The Regulative Idea of Recursive Operations: A Second-Order Cybernetic Approach to Responsibility

Stefan Hielscher, Helge Löbler

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section


Drawing on a cybernetic understanding of systems, this paper introduces the broader notion of “second order responsibility” and distinguishes it from a traditional model of responsibility, which, in terms of cybernetics, can be described as “first order responsibility.” We regard this concept as being capable of addressing major shortcomings related to the standard concept of individual responsibility without retreating to a rejectionist position, which dismisses the concept of responsibility in modern society at all. Instead of ascribing responsibility to actors, and analyzing it in terms of actors, actions and consequences—which is becoming more and more difficult in light of interdependent and increasingly competitive interactions in modern societies—we propose a perspective that applies responsibility to responsibility itself, i.e. to the process of negotiating the norm of ascribing responsibilities, which, a priori, cannot be taken as universally given in a pluralistic, modern society.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEthical Economy
PublisherSpringer India
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

Publication series

NameEthical Economy
ISSN (Print)2211-2707
ISSN (Electronic)2211-2723


  • (Post-)Modern society
  • Responsibility
  • Second-order cybernetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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