fairly large potential area of comparative research, even including transition from regulations to reversible operations.  We have already seen (in section 5) that this transition is under study in the structural sphere proper (cognitive regulations and operations).  There is no reason why the same should not apply to the sphere of values, in terms of attractions or ‘investments’ of affective charges, reciprocities and exchanges, in isomorphism with what is observed in the case of structural regulations and operations.  A first striking fact in this connexion is the logical form assumed by scales of values - seriations, genealogical trees, etc. - and authors like Goblot have attempted a ‘logic of values’.

But above all there exists a system of operations bearing not on the knowledge of structures, but on the regulation of available forces, and the theory of


games has given it status under the name of ‘decision’: this is the will, the explanation of which has never ceased to create problems and difficulties for psychologists.  Since W. James it has been generally agreed that the will is not a simple tendency capable of isolation, unless confused with effort or intention.  The will intervenes when there is a conflict between a tendency which is judged inferior and is momentarily the stronger (a specific desire, etc.) and a tendency which is judged to be superior but is initially the weaker (a duty, etc.); the act of will consists in reinforcing the latter tendency until it overcomes the former.  A. Binet concluded from this that there is a need for an additional force, and Ch. Blondel suggested that this force derived from collective imperatives (a questionable solution since if such imperatives are sufficient to determine an action there is no further need for the will, and if they are not sufficient the problem remains intact).  The solution would seem to be the following: a tendency is neither strong nor weak in itself but only in relation to the context; so long as that context is merely a matter of fluctuating adjustments bound up with the perceptive existing situation, the lower tendency is likely to prevail; if the will is interpreted as a reversible operation or as the extreme stage of normal energy adjustments, the act of will can then be seen to consist in deflecting the subject’s concentration from the existing situation (‘decentration’) so as to allow a return to the permanent values of his scale.  Hence having a will means being in possession of a scale of values sufficiently resistant to be referred to in the course of conflicts.  The analogy with intellectual operations (section 5) is evident. 28


13. Cybernetic circuits and economic adjustments

Values of finality play a very general part in all fields of the human sciences, but unfortunately they are not always measurable for that reason.  Values of yield, on the other hand, are measurable by their very nature, and since economic science is concerned with both types of values simultaneously, it is in this field that the meaning of these two kinds of common mechanisms, active in all human behaviour, can be most readily appreciated. -

Generally speaking every value is the expression of the functioning of the structure and every functioning is a flow subject to regulations, that term being taken in its broadest sense to cover both the spontaneous processes of balancing and intentional and systematic regulations such as economic regulations resulting, for example, from a policy of stabilization or one of growth.  Our problem in this section is therefore to seek to identify the most general models of regulations applicable to all spheres of values, and for this purpose to examine the manner in which economists use the notions of cybernetic circuits to master the complex systems of interactions with which they are confronted.  This is not to say, of course, that loop circuits (or feedbacks) are the result of the work of economists; quite on the contrary, economists are only now beginning to take an interest in the operational content of the theory of servo-mechanisms, 25 not merely as a result of intellectual inertia but owing to the difficulty of adapting the complexity of experimental measurements to that theory.  But the example

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of economics is of particular interest, in the first place because of the convergence between these models and classical concepts such as that of the economic circuit and, secondly, because the generalized nature of economic mechanisms is already becoming apparent, some of their central aspects recurring in the fields of biology, psychology and even of linguistics.

The advantage of loop systems is that they confer a clearly defined status on some of the innumerable situations in which concepts of interaction and circular causality have to be substituted for the concept of a linear causal sequence.  In physics the principle of action and reaction, the existence of many systems which retain their balance by compensation of the various equivalent efforts which they allow, and Le Châtelier’s law (or the law of equilibrium displacements in the direction opposite to that of the initial disturbance) show the impossibility of reducing certain forms of causality to a linear sequence pattern.  In biology the very fact of organization and its conservation through successive adjustments involving on each occasion a set of gains and losses makes the consideration of loop systems more and more indispensable, and even in the case of apparently simple effects of an environment on an organism (phenotypical modifications or selection with genetic effects) it is increasingly believed that the organism chooses and modifies its environment as much as it depends upon it, which suggests the relevance of cybernetic circuits. In the sphere of the human sciences, where interactions are always accompanied by automatic or more or less intentional regulations, the notion of circuits is even more obviously applicable and it is becoming increasingly apparent that even the general pattern S—R (stimulus-reaction) is itself circular in nature, for a subject reacts to a stimulus only if he is sensitized to it, and he is sensitized to it only as a function of the pattern which determines the response, without it being possible to interpret the latter in turn independently of the habitual stimuli.

In the field of economics, which offers the advantage of allowing extensive measurements, a certain number of notions which have gained currency prepared the way for cybernetic models.  Such a notion, for instance, is the somewhat intuitive one, but one essential to economic thought, of a ‘variable which is self-influencing by means of other variables dependent upon it’.  Such also is the notion of the ‘economic circuit’, for instance in the relations between production, consumption and investment, which constitute numerous cases of circular causality.  Such too are the notions of multiplicator and accelerator, frequently used by economists, which can furnish examples of simple transformations in a loop system.

Let us, for the sake of concreteness, give an elementary example (taken from L. Solari) of the translation in feedbacks of an economic circuit.  Let us suppose that this model refers to a closed national economy (without exchanges with other countries) and let us assume only three variables, as follows: Y(t) = national product, C(t) = global consumption and I(t) = global investment.  These variables are continuous functions of time (t); they represent monetary flows within an interval t, t + dt.  We then obtain the accounting relationship:

Y(t) = 1(t) + C(t)

which may be completed, e.g. by the introduction of the two behaviour laws

48 Index


C(t) c.Y(t) and 1(t) = v dY(t)

c and v being respectively the marginal propensity towards consumption and the investment coefficient.

The former is a function of consumption of the most common type.  The second law translates globally the reactions to the investment decisions of economic agents faced with variations in the national income: we have here, in its simplest form, the well-known phenomenon of the accelerator which ‘repercusses’, as regards investment, the variations in the national income.  This elementary dynamic model may then be reduced to the differential equation

I-c/v = I/Y(t) dY(t)/dt

the immediate solution of which, taking account of the initial condition Y(o) = Yo, is Y(t) = YoO pt with, for the sake of simplification,

p = I – c/v = S/V


where S represents the marginal propensity to save.  The rate of growth p, normally positive, is therefore proportional to the propensity to save and inversely proportional to the investment coefficient.  The model can then be represented by the following diagram in which the circles represent variables and the parallelograms represent the transformations undergone by them (in the direction of the arrows):

Feedbacks may be recognized in the two loops of the diagram.  The first translates the ‘multiplicator effect’: Y(t) is self-influencing through the agency of C(t).  The second translates the ‘accelerator effect’: Y(t) is self-influencing through the agency of 1(t).  Both effects are additive. 30

The method of which the foregoing is a concrete example offers two advantages, one from the viewpoint of economic research itself and the other in that it supplies a representation of mechanisms common to all the life and human sciences (not only because loop systems are found in them all but also because circles of production, consumption and investment recur in all fields of values of finality as well as values of yield).

From the viewpoint of economic science (which, we repeat, can serve as an example because, inter alia, of its infinite possibilities of measurement), patterns

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such as the one we have just examined make it possible to carry out a logical and causal analysis of the interactions involved, and there is nothing to prevent this analysis from being extended to the consideration of more complex transfers or of new feedbacks.  In particular it is possible to add to the model we have shown, which already relates to regulations in the general sense of the term, a regulatory feedback in the limited economic sense (policy of stabilization, which here would in fact be a policy of growth): it would be enough to introduce a new variable G(t), such that Y(t)-->G(t)-->Y(t), making it possible to modify the rate of growth p by the nature of the transfer achieved 31 (the model would of course have to be expanded to take account of delayed variations, which play an essential motivating role in economic regulations). 32

The general significance of such models is considerable; in fact they represent one of the most important common mechanisms in the field of values and even in that of the build-up of structures. 33

As for values, that is to say, as we have seen (section 10), the role of the affective life in general, it is clear that the loops connecting production with consumption or investment recur in the most widely different situations: all production, i.e. all constructive action, is reinforced or held back by its own results, i.e. by the consumer actions to which it gives rise; on the other hand it leads to new affective ‘investments’ which reinforce the initial action or supplement it with others.  Thus we have here a very general mechanism from which the economic models we have just examined differ only by their specific social characteristics and by the remarkable degree of quantification to which they lend themselves.

As to the build-up of structures, this is closely linked to what we have just called production in the general sense of constructive actions.  From this it follows that in all fields a structure which finally acquires a well-regulated or logico­mathematical nature (e.g. a ‘group’ structure) starts with a phase of simple adjustment, i.e. of construction by trial and error whose corrections are effected by means of feedbacks analogous to those described.  Later, once the structure has been sufficiently balanced, the play of reversible operations takes the place of the initial regulations (as we have seen in section 5): correction as a function of the results alone is then replaced by an anticipatory pre-correction of the actions in progress, and the loop system thus arrives at a system of direct and reverse operations whose regulation is now identical with its constructive activity (the values initially involved being thereby promoted to the rank of normative values).


14. Synchronic and diachronic problems in the sphere of functions and values

We have seen (in section 9) that the normative structure achieves a condition of equilibrium (with, of course, variable degrees of stability depending on the relations between form and content: see section 8) as a function of a process of development which itself constitutes at all stages a balancing in the sense of a process of self-regulation.  This self-regulation is to varying degrees inherent in the actual production of the structure in that there are no constructive mecha-


nisms on the one hand and no corrective mechanisms on the other hand or after the event, but that progressive organization - in which construction consists - is at the same time a regulating one and therefore proceeds by balancing.  We shall see (in section 18) that a system of meanings, in contrast to this, shows a maximum of disjunction between the history of the sign-vehicles, on which their present meaning depends only in part, and the synchronic balance of the system which is relatively independent from diachrony.  The system of functions, utility or values lies halfway between these two extreme situations, and it is highly interesting in the study of common mechanisms to note that this intermediate position, from the viewpoint of relations between synchrony and diachrony, recurs in all disciplines having an important functionalist dimension, from biology to economics by way of psychology and sociology, in other words wherever a distinction has to be drawn between present utility and historical filiation.

In the field of economic history, for instance, this intermediate situation shows the two following characteristics.  On the one hand one frequently finds a bipolarity between the endeavour to explain some set of present (or in any manner synchronic) facts by its previous development and the reverse approach which seeks to interpret a set of historical events by general mechanisms considered to be ‘timeless’ and related to the laws of balance.  But on the other hand one finds in Marx and his followers a methodology which sets out to overcome this duality of historical and supra-historical factors dialectically by resorting to what might be called today a genetic structuralism in the sociological, psychological and even biological fields.

As regards the duality of interpretations found in authors not influenced by Marx, everyone agrees in assuming that major economic structures are explained by their history, whereas events related to current situations (such as the cost of certain foodstuffs in the 13th or 16th centuries, referred to in section 2) are interpreted in the light of theories on the determination of prices which lead to these mechanisms being considered ‘timeless and necessary’, by no means because these prices do not vary but because their variations in historical curves which are irregular in detail are held to depend on laws of balance recurring over a fairly wide range of social situations.

By contrast, the originality of Marx’s approach consisted in seeking to overcome this conflict between structures and fundamental laws by regarding neither as ‘eternal’ and subordinating both to an overall dynamic force.  As regards structures, Marx of course emphasized the temporary or historically transitory nature of capitalism, whose laws were regarded as permanent by the classical economists.  But with regard to the laws of functioning, Marx made the very basic point that these laws frequently begin to operate ‘in the pure state’ at the stage of maturity of the system; thus a study of function at the terminal stages would lead to an understanding of the history of the structure from which this functioning proceeds.  Hence the fundamental observation (in the Critique of Political Economy) revealing the links between Marx’s methodology and biological problems:  ‘The anatomy of man is the key to the anatomy of the ape’, which is to say that final states illuminate the process from which they result as much as that process is necessary to the development of those states.

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But this reference to biology, which stresses the very general nature of the problem of relations between structural diachrony and functional synchrony, leads us to enquire into the particular status of concepts of function, utility or values in relation to structural development and, finally, to reflect once more on the reasons why it is difficult to treat history as a nomothetic discipline.

In the field of biology an organ can change its function without that change resulting from the previous history of the structure concerned: to borrow a classical example, the fact that the swim-bladder of the Dipneusti now serves as their lung is not due to the general historical factors which ensured the evolution of the Invertebrates into Fishes, but results from unforeseeable changes in the environment.  It is therefore doubtful whether it will ever be possible to create a deductive model of the history of life which would supply the details of all known transformations, whereas we may be permitted to hope for an ‘organicist’ model (see section 10) which would account both for the general characteristics peculiar to living structures and for the major functions common to all or almost all organisms, such as assimilation, respiration (except for viruses), etc.  But these ‘functional invariables’ are of variable content and are thus differentiated in the course of their history, and that history, like all genuine history, constitutes an inextricable mixture of deducible and contingent structurations: whereas reactions to the contingent consist in regulations or rebalancings which are intelligible after the event, the sequence of their succession is nevertheless unforeseeable, and this makes the present functions of a sub-structure relatively independent of its previous development.

The same applies in part to the sphere of human history, despite the corrections implied in man’s twofold specificity, of having created a culture which incessantly enriches itself because it is socially transmitted and of having a reflexive intelligence which makes it possible to multiply rational behaviours (despite their obvious limits in the common consciousness).  It follows that although certain historians would like to give nomothetic status to their discipline by means of interdisciplinary fusion of the history of science and technology, of economic, cultural and political history and of diachronic sociology, etc., the laws of development or functioning that could be derived therefrom might nevertheless differ considerably, depending on the types of structure envisaged and, consequently, on the varieties of possible relations between structures on the one hand and of functions, utility or values on the other.

Were we to assume that we could adopt as one methodological ideal that of genetic structuralism, which indeed seems to be common to many disciplines, the fact nevertheless remains that the distinction between structures capable of ‘closure’ and structures as yet incomplete or destined to remain open for all time imposes a series of differentiations which express themselves in particular in the need to recognize several varieties of values depending on whether they are normative or non-normative, etc. (sections 10 and 11).  C. Nowinski, an expert in Marxist methodology, has pointed out, for instance, that ‘the kinship of methods as between genetic psychology and Marx’s theory is sometimes surprising.  There remains, however, an important difference.  For Piaget the notion of balance as the central mechanism and necessary mainspring of the process of


development remains characteristic, although each state of equilibrium succeeds the previous one by reason of the imbalances which engender it.  For Marx, conversely, the central mechanism of development is the continuous destruction of equilibrium, with all the methodological consequences which result’.34  The reason for this difference is strikingly obvious: the development of intelligence culminates in completed structures in which functions and values are entirely subject to the normative laws of internal structural transformations, which means that such development is directed by equilibrations or self-regulations leading to the final balance; but biological, economic, political, etc., structures, being constantly open, cannot - because of the absence of closure - involve such complete integration of function in the structural mechanism, whence the historical role of imbalances which can actually lead to integrations of structures.

This situation, peculiar to structures incapable of closure, explains the relative independence of values connected with synchronic balance from the diachronic formation of the corresponding structure.  This is observed in the case of certain crises (provided they are neither accidents of growth nor durable disintegrations) where one may find abrupt modifications of economic, political, or social values (reputation, personal credit) or of the affective values of an individual.  And it also accounts for the difficulty of characterizing sequential stages (i.e. stages occurring in a necessary order of succession) in the social sphere and the relatively small success of the ‘stages’ which Rostow believed he had discovered in the processes of economic growth (from take-off to maturity).  The general problem in this respect consists in distinguishing a sequence of transformations without organized internal development from a development with sequential stages involving in particular what Waddington in embryology called ‘homeorhesis’ (automatic return to the necessary trajectory in the case of a deviation imposed from outside).

Such facts seem to demonstrate that functions and values are the more dependent on history and diachronic explanation as they are better subordinated to the corresponding structures.  A system of values, on the other hand, obeys laws of equilibrium or of present regulations which are the less dependent on the preceding stages the less those values are normative, that is to say the less they are conditioned by the structure alone and depend on exchanges whose external conditions may vary.  In other terms, the balance of these values does not in such a case represent the final stage of a progressive diachronic balancing but remains the synchronic expression of situations in part independent of development; in this case there occurs only a succession of rebalancings whose laws may be constant but whose contents vary, in part contingently and in part cyclically.

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21. Cf. inter alia the collective work edited by T. Parsons and E. Shils, Toward a Theory of Action, London, in which a number of ethnologists, sociologists and psychologists collaborated.  Cf. also the comparative essay by Clyde Kluckhohn defining the role of the notion of value in various disciplines (as well as the many definitions proposed by the authors).

22. In the present-day mathematical sense function is defined as an ‘application’ or an oriented couple, which psychologically makes its origin go back to the general patterns of action.  Cf. Epistemologie et psychologie de la fonctton, Etudes d’Epistémologie génétique, vol. xxiii.

23. Mention should also be made of the conception of ‘systems’ of a group of researchers from the Case Institute of Technology in Ohio (M. Mezarovitch, R. Akkof, D. Fleming, etc.), the theory of systems developed by L. Zade (a much wider class essentially of a technical nature), the conception of O. Lange, and the numerous works of theoretical research in relation with ‘man-machine’ systems (e.g. within the framework of the System Development Corporation of California).

24. This does not mean that the translation of processes into cybernetic language automatically allows the mathematization which might be hoped for from that language; however, the fact that questions are formulated in qualitative terms of interactions may in itself constitute an advance because it means a liberation from one-way forms of causality.

25. Pathology is not merely a matter of affective aspects.  Let us make clear that while affectivity as energetic functioning can naturally be the cause of accelerations or retardations in the formation of structures (since energy affects speed among other things), this does not mean that it intervenes causally in the structure as such, or vice versa.

26. Cf. primary and secondary utility as distinguished in section 3.

27. See J. Piaget, Etudes sociologiques, Droz, 1965, pp. 100—142.

28. It is not within the scope of this volume to discuss the general problem of measurement.  The human sciences have no units comparable to those available in physics; in the sphere of values the difficulty is overcome by the establishment of various scales (ordinal, super-ordinal, etc.), examples of which may be found in Variations in Value Orientations by F. R. Kluckhohn and F. F. Strodtbeck ; their significance may be ascertained by reference to the well-known works of Stevens who, in psychology, has endeavoured to construct a kind of subjective psycho-physics.

29. Avant-garde schools, such as the Polish school, being of course duly excepted.

30. Without wishing to refer here to the mathematical aspects of feedbacks, we may recall that in the case of this simple model the transfer function is in the form F(p) = v/s where p = a+iW and for the ‘free variations’ of the system F(p) = I hence W = o and a = s/v in the absence of sinusoidal fluctuations.  The latter would appear if delayed reactions between variables were introduced.

31. Supposing that G(t) represents State demand (negative in the case of subsidy), one would obtain, for example, G(t) = -g.[dY(t)/dt] or g > o, which would constitute a new feedback allowing the rate of growth f to be increased in the form p’ = s/v-g

32. Let us note further that H. A. Simon (‘On the Application of Servomechanism in the Study of Production Control’, Econometrica 20, 2, 1952, pp. 247-268) has tried to formulate, in situations of a dynamic kind, decision criteria enjoying certain properties of stability.  He thus arrived at a loop system making it possible to determine qualitatively a criterion whose intuitive meaning is immediate: the rate of production must be increased or diminished proportionally to the deficit or surplus of effective stocks as compared with optimum stocks and proportionally to the varia­tions of that deficit or surplus.

33. Cf. inter alia H. A. Simon’s well-known formalization of Festinger’s experiments on communication in small social groups.

34. Logique et connaissance scientifique (Encyclopedie de la Pleiade), pp. 879-880.



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