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.



The supposed capability of the human reason to observe and register reality as it is in itself.

In fact, this is a belief. For H. MARGENAU (as quoted by van GIGCH, 2002, p. 202), to EINSTEIN himself objectivity meant "the belief in an external world, independent of the perceiving subject, (which) is the basis of all natural science".

As we are all "perceiving subjects" and as such unable to escape this condition, we must unavoidably accept it as a postulated foundation for all knowledge. it is however clear that the postulate serves us quite well to understand and manage our surrounding environment… at least as long as we do not delude ourselves.

Objectivity was the bedrock of classical 19th. Century science: "The characters of the observer should never intrude in his/her observations", which imposes the absolute separation of the observer and the observed.

D. Mc NEIL writes: "Despite the persistent myth of perfect objectivity left over from the idealization of mechanism during the nineteenth Century, it has long been understood that, whether it be in quantum uncertainty or in social interaction, every observation is an intervention… more or less. Furthermore, it is absurd to claim that scientific endeavor is detached as long as it strives for "prediction and control" (1993b, p.4).

From a different viewpoint, H.von FOERSTER states that "objectivity" "… is the cognitive version of the physiological blindspot: we do not see what we do not see. Objectivity is a subject's delusion that observing can be done without him" (i.e. as an observer) (American Society for Cybernetics Declaration 1983).

The French economist J. FOURASTIÉ called this "ignorance of ignorance" and the Dutch systemist G.de ZEEUW developed a similar concept under the name of "invisibility".

The possibility of objectivity is indeed a belief, that leads to an ontological postulate. P. DELATTRE, (also quoted by J.L.LE MOIGNE) observes: "The very notion of objectivity is not so limpid as it seems to be. The concept of objectivity is closely linked with the one of more or less universal consensus, but this is certainly not sufficient" (1971, p.8).

This can be more or less easily done in the "objective world of classical science… subsumed as a special case of weak interaction" (i.e. between the observing and the observed systems) (R. GLANVILLE, 1979, p.37)

In other words, that which we call reality seems merely to mirror our most generally shared views about the equivalence of our respective perceptions and the interpretations that we elaborate on them: "objectivity" at its best is merely more or less enlightened and well founded agreement between shared subjectivities. As such, it can exist merely as "… a systemic property of the system of science taken collectively. Objectivity, if it results, occurs from a process of weeding out our conflicting claims" (I.I. MITROFF and H.A. LINSTONE, 1993, p.89).

Practical consequences in any human activity – scientific or other – are portentous: Pretence of objectivity from the part of any stakeholder in any issue is merely either ignored subjectivity or, worse, a attempt to silence anyone proposing different views.

Also C.W. CHURCHMAN came to the conclusion that, as subjectivity can never be excluded, it should be included in any definition of objectivity (1971, p.169-72).

We are led in this way to ontological skepticism, which does not deny the existence of objective reality, but considers that is only possible to know it in a relative way, through more or less shared models, ever susceptible of further revisions.

This is of course the lesson of the whole history of science and, still more generally of human reason.


  • 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).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

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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