Cindynics have occasionally1 been erroneously presented as relying on the use of probability theory. Not only is this not the case, but this is the worst possible misunderstanding since going beyond probabilistic approaches is precisely what enabled the mastery of propensities to emerge as the core concept of Cindynics .
To better understand this, we can consider an opposite epistemic move: the one through which Claude Lévi-Strauss gave birth to structuralism starting from diametrically opposed initial considerations.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, mathematics enjoyed a very positive image, in particular thanks to the development of cybernetics or quantum mechanics, and Lévi-Strauss wanted to be able to use probabilities in anthropology as well.
But the legitimate use of probabilities imposed constraints2 which pushed him to import the notion of structure from the field of linguistics: the main characteristic of a structure, stability, was what made it possible to guarantee a stability of results compatible with a rigorous use of probabilities. Structuralism had just been born and with it a particularly static conception of situations, resulting directly from this initial methodological choice, and leaving little or no room for the consideration of agency, or - in cindynical terms - of the power of actors over situations.
Conversely, Georges-Yves Kervern, the founder of Cindynics, who was also Deputy Director of the UAP insurance group, considered that in practice probabilities are a "still poorly decanted conceptual zone"3 . For example, you can flip a coin a thousand times inside a lab to see if it lands on the tail or head side. But can you toss Egypt a thousand times in a row to see if it lands on the revolution side or not?
An example: in 2001, based on a dataset covering two hundred years of history, Hegre et al. proposed a representation of the risk of civil war in a country 4 as a function of two factors: its level of democracy and the number of years since the most recent regime change. This three-dimensional representation of the risk of civil war determined a surface where this risk is minimum in particular when democracy is minimum and the time elapsed since the most recent regime change is maximum. According to this model, Moammar Gadhafi's Libya would therefore have been one of the countries where the risk of civil war was the lowest ...
In the mid-90s, Georges-Yves Kervern therefore proposed an alternative approach, based on the propensity of situations. The notion of situation had in particular been described by Karl Popper who considered that a real situation is unique and never occurs twice identically. This is a fundamental initial observation when we want to study human or complex organisations.
Thus, Cindynics went beyond classical two-dimensional representations of risk (probability x severity) and attempted to describe the vulnerability of situations, defined as the propensity of situations to generate damage. This notion of propensity appears to have been inspired by Popper, who saw propensities as forces or force fields, but more deeply it was indeed inspired by Sun Tzu's strategic thinking: the mastery of propensities is the core concept5 of his Art of War. And you cannot truly understand the Art of War or Cindynics without understanding the concept of mastery of propensities.
LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. Anthropologie structurale. Paris : Librairie Plon, 1958.
KERVERN, Georges-Yves. La théorie de la description appliquée à l’essentiel des cindyniques. avril 2005.