The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von (1901–1972)

  • Kenneth E. Boulding
Reference work entry


Primarily a biologist, Bertalanffy is recognized as the father of General Systems Theory and a founder of the Society for General Systems Research. Born near Vienna in 1901 he taught at the University of Vienna (1934–48), the University of Ottawa (1948–54), the University of Alberta (1961–9) and the State University of New York at Buffalo (1969–72). Like many pioneers, his work was recognized during his own lifetime by only a few, but his influence continues to grow. His work, especially on the theory of open systems, led the way to a more unified theory of organisms and organizations stretching from the biological to all the social sciences. He was an important contributor to what might be called the ‘post-Newtonian’ movement in the sciences, rejecting the reductionism of logical positivism, insisting that systems have hierarchies of complexity, each with its own patterns and methods, allowing for indeterminacy, recognizing that equilibrium is unknown in the real world except as an approximation, and stressing the generality of both ontogenetic and phylogenetic processes.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kenneth E. Boulding
    • 1
  1. 1.