In 2006 Dr Paul Cilliers, Professor of Deconstruction, Cultural Philosophy and Scientific Philosophy and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, was awarded the Fellowship in recognition of his outstanding achievements in developing a general understanding of the characteristics and nature of complex systems. He became the sixth recipient of the Award and the second from Stellenbosch.
The author of Complexity and Postmodernism: Understanding complex systems (Routledge, 1998), a central text still used world-wide, Cilliers obtained a degree in Electronic Engineering and worked as a research engineer for a decade, specialising in computer modelling and pattern recognition, before embarking on a PhD in Philosophy. As mathematician, musician and philosopher who, in his words, survived school, university and military service by listening to music and reading, he believes his early experience of the ‘real’ world when he worked as an engineer renders him atypical of most academics, and was gratified by the affirmation and recognition the Award gave his work.
“The opportunity to do research freely and unencumbered for a year is vital for the development of ideas, with time to reflect – rare in the current context. Without reflection, academia will become stale. The fact that the importance of philosophical reflection is recognised in this way is extremely encouraging for all of us working towards a more humane understanding of the world. It also recognises the importance of a number of moral values which cannot be reduced to instrumental thinking and mere calculation. Complexity thinking helps us to develop more inclusive strategies, using insights from both the natural and human sciences, without dissolving the difference between them.”
Awarded an A rating by the National Research Foundation in 2008, he became a fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa in 2010 and was appointed as Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Graduate School of the Universiteit voor Humanistiek (UvH) in The Netherlands, for his “outstanding scientific work in the domain of critical complexity thinking”. Together with Professor Jannie Hofmeyr of the Department of Biochemistry, Cilliers was the joint project leader of the Centre for Studies in Complexity at Stellenbosch, an interdisciplinary initiative established in 2009 as part of the University’s HOPE Project, a programme using science to address some of the country’s and continent’s biggest challenges.
Paul – a remarkable Renaissance man and one of the most important academics and Afrikaner intellectuals that this country has produced – passed away on 31st July 2011 and his sudden death came as an enormous shock and loss to his family, colleagues and many friends.