Systems Are Theory

Cybernetics & Human Knowing 24, 2 (2017), 9–39

31 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2014 Last revised: 3 Feb 2020

Date Written: May 1, 2016


Systems are theory. They are distinguished by observers, scientific or intellectual; and talked about with other observers. They describe a complexity, consisting of a highly integrated differentiation, established and maintained by a boundary, which selectively separates a unit from and connects it with an environment as seen by an observer. The paper looks at the history of the notion of systems from Greek and scholastic up to its peak in enlightenment era, enters the sociological reception of the notion with Auguste Comte, Vilfredo Pareto, Talcott Parsons, and Niklas Luhmann, and concludes with notes on complexity, the observer, and negation.

Keywords: complexity, form, social systems, systems, negation

Suggested Citation

Baecker, Dirk, Systems Are Theory (May 1, 2016). Cybernetics & Human Knowing 24, 2 (2017), 9–39, Available at SSRN: or

Dirk Baecker (Contact Author)

Witten/Herdecke University ( email )



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