Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2008, Madison, Wisconsin, Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Meeting of the ISSS

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Manfred Drack


Most of what Bertalanffy published in the field of “organismic” biology was written in German and is thus not widely known. In order to understand the development and meaning of his “general system theory” – which might more accurately be called “general systemology” – those early works are essential. In this talk I will therefore focus on key aspects of his “system theory” of life, both on the level of scientific concepts and philosophical considerations. This will also include a note on works that influenced Bertalanffy and motivated him to later establish a new transdisciplinary field. He was influenced by several philosophers as well as by results from experimental research. As a trained philosopher, Bertalanffy was clearly aware that the notion of systems has a long history going back at least to ancient Greek thinkers. As for the influences from science, the focus here will be on Paul A. Weiss and his experiments performed at the Biologische Versuchsanstalt in Vienna. Those two roots will be used to clarify Bertalanffy’s unique contributions towards a system approach in biology and beyond, in which the aim was to free the term system from vague or even obscure metaphysical connotations and arrive at a framework that is useful for science.

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