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[sigchairs] Fundamental Tasks of Systems Science (Umbach) {Tom Mandel 2004/04/01
Posted by: daviding (
Date: April 29, 2004 03:47PM

ISSS Proceedings
ISSS 2000
Toronto Canada
CD-ROM file 20045.pdf

Eberhard Umbach
Institute of Environmental Systems Science
University of Osnabrueck
D-49069 Osnabrueck
Systems science in its modern form originated in the 1930s, and expanded its claims until the 1970s. In the 1960s, under the term systems analysis, it was a compulsory tool in the US Federal Administration, and cherished in some administrations of other countries, like Western Germany. The present contribution aims at dressing inventories of the claims made by systems scientists, confronting these claims with critical literature, and drawing conclusions as to the feasability of the different claims. The analysis comes to the following conclusion:

Systems science ought to set its priorities in those domains where it can most serve
scientific progress and societal benefits. Both of these aims can be fulfilled, if it
concentrates its efforts on networking the specialised sciences. Here the systems concept offers a set of conceptual and methodological instruments; there is a demand for this in science and society; and there is a prevalent recognition in science and the public at large that systems science is suited for that and has sufficiently demonstrated its capacity. Contributing to this main task of networking the specialized social and natural sciences is the task of finding integrative concepts. Beyond the systems concept and the feed-back concept, the concept of information, and their derivatives, a number of concepts have come to the fore, e.g. self-organization, hierarchy, evolution. Also epistemology and model theory must be included. All these concepts are applicable to analysis and synthesis beyond the specialized sciences, but these concepts, and the systems concept itself, are
also part of the latter, in the sense that they are used there and cannot be claimed as being specific to systems science.

Keywords: epistemology, integrative concepts, networking the specialised sciences, world

In 1996, the German epistemologist Klaus Mueller made a voluminous critical analysis of systems science, which he still calls ”systems theory”, maintaining Bertalanffy’s terminology. He argues that systems science is still in a stage of underdevelopment on Fundamental Tasks of Systems Science epistemological grounds. That it competes with the paradigm of the exact sciences, without having a consistant epistemological basis. That it uses analogies as a major method, without taking into account the purely heuristic function of them. That it lacks the unity of the exact sciences, being subdivided into different streams that use different terminology. He points out that even the meaning of the systems concept is not the same for all systems scientists, some using it as describing reality (”The world contains different kinds of systems, cf. organisms or cities”), for others, the systems concept refers to the sphere of the observer (”For many practical purposes, it is convenient for human obervers or actors to describe certain phenomena, cf. organisms or cities, as systems”). On the other hand, Mueller is startled by the attraction that systems science holds for the scientific specialists as well as for the laymen. ”Terminology from systems theory has become a customary element of scientific discourse. ...As late as the 1960s, systems theory was regarded as a revolutionary perspective, but in the course of time the general systems theory has become a legitimiser that influences the consciousness of numerous
scientists - thus entering into competition with analytical epistemology,” (Mueller, 1996, p. 1). ”As one of the great concepts of science next to positivism and dialectic philosophy, general systems theory claims to be a formal and material unifying science, which transcends positivism ...” (p. 10).


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