The Philosophical Foundations of Critical Systems Thinking

Beyond Habermas, toward Foucault
  • Néstor Valero-Silva


Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas represent two of the most influential contemporary philosophers of the post-war era. Their studies of modern society have contributed to continuous debate and development in moral and legal philosophy, sociology, gender studies, and more recently, in systems science — specially within the paradigm of Critical Systems Thinking. However, it is important to highlight that most of the Critical Systems literature (e.g., Ulrich, 1983; Jackson, 1991) has concentrated almost exclusively on the work of Jürgen Habermas. Only Flood (1990) has considered Foucault in any depth, but he has tended to focus on Foucault’s earlier work. As far as I am aware, his later work has not yet been assessed by Critical Systems thinkers at all. There may be possible reasons for the dominance of Habermasian thinking. One is Habermas’s well established reputation as part of the Frankfurt School’s efforts to challenge traditional conceptions of science and social theory, as initially proposed by Horkheimer and Adorno. Another is Foucault’s refusal to systematically construct and argue for a theory, a feature that he shares with other contemporary thinkers. A third is that Foucault’s philosophy does not provide a normative framework to guide and evaluate social action.


Critical System Philosophical Foundation Political Engagement Normative Framework Universal Standard 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Couzens-Hoy, D., 1994, Critical theory and critical history, in:Critical Theory”, McCarthy, T. and Couzens-Hoy, D., eds., Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  2. Dávila, J., 1993, Foucault’s interpretive analytics of power, Systems Practice. 6: 4.Google Scholar
  3. Dreyfus, H., and Rabinow, P., 1982, “Michel Foucault, Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  4. Flood, R. L., 1990, “Liberating Systems Theory”, Plenum Press, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Foucault, M., 1984, What is Enlightenment?, in: “Foucault Reader” Rabinow, P., ed., Pantheon, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Foucault, M., 1982, The subject and power, in: “Michel Foucault, Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics”, Dreyfus, H., and Rabinow, P., University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  7. Habermas, J., 1984, “The Theory of Communicative Action”, 2 vols., Beacon Press, Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  8. Hiley, D. R., 1984, Foucault and the analysis of power: political engagement without liberal hope or comfort, Praxis International. 4: 2.Google Scholar
  9. Jackson, M. C., 1991, “Systems Methodology for the Management Sciences”, Plenum, New York.Google Scholar
  10. Nehemas, A., 1988, Review of Habermas’s philosophical discourse of modernity, The New Republic. 198 (22).Google Scholar
  11. Raulet, G., 1983, Interview with Gérald Raulet, Telos 55. Spring.Google Scholar
  12. Ulrich, W., 1983, “Critical Heuristics of Social Planning: a New Approach to Practical Philosophy”, Paul Haupt, Berne, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  13. Valero-Silva, N., 1994, Michel Foucault: power, knowledge and the “critical ontology of ourselves”, Systemist. 6: 3.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Néstor Valero-Silva
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Systems Studies, Department of Management Systems and SciencesUniversity of HullHullUK

Personalised recommendations