To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Complexity, network theory, and the epistemological issue

Fulvio Mazzocchi (CNR, Institute for Complex Systems, Monterotondo, Rome, Italy)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Article publication date: 1 August 2016



The purpose of this paper is to contribute to refine the conceptual framework of complexity. For such a purpose, a number of epistemologically oriented remarks are provided, arguing about the relevance of second-order considerations for complexity and the importance of pluralism in scientific research.


At first, the paper focuses on one of the topical areas of complexity research, i.e. network theory, but uses this for drawing the attention to more general issues. The underlying assumption is that scientific and philosophical research might complement each other, and that this is especially crucial for the advancement of complexity.


The paper suggests three ways for refining the scheme of complexity: analyzing it at the right level, i.e. not focusing on single principles or theories (e.g. network theory), but rather on the overall frame; including both ontological and epistemological considerations; and recognizing how the epistemological implications of complexity foster the adoption of a pluralist stance in scientific research (and beyond).

Social implications

The way in which science (complexity) is portrayed, i.e. as “perspectival” and inclined to pluralism, could impact on how it is thought, designed and socially perceived.


Complexity is one of most promising fields of contemporary science, but still lacks of a coherent frame of analysis. This requires an investigation from different point of views, as an object of interdisciplinary cooperation. The main paper’s value consists of providing second-order considerations which puts scientific findings in perspective and can contribute to a better understanding of their meaning from a philosophical standpoint too.



Mazzocchi, F. (2016), "Complexity, network theory, and the epistemological issue", Kybernetes, Vol. 45 No. 7, pp. 1158-1170.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited