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 system's behavior characterized by any nonpurposeful end-directed process.

R. VALLÉE writes: "A dynamic system is teleonomic if it evolves as if it would aim at a goal. It is the case of cybernetic systems whose present state tends by way of a negative feedback to close in toward a state to be reached" (1995, p.17).

"The word teleonomy was invented in the fifties by PITIENDRIGH to replace teleology in order to get rid of final ism in biology… the difference being that in one case (teleology) one deals with purposeful end-directed processes governed by an "intelligent, designing mind", while in teleonomy one is looking for non-purposeful end-directed processes" (H. ATLAN, 1989, p.240).

Still, one wonders about the real meaning of an "end -directed process" which is not "purposeful",… or how do we define "purpose", "goal", "end" and the like in such a way as to avoid ambiguities.

Moreover, PITIENDRIGH's good intentions did finally not suppressed the confusion: in 1990 still, M. LlU can write: "The notion of program permits to escape from this difficulty (i.e.: anthropomorphism), and to conceive teleonomy as a property of life" (p.274), which is all right… if humans are not considered as living systems!

Fortunately, in his Systemic Glossary (in french) E. SCHWARZ gives the following explanations: Teleonomy is "the directional property of the logical organization of a system (=directionality) such as any change seems to aim at a future goal (rule in an homeostatic system, self-reproduction in an autopoietic system, existence of a tropism, a need, a desire, an intention, a goal, a purpose, etc…) The goal may even itself evolve in time. One could be tempted to oppose a causal system (whose present state is caused by its past) to a teleonomic system (whose present state seems to be conditioned by a goal). This would be erroneous, as the teleonomic property is itself causal, i.e. the result of the history of the teleonomic system"(1993, p. 13)

Another interesting view is J. MONOD's one, who considered the human central nervous system as the most teleonomic system that ever appeared. Its main characteristic is seemingly its predictive capacity which gives it the possibility to project in the present a more or less probable forecast of the future. This creates some possibility to control it. (J. MONOD, 1970)

It could be said finally that teleonomy as a concept mainly pOints to a peculiar link between past and future through a capacity of creating a directive correlation through a feedforward. This could be called "teleonomic coherence".

Finality;Purpose;Purpose in social systems; Retro-propagation approach


  • 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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