Symposium R. Ludwig von Bertalanffy: A Reappraisal of his Theoretical Biology (cancelled)

This symposium was cancelled.

Chairs: Werner Callebaut and Dan Nicholson, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research, Altenberg, Austria

Invited speakers

Ludwig von Bertalanffy is primarily known as the founding father of General System Theory. However, he also played a fundamental role in the development of theoretical biology and the philosophy of biology in the first half of the twentieth century. Bertalanffy was one of the leading proponents of the organicist (or organismic) school of theoretical biology that sought to overcome the philosophical deadlock reached by mechanistic and vitalistic theories of life by recognizing the need for physicochemical analyses of living systems whilst simultaneously defending their ontological distinctiveness. For Bertalanffy, the concept of organism—as well as related notions such as self-organization, wholeness, and intrinsic purposiveness—could not be fully explained in physicochemical terms alone (even if they were not incompatible with them) and thus demanded the articulation of an autonomous biology with its own laws and principles. Bertalanffy conceived of theoretical biology as a synthetic enterprise that would bring together under a unified epistemological framework the diverse findings of biology as well as serving as a heuristic guide directing empirical biological research. The aim of this workshop is to explore the fate of Bertalanffy’s ambitious program for theoretical biology as well as to re-examine the coherence, relevance, and applicability of Bertalanffy’s philosophy of biology in contemporary biological contexts (both theoretical and experimental).


  • Critical Reflections on Bertalanffy’s Life and Work
  • Analysis and Evaluation of Bertalanffy’s Philosophy of Biology
  • The Viennese Connection: The Theoretical Biology of Bertalanffy and Paul Weiss
  • The Relevance of Bertalanffy’s General System Theory to Today’s Systems Biology
  • The Fate of Bertalanffy’s General System Theory in Biology and Beyond

Some Relevant References:

Brauckmann, S. 2000. Eine Theorie für Lebendes? Die synthetische Antwort Ludwig von Bertalanffys. PhD thesis, University of Munster.

Drack M., Apfalter W. 2007. Is Paul A. Weiss’ and Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s system thinking still valid today? System Research and Behavioral Science 24: 537-546.

Drack M., Apfalter W., Pouvreau D. 2007. On the Making of a System Theory of Life: Paul A Weiss and Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s Conceptual Connection. The Quarterly Review of Biology 82: 349-373.

Etxeberria, A., & Umerez, J. 2006. Organización y Organismo en la Biología Teórica ¿Vuelta al Organicismo? Ludus Vitalis 26: 3-38.

Hofkirchner W. 2005. Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Forerunner of Evolutionary Systems Theory. In: Gu J., Chroust G. (eds.) The New Role of Systems Sciences For a Knowledge-based Society. Proceedings of the First World Congress of the International Federation for Systems Research, Kobe, Japan

Nicholson, D.J. 2010. Organism & Mechanism: A Critique of Mechanistic Thinking in Biology. PhD Thesis, University of Exeter.

Pouvreau D. 2006. Une biographie non officielle de Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972). BCSSS, Wien.

Pouvreau D., Drack M. 2007. On the history of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s “General Systemology”, and on its relationship to Cybernetics – Part I: Elements on the origins and genesis of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s “General Systemology”. International Journal of General Systems 36: 281-337.

Details about submissions will be found here.