Underlying assumptions of several traditions in systems theory and cybernetics – Eric B Dent and Stuart Umpleby, January 1998

What a wonderful little paper.

The six elements are:

  1. Observation
  2. Causality
  3. Reflexivity
  4. Self-organization
  5. Indeterminism
  6. Relationships
  7. Environment

The ‘six schools or traditions within systems science’ are:

  1. cybernetics
  2. operations research
  3. general systems theory
  4. system dynamics
  5. total quality management
  6. organizational learning.

Source: Underlying assumptions of several traditions in systems theory and cybernetics

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Abstract
How is the field of systems science different from other scientific fields, and how can we distinguish the various traditions within systems science? We propose that there is a set of underlying assumptions which are generally shared within systems science but are less common in other scientific fields. Furthermore, the various traditions within systems science have adopted different combinations of these assumptions. We examine six traditions within systems science –cybernetics, operations research, general systems theory, system dynamics, total quality management, and organizational learning. We then consider eight underlying assumptions –observation, causality, reflexivity, self-organization, determinism, environment, relationships, and holism. We then assess where each tradition stands with respect to each of the underlying assumptions.