True, Good and General System Theories: How to Develop and Evaluate Them


  • Carl Slawski


GST, criteria for constructing and evaluating theories, true and good theory, insight devices, conflict resolution


This review attempts to codify the bases in philosophy of science, physical and social, in order to aid future generic theory construction, development, evaluation, and potential research funding. To lay the groundwork, a theoretically core building block of a true theory is a unit concept, here proposed as “change in relationships.” The overall procedure is built on the definition of true theory as a set of deductively interrelated hypotheses, which has important evidence to back it up (G. Homans, 1967). The six headings (I through VI) can each be represented by one main (and several lesser layers of descriptive charts). I. A Generic 4-BOX FLOW DIAGRAM, Chart #I, taken as a device, is a way of advancing from typologies and paradigms to a process diagram applicable to any brain-like mechanism in an interacting system. A variation makes the chart applicable as a general Social Problem Solver for applying any theory to concrete cases. II. A relationship insight DEVICES typology arrays possible generic MEDIA FOR UNDERSTANDING (Chart #II) in an approach to a kind of cognitive , culminating in a general application (whether oriented to policy or helping), one that contains practical prescriptions or guidelines for effective or fulfilling action (1988, 1989, 1993). A ladder of ten meta-methodological concepts in theory construction is reduced here (Chart #III) to the THREE LEVELS OF TRUE GST. The levels are labeled from bottom to top level as follows, # ‘0’, ahP (ad hoc PRE-Theory), then up through the three main levels: 1) LPC (LIMITED PROBLEM (or Issue) CENTERED, 2) PAM (PURE ABSTRACT, MULTI-LEVEL), and finally to 3) CESP (COMPREHENSIVE ECO-SOPHICAL POLICY). IV. The four main CRITERIA FOR A GOOD THEORY, Chart #IV, with the goal of (taken from Slawski’s original 1974 article in Zeitschrift fur Soziologie, plus many prior Proceedings papers), are: 1) Ease of application or testability, 2) information value, 3) predictability, and 4) explanatory power (the most crucial criterion of all). Every theory and every hypothesis should be measured up against these four criteria. Expanded lists up to 33 Criteria for a Good Theory can be applied to any clearly describable situation, including organizational Policy Theory, or a Helping Situation. V. This causal and typological list attempts to focus on a top level, short list of 13 Core Hypotheses, containing GST’s main distinctive hypotheses (Chart #V-i, then displayed side by side with their 13 corresponding prescriptions). This is a broad attempt at setting up a model for many extant, classical GST’s. VI. A case of a TRUE, GOOD AND GENERAL SYSTEM THEORY aims at the possible utility of the overall approach presented here. Specifically, Gandhian Ethics of Conflict Resolution: A TRUE THEORY (adapted mainly from A. Naess) is boiled down to 5 selected hypotheses and two norms (Chart #VI, based in turn on 4 normative Hindu concepts, ahimsa, satyagraha, brahmacharya, swaraj and swadeshi).



How to Cite

Slawski, C. (2006). True, Good and General System Theories: How to Develop and Evaluate Them. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2006, Sonoma, CA, USA. Retrieved from



General Theory of Systems