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 thinking process which pervades all problem-solving activities" (J.van GIGCH, 1978, p.81).

"Iterative thinking at the basis of Systems Design Process by which plans are made and alternatives chosen for implementation" (J .van GIGCH, 1978, p.589).

van GIGCH states: "Decision making is a term sometimes reserved for the action of making a choice among alternatives. This is a narrow interpretation of the concept" (p.81). van GIGCH broadens considerably the scope of decision making and shows that a good knowledge of context and context of context is a important factor for reaching sound decisions. His very developed arguments unfortunately cannot be satisfactorily resumed here (see chapter 4 of his book).

E.J. KROWITZ, in accordance with H. SIMON principles of decision making, states the necessity to cling to "choice of bounded rationality", which implies "a decision process by which policies are selected that may not be optimal but are not inconsistent with important system constraints" (1991 , p.48).

However, as observed by K.DE GREENE: "In decision making situations an unwarranted degree of rationality and optimality are often assumed" (1990, p.51). Uncertainties, for example, can be formally acknowledged, but their real scope actually ignored. And the use of terms like "satisfactory, adequate, useful" and the like frequently occult subjective and/or self interested valuations.

On the other hand, models used in decision-making are generally based on implicit assumptions and biases about the nature an the actual dynamics of the system (for instance, trying to merely re-stablish stability in situations of irreversible change), not to speak of the possible deformations resulting of the formalization process itself.

Moreover, one of the main problems of the decision maker is to discover all the important constraints, many of which, as observed by J.van GIGCH, originate in the metasystem.

A very serious problem affecting decision making is denounced by M. DODDS: "… human values are relegated to an inferior status and a variable to be discounted in rational planning and decision-making, the rational concern being with feasibility, with "given means" and with their optimisation in every context. Operationalized as "development policy", we have seen how it failed in the Third World", and in the guise of "shock therapy", we see the effect in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe where the entire cultural configuration of a society is not taken in account" (1994, p.1419). Obviously, the problem behind this problem is the lack of a practical method to generated a wide, safisfactory and sufficiently fast consensus of all stakeholders in critical situations. This is a double-bind case: Some really sound changes are impossible without democratic consensus… but cannot be postpone until all stakeholders can acquire the necessary knowledge, understanding and sense of personal responsability.

M. DODDS herself recognizes this, at least implicitly: "The separation of authority and responsability, and the separate optimization of societal functions creates structural conflict between different functions as well as between government and civil society" (Ibid). Still, where is the short cut we need: Enlightened co-participative design is possible within limited groups, but how to generalize it for thousand or millions of participants (generally anxious for swift change, ill-informed about real possibilities and frequently manipulated by groups of "hidden persuaders")?

I.I. MITROFF and H.A. LINSTONE, using their Multiple Perspective Concept, observe that the "Organizational or Societal Perspective" is much better understood in China: "Chinese culture is bureaucratic and hierarchical so that Organizational games and strategies are generally known to everyone…. (However), Personal perspectives present more of a hurdle" (1993, p.107).


  • 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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Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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