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.



Early in the development of systems thinking, very important proposals were enounced by C. West CHURCHMAN (1968, 1971, 1979) mainly related to the design of social systems. Churchman, a pioneer in operational research, became early disillusioned by its limited scope. He quickly veered toward a much wider approach. He recognized that many different worldviews are possible. As a result he tried to "develop a holistic, interdisciplinary, experimental science addressed to problems in social systems" (M. JACKSON, p. 222, 2000) Consequently "… it becomes clear that subjectivity should be embraced by the systems approach. Systems designers must accept that completely different evaluations of social systems, their purposes, and their performance can and do exist. The only way we can get near to a view of the whole system is to look at it from as many perspectives as possible"(Ibid, p. 222)

Churchman himself states (inspired by the pragmatist philosopher E.A. SINGER):"… the Singerian inquirer pushes teleology to the ultimate, by a theory of increasing or developing purpose in human Society: man becomes more and more deeply involved in seeking goals" (p. 254, 1971)

He remains however cautious. In JACKSON's words: "For Churchman, systems and whether they work or not are in the mind of the observer rather than in the real world. A model can only capture one possible perception of the nature of a system. Objectivity, therefore, can only rest upon open debate among holders of many different perspectives.

And the results of a systems study can only receive their guarantee from the maximum participation of different stakeholders, holding various worldviews, in the design process" (p. 224, 2000)

These views have been echoed in distinct ways by various systemists. Bela BANATHY Sr. used it as a springboard toward a methodology of design oriented to idealistic projected goals (Fuschl and Asilomar Conversations).

However, even a consensus among various observers obtained through conversations does not guarantee that all important aspects have been considered and integrated. Under conceptualization, as described by J. WARFIELD (or FOURASTIÉ's ignorance of ignorance) remains always possible.

In such cases, idealistic design can be led widely astray and produce less than happy results. No good design can be obtained merely through generous intentions.

This is why R.A. BRYER, for example, taxed Churchman's work as "idealistic and impractical". Of course "realist and practical" ways are frequently used as cover-ups for opportunistic and even dishonest design.

JACKSON expressed this as follows: "(Churchman) assumes that genuine participation in dialectical debate can be arranged and that there is a possibility of achieving synthesis. To those who see the social world as characterized by asymmetry of power, structural conflict, and contradiction, these are pious hopes indeed" (Ibid, p. 226)

Anyhow, Churchman's views represent a lively current in the systemist movement and his methodological proposals have exerted a far-reaching influence on many systemic thinkers. A good example is the development of the concept of Evolutive learning community, elabored mainly by Alexander LASZLO during the 1998 Fuschl Conversations.

Design conversations; Design (Co-participative); Design culture; Design (Generic); Design inquiry; Design (Systems); Generic design science; Group Technique (Nominal)


  • 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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