International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



A theory of knowledge and a methodology for its acquisition based on a better understanding of our ways of perception and interpretation of reality.

J. WARFIELD states that constructivism embodies the following beliefs: "a) a universe exists, which includes human beings capable of observing small parts of that universe; b) observation by the human occurs through sensory perception; c) The aggregate of all prior and present sensory perceptions is translated into patterns by each individual observer, this aggregate constituting the "virtual world" of that observer" (1994, p.63).

According to K. KRIPPENDORFF, "Constructivism is a reaction against the Gibsonian view that knowledge and perception are the result of sensation" (1986, p.15). However, GIBSON 's views, while seemingly incomplete, appear as fundamentally correct: it is not possible to imagine any perception and knowledge without the use – eventually indirect – of sense organs, tuned to the physical world by eons of biological evolution. This is not to deny that sensations, transformed into percepts, finally produce constructs.

KORZYBSKl's "structural differential".

On the other hand, H.von FOERSTER (1981) insisted on the need for any living being to organize itself in such a way as to be able to maintain a stable and coherent survival relation with its environment. It would be impossible for it to recreate such internal organization everytime it experiments a new sensation. Should this be the case, the survival value would be nil.

E.von GLASERSFELD thus introduces the basic tenets of constructivism: "(the object) has to be produced by the organism's own construction regardless of whether we believe that the concept corresponds to a thing-in-itself

that exists "out there" independent of any organism's experience…

"From the point of view of the experiencer, there can be no object until he himself coordinates several experiences and thus constructs the invariant concept of the object" (1976, p.116).

This is quite similar to A. KORZYBSKI concept of the process of progressive abstraction (1950). We should, as a semantic exercice, always put the word "object" inbetween quote marks.

von GLASERSFELD adds: "Seen from the point of view of the developing organism at the beginning of his cognitive career, it makes no difference at all whether regularities, invariances, and rules "exist" in a "real" world or not, since the only place where the organism can find them, learn them and know them is in his own experience" (Ibid).

We are thus led to ontological skepticism, but not, of course, to ontological nihilism, nor even agnosticism. This point is thus made by G. KLIR: "To avoid any confusion, it should be emphasized that the constructivist view does not imply that the existence of the real world, independent of the human mind, is necessarily denied. This is a different issue on which constructivism remains neutral. Constructivist view is not an ontological view (concerned with the existence and ultimate nature of reality), but an epistemological view (concerned with the origin, structure, acquisition, and validity of knowledge)" (1993, p.30).

And still, according to von GLASERSFELD: "Even if we postulate a fully structured, pre-existing world, the growing organism can build its representation of that world from no other material than the proximal data of its experience" (Ibid., p.119).

This is in line with J. PIAGET understanding of construction of reality in the child. It would also be enough to add "sensorial" to "experience" in order to coordinate GIBSON's and von GLASERSFELD's views.

On the other hand, as stated also by von GLASERSFELD, what we consider as "objective" arises from the confirmation by others from our own experience. It is the intersubjective repetition from experiences which delivers the surer guarantee about the "objective" reality (1991, p.33). As a result, as resumed by M.C. JACKSON: "von GLASERSFELD further believes that, since one has to hypothecize "others", whose understanding and actions are close to one's own, to provide the highest forms of confirmation of the reality constructed (enough to call it "objective"), it is possible to postulate a constructivist ethics" (1988, p.120).

M.C.LE DUC proposes the following logical principles of constructivism:

"1. The principle of recursion:… the mental world organises the concrete world by organizing itself

"2. The principle of dialogics: Sometimes truth is a dynamic process of two opposing and complementary mental structures.

"3. The principle of truth by action. VICO put it best (verum ipsum factum). A mental construct is true if it has been proved effective in action and effective action elicits truth" (1992, p.920).

As a result, radical constructivism is to be a theory of knowledge, but not a theory of being ("Sein")

Constructivism (Radical)

E.von GLASERSFELD, the main proponent of constructivism, explains as follows this extreme posture: "The substitution of the concept of fit (and its dynamic corollary, viability) for the traditional concept of truth as a matching, isomorphic, or iconic representation of reality, is the central feature of the theory of knowledge I have called Radical Constructivism" (1988, p.77-8).

In a recent reconsideration E. von GLASERSFELD wrote: "Constructivism is an epistemological model and can no more be empirically refuted than LEIBNIZ's Monadology, NICHOLAS of CUSA's theory of "docta ignorancia", or any other theory of knowing. They are conceptual networks built on assumptions which one mayor may not like; they have no truth value; what matters in their internal coherence and whether we find them useful"(as quoted by R. GLANVILLE, 2001, p. 142)

J. MINGERS makes this point even clearer: "Constructivists tend to argue (as does von GLASERSFELD) that their's is purely an epistemology, concerning limits on our knowledge of the world, not an ontology, concerning what mayor may not exist"(1996, p. 21)

In fact, the deep nature of the very observers escapes the ontological query only through a kind of basic agnosticism.

Ontological skepticism


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

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