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Any system is generally a delimitable whole that consists of various parts that are somehow networked with one another in an orderly manner; Specifically, there are a number of different systems with their own characteristics

A system (from ancient Greek sýstēma, “a whole made up of several individual parts”) is generally referred to as a delimitable, natural or artificial “structure” that consists of various components that are (can) be viewed as a common whole due to certain ordered relationships .

There is no standard definition of the term , as the meaning assignment varies greatly depending on the subject. Accordingly, the preceding sentence is also an abstraction in the sense of a greatest common denominator . The following details of the individual parameters are possible:

Specific uses of the term are proposed, discussed and applied in various specialist areas.

If there is no relationship between the parts of a whole, it is not a question of a system, but of mere quantities , heaps or mixtures of substances ; even if the constructed arrangement of the parts is subject to a certain system and is referred to as a "system" (examples: biological system , periodic table of elements).

History of concepts and ideas


The Greek expressions σύστημα, σύσταμα, σύστεμα were used as "a generic term for all associations, including the public sector".

In addition, σύστημα is used

  • in the field of medicine, e.g. B. for a "system" of pulse beats
  • in the field of music theory, e.g. B. for a "system" of intervals
  • in the field of literary theory, e.g. B. in the meaning of a "composition"

Plato draws on the use of music theory in his late dialogue Philebos . He speaks of the many "connections" that arise from the "spaces" of the tones and of "similar relationships" in the movements of the body, which can also be measured in numbers; at the same time one must consider what is “one and many” therein; through this kind of consideration one arrives at “insight”, which however, because of the infinity of every concept and thing, can never be closed.

The pseudo-Platonic dialogue Epinomis relates the term "σύστημα" to the numbers with which the laws of the star orbits can be grasped.

Modern times

The term system has been used in various contexts since the 16th century. B. related to the sphere of politics first by Thomas Hobbes in the sense of a political entity .

System concept of systems theory

As a systems theory research directions are referred to various disciplines in summary, the complex relationships described by general theories to the functioning of systems in general. Around 1950, Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901–1972) was the first to define systems as interrelationships that distinguish themselves from their environment, which in turn consists of other interrelationships. According to the basic ideas widespread in this context, systems can be understood as self-organizing functional units that produce their continued functioning themselves (cf. autopoiesis ) and differentiate themselves in a specific way from their environment, for example by expressing specific ways of differentiation. An example: Seafarers set certain animals out on an island in order to be able to hunt them there later. As a result, the system of animals and plants that had existed on the island up until then gets “mixed up”; a new system is created. Sometimes endemics arise (= plants or animals that only occur in a specific, spatially clearly delimited environment). In disciplines that deal with living organisms , systemic psychology and biology as well as sociology, living systems are distinguished from other types of system.

System term in structural linguistics

Structural linguistics (see  Structuralism ) is based on the notion that individual linguistic elements are not based on their own meaning, but rather on their relationships to other elements - their entirety being described as a system with this general property, among other things.

Control technology

For control technology , IEC 60050-351 defines a system as a "set of interrelated elements that are seen as a whole in a certain context and are viewed as being separated from their surroundings."


  • F.-P. Hager et al. a .: system; Systematics; systematically . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10 (1998), pp. 824–856.
  • S. Jensen: Systems Theory; System, social . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10 (1998), pp. 863–869.
  • Wolfgang Schrader, Hans-Joachim Höhn: System, system theory . In: Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. Volume 9 (2000), Col. 1216-1220.
  • R. Schulz: System, biological . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10 (1998), pp. 856–862.
  • Geo Siegwart: System . In: Jürgen Mittelstrass (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy and Philosophy of Science . Metzler, Stuttgart 1996, Volume 4, p. 184 ff.
  • Karl Steinbacher u. a .: system / system theory . In: Hans-Jörg Sandkühler (Ed.): Encyclopedia Philosophy , 2 volumes. Meiner, Hamburg 1999, ISBN 3-7873-1629-9 , Volume 2, pp. 1579-1588.
  • Sytse Strijbos, Carl Mitcham: Systems and Systems Thinking . In: Carl Mitcham (Ed.): Encyclopedia of science, technology, and ethics . Thomson Gale 2005, Volume 4, ISBN 0-02-865901-5 , pp. 1880-1884.
  • Joachim Valentin: Art. System - systematic / system theory . In: Albert Franz u. a. (Ed.): Lexicon of basic philosophical concepts in theology . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2003, pp. 394–396.

Web links

Wiktionary: System  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Ulrich : The enterprise as a productive social system (= enterprise and enterprise management. Volume 1). Haupt, Bern / Stuttgart 1968, pp. 105–111.
  2. Reinhard Wagner: Conveying basic systems science concepts. Master's thesis in natural sciences, University of Graz 2002, pp. 2–5 and 9–18 ( PDF: 1.4 MB, 130 pages on ).
  3. ^ Wilhelm Dangelmaier : Methods of computer-aided production and logistics. Part 2: Systems. Lecture script of the Heinz Nixdorf Institute at the University of Paderborn 2017, pp. 2, 4–6 and 15 ( PDF: 939 kB, 22 pages on ).
  4. ^ Gert Heinrich : General system analysis. Oldenbourg, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58365-6 , pp. 6-9.
  5. Christian Erk: What is a system? An introduction to the classic system concept. Lit, Zurich 2016, ISBN 978-3-643-80203-3 , pp. 5–82, here p. ??.
  6. ^ Franz Poland : σύστημα . In: Georg Wissowa u. a. (Ed.): Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen antiquity . Second row, eighth half-band. Metzler, Stuttgart 1932, column 1834 f.
  7. F.-P. Hager: system; Systematics; systematic, I. Antiquity . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10, pp. 824 f.
  8. Philebos 17 d, cit. according to F.-P. Hager: system; Systematics; systematic, I. Antiquity . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10, pp. 824 f.
  9. Epinomis 991e, cit. according to F.-P. Hager: system; Systematics; systematic, I. Antiquity . In: Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 10, pp. 824 f.
  10. Thomas Hobbes (2007 [1651]): Leviathan , chap. XXII /
  11. ^ Ludwig von Bertalanffy: An Outline of General Systems Theory . In: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science , 1/2, 1950, pp. 134-165, here: p. 143.
  12. HA - Living Systems , 2000
  13. See e.g. B. again Anton Hügli, Poul Lübcke: Philosophielexikon. Rowohlt Verlag , Reinbek 1991, p. v. System : “The system plays a special role in structural linguistics […]. S [ystem] means here a totality of elements which are in an inner dependency relation to one another, namely in such a way that an individual element is not defined by itself, but only by the differences to other elements. "
  14. DIN IEC 60050-351: 2009-06, 351-21-20