theory of reflexivity

It's not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power) but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic and cultural, within which it operates at present. —Michel Foucault

Mr. Soros's theory of reflexivity is the first modern, nontechnical effort to describe and forecast the dynamic interplay between the participants in the process. —Paul Tudor Jones II

The Theory of Reflexivity, George Soros

Delivered April 26, 1994 to the MIT Department of Economics World Economy Laboratory Conference Washington, D.C.

It may seem strange that a patently false theory should gain such widespread acceptance, except for one consideration; that is, that all our theories about social events are distorted in some way or another. And that is the starting point of my theory, the theory of reflexivity, which holds that our thinking is inherently biased. Thinking participants cannot act on the basis of knowledge. Knowledge presupposes facts which occur independently of the statements which refer to them; but being a participant implies that one’s decisions influence the outcome. Therefore, the situation participants have to deal with does not consist of facts independently given but facts which will be shaped by the decision of the participants. There is an active relationship between thinking and reality, as well as the passive one which is the only one recognized by natural science and, by way of a false analogy, also by economic theory.

I call the passive relationship the “cognitive function” and the active relationship the “participating function,” and the interaction between the two functions I call “reflexivity.” Reflexivity is, in effect, a two-way feedback mechanism in which reality helps shape the participants’ thinking and the participants’ thinking helps shape reality in an unending process in which thinking and reality may come to approach each other but can never become identical. Knowledge implies a correspondence between statements and facts, thoughts and reality, which is not possible in this situation. The key element is the lack of correspondence, the inherent divergence, between the participants’ views and the actual state of affairs. It is this divergence, which I have called the “participant’s bias,” which provides the clue to understanding the course of events. That, in very general terms, is the gist of my theory of reflexivity. [&myemp;]

The abstract came first. Ever since I became conscious of my existence I have had a passionate interest in understanding it, and I regard my own understanding as the central problem that needed to be understood. —George Soros

PDF: The Uses and Misuses of Historical Reflexivity in Philosophy: From “Historical Critique” to “Deconstruction”, Servanne Jollivet

…what we call “history” began to form a reflexive unity and a space of autonomous meaning when it started to free itself from the external influences that ruled its existence, the most powerful being the one of God. If it remains a prisoner of its surface effects, it is the duty of mankind to think of its deployment, and in doing so, to let the finite consciousness rethink itself in the light of what exceeds it. By bringing to light the historicity of thought through the genealogy that he provided of consciousness and its progress towards the full universality of absolute knowledge, Hegel was one of the first scholars to integrate such a reflexivity into his system. Time is no longer thought as an a priori and unconditional frame, but as an integral part of the knowledge process and one of the conditions of its effectiveness. And the very way the consciousness thinks its own historicity allows it to reflect on itself and to be assured, through this reflexivity, of its concrete contents and effectiveness. A privileged moment of the system…


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