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Autonomy in a Complex World: Insights from Complexity Theory, Friedrich Nietzsche and William Connolly

John E. Schafer, Dr. Sara Rushing, Department of Political Science, Montana State University, Culbertson Hall, 100, Bozeman, MT 59717

Complexity Theory, an outgrowth of the mathematical sciences, argues that randomness and irreversibility produce wildly unpredictable systems such as the weather or or even entire economies. Such unpredictability, chance and chaos shake the classical conception of science and bring new meaning to subjectivity and irrationality within the natural world. In a similar vein, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche saw chance evolutionary processes and power dynamics as the fabricators of “truths” within culture, as opposed to some innate fundamental reality. This paper combines the insights gained from Complexity Theory and Nietzsche as well as inspiration from William Connolly to the problem of autonomy. In a world with growing complex threats such as climate change, this paper argues that a classical conception of autonomy based around ideals of rationality and confinement is outdated. Instead I propose that the old model of autonomy that pits the state against the individual in an everlasting struggle over freedom should be shed in favor of one that recognizes the overlooked role complexity plays. Reimaging autonomy not merely as a zero sum game will help us cope with the physical and existential threats that some complex systems pose. This paper ends by starting the task of applying such a model of autonomy to the Western United States wildfire problem and specifically to the Bridger Foothills fire that impacted the greater Bozeman community in late summer of 2020.




Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: John Schafer

Institution: Montana State University

Type: Poster

Subject: Political Science

Status: Approved


Time and Location

Session: Poster 10
Date/Time: Wed 1:30pm-2:30pm
Session Number: 6525