Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 11, No 1 (2015)

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On Inertia: Resistance to Change in Individuals, Institutions and the Development of Knowledge

Bart Zantvoort


The term ‘inertia’ is often used to describe a kind of irrational resistance to change in individuals or institutions. Institutions, ideas and power structures appear to become entrenched over time, and may become ineffective or obsolete, even if they once played a legitimate or useful role. In this paper I argue that there is a common set of problems underlying the occurrence of resistance to change in individuals, social structures and the development of knowledge. Resistance to change is not always irrational or problematic; it is also necessary to allow stable personal identities and social structures to survive in a constantly changing world. I offer a historical and theoretical framework for the question of inertia. Finally, I argue that philosophy has often seen its task to be the critique of ossified, inert or obsolete ideas and social structures, but that it has neglected the positive dimension of resistance to change.

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