Theoretical Unit - TNU

The theoretical research will be conducted by theoretical unit of the CPDR.

Prof. Jacques Lenoble (CPDR - UCL)

Prof. Marc Maesschalck (CPDR - UCL)

Dr. Laurence Blésin (CPDR - UCL)

Dr. Alain Loute (CPDR - UCL)


Our hypothesis is that, in spite of the gains represented by the various categories of incentives suggested by the contemporary research on governance theory, further progress is required in the analysis of the conditions for success of the learning operation. Our project consists in reconstructing this dynamic and attempting to shed light on the persisting opacity in researchers’ implicit approach to collective action and to the learning operation which it presupposes. We intend, with this opening of the theory of governance toward a more directly epistemological reflection: first to indicate the deepening implicitly required of this pragmatist theory of governance, second, to define the new conditions our institutional arrangements should respect to ensure a better success of collective action.

  • Moving the theory of governance further

Our departure point is that pragmatism may provide solutions to the question of the learning process on which the capability of collective action for selecting the behaviors that will maximize the satisfaction of normative expectations of its members depends; This model :

   -  focuses on the conversational process available to discussion groups, and on justification processes supposed to build trust between members of these groups,
   -  studies the innovation capacities of the actors engaged in the collaborative processes and therefore the conditions for the adjustment and transformation of behaviors, but
   -  still presupposes that acting on the institutional design would stimulate a rule for action somehow already present in the mind of the actors engaged in solving the problem.

The 'pragmatist turn' rightly highlights two correlative requirements. But it does not succeed in building them completely: the requirement to redefine the forms of the learning operation affecting collective action and the requirement to determine the learning conditions for this learning operation to be successful – or, more simply said, to determine what is the reflexive property of society which makes it possible to resort in the course of action to reflection on the action – are not explicitly constructed as mutually supportive

Our new approach to learning processes means to abandon the naive presupposition that there are, in a way or another, pre-given rules and capacities always and already available.

  • Translating theoretical advances into operational prescriptions.

The theoretical advances made in the theory of governance should encourage the three thematic researches in their search for insufficiencies of the existing institutional devices set up in their respective domains of investigation. Indeed, our hypothesis leads to highlight the insufficiencies of the recent promotion of institutional arrangements designed in terms of collective learning by drawing attention to the fact that the focus on institutional designs is based on the presupposition that a rule of action already exists in the mind of actors engaged in the resolution of the problems, which would just have to be sufficiently (appropriately) stimulated . Our objective is also to move this first level of attention toward a generative attention concerning directly the manner of learning to learn and the implications of such an approach for the evaluation of institutional arrangements meant to favor learning processes.


Description of the Research

The theoretical research is organised in two worpackages.

The first Workpackage (WP TNU 1) will consist in ensuring an ‘interactive’ integration between the results of the theoretical researches and the thematic researches. To this end, a two step operation is programmed:

1. A framing report

   -  to reconstruct the dynamics of the different recent attempts to open the ‘black box’ of the theory of learning and, on this basis, to define the conditions of success of the operation of selection allowing collective action ;
   -  to present the insufficiencies of these different attempts in order to show the deepening they require to open this black box further;
   -  to be discussed with three thematic units to see if it can guide the ‘normative’ reflections these thematic researches have to carry out during the second half of IAP VI.

2. A protocol defining an institutional design

   -  to express in operational terms the theoretical results presented in the framing report discussed and appropriated by the thematic researches with the help of a committee composed of a representative of the theoretical unit and of a representative of each of the three thematic researches.
Such an institutional design shall have two main components.
     -  The first component will concern the minimum characteristics a governance mechanism seeking to ensure that
         the capacity for learning will be effectively created should present, based on the lessons drawn from the three
         thematic researches.
     -  The second component should allow the assessment of concrete institutional devices.


The second Workpackage (WP TNU 2) further study to identify the conditions for an institutional expression of reflexivity from a normative perspective


In order to determine normatively and to identify the conditions for an institutional expression of such condition of reflexivity, the theoretical Unit is developing its research in three directions, which correspond to three studies. These three studies further look into the hypotheses proposed in WP 1. They will take into account the results of the work on the synthesis report by the thematic researches.

  • The first study will draw all the consequences of a theory of learning based upon the Deweyan approach to collective action in the public interest. This axis of research aims to a broader coherence with the pragmatist added value of Dewey who rightly conceives the inquiry as an operation of controlled or conducted transformation of a situation whose indeterminate character the agent recognizes. The consequence is a specific approach to the "attention" which has to be reconstructed for itself as a reflexive operation consisting in linking, in collective action, the realization of potentialities by joint actions and the necessity of a common organization guaranteeing the relations between these actions. The challenge is therefore both to form a number of cooperative relationships whose impacts are felt beyond the situation of the immediate parties involved, and the tests that may confirm that such experiments are capable of contributing to a process of exchange and to the strengthening of commonly shared values.
  • A second study will determine the specific added value of a theory of collective action based upon an internalist approach to learning, as far as the learning operation requires an action being performed, through a collective process, on its own conditions of 'effectuation'. This conception of learning is typical of ‘transcendental theories of action’. While there exist a number of versions of such theories of action, the focus will be here on Fichte's Theory of Law and on its contribution to the contemporary debate in legal and political philosophy
  • A third study will reconstruct, according to such approach, a normative theory of the subject capable of laying down a frame of interpretation of the transformations of behaviours that doesn't presuppose, in some way or another, pre-given rules or capacities already and always available. Such a frame should conceive the relationship to both past and present experiences in a way which makes detachment from those experiences possible by the use of reflexive learning. Instead of presuming mental schemes capable to follow rules on interpretation of past experiences, reflexive learning aims to highlight new conditions of usage of past experiences in order to produce both new rules and new capacities. If the ‘falsificationist’ method used by D. Schön in support of his theory of metaphor has already opened a path in this direction, it remains dependent on an approach to the logic of inquiry based upon a "rule of attention" conceived as a rule laid down in the mind of the practitioner. It is this incomplete conception of the reflexivity of the subject-practitioner that this axis of research aims to overcome in building up better the necessity of a " third party mechanism " internal to the operation of reflexivity.


Prof. Jacques Lenoble

Director - Coordinator

Université catholique de Louvain

Centre de Philosophie du Droit [ CPDR]







  • 26-28-29 April 2011 : "Philosophie du droit et enjeux de la gouvernance" by Prof. G.A. Legault (Sherbrooke University) - Louvain-La-Neuve

  • [Programme - Presentations]



Anne Liesse

Administrative Research Coordinator

Université catholique de Louvain

Centre de Philosophie du Droit [ CPDR ]

Place Montesquieu 2

B - 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve