Ludwig Von Bertalanffy

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Bertalanffy, Ludwig Von


Born Sept. 19, 1901, in Atzgersdorf, Austria. Theoretical biologist, originator of the “general theory of systems.”

From 1934 to 1948, Bertalanffy was assistant professor and then professor at the University of Vienna; from 1949 to 1961 he worked in various universities in the USA and Canada; since 1961 he has been professor of theoretical biology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Approaching biological objects as organized dynamic systems, Bertalanffy gave an extensive analysis of the contradictions between mechanism and vitalism, of the origin and development of organismic ideas concerning the integrity of the organism, and, on the basis of the latter, of the formation of the conception of systems in biology. Bertalanffy is responsible for many attempts to apply the organismic approach (that is, the approach from the point of view of integrity) in the study of tissue respiration and of the relation between metabolism and growth in animals. The method proposed by Bertalanffy for the analysis of open, equifinal systems (that is, systems seemingly aspiring to some goal) opened up the possibility of the wide application in biology of the ideas of thermodynamics, cybernetics, and physical chemistry. Bertalanffy’s ideas have been applied in medicine, psychiatry, and other related disciplines. As one of the pioneers of the systems approach, Bertalanffy proposed the first generalized systematic conception in contemporary science. The tasks of this conception, according to Bertalanffy, are the construction of a mathematical apparatus for describing various types of systems, the establishment of the isomorphism of laws in various areas of knowledge, and the search for the means of integrating the sciences. These tasks, however, have only been realized for various types of open biological systems (that is, those exchanging matter, energy, and information with the surroundings). Bertalanffy is one of the organizers of the Society for Research in the Area of General Systems Theory (1954) and its yearbook General Systems.


Theoretische Biologie, vols. 1–2. Berlin, 1932–42.
Das biologische Weltbild. Bern, [1949].
Problems of Life. London, 1952.
General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. New York, 1968.


Lektorskii, V. A., and V. N. Sadovskii. “O printsipakh issledovaniia sistem.” Voprosy filosofii, 1960, no. 8.
Bendmann, A. L. von Bertalanffy’s organismische Auffassung des Lebens in ihren philosophischen Konsequenzen. Jena, 1967.


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