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Bunge's Systems Ontology

Mario Bunge, in his Ontology II, systematically (i.e. attempting a strict logical-analytical discourse) proposes a suite of five levels or 'systems genera' as irreducibly distinct:

Here I compare and contrast Bunge's notions with Dooyeweerd's. At this point, I have merely set out notes that I have compiled to this end; they have yet to be forged into proper prose and argument. In what follows

See also a more general discussion of Dooyeweerd and Systems Theory. See also comparison between Dooyeweerd and Nicolai Hartmann (including a useful tabular comparison, along with Dooyeweerd's own discussion of Hartmann).


To Bunge (p.249-51), emergence is central to system theory.

"Definition 6.1 Let S = {S1, S2, S3, S4, S5} be the family of system genera. Then Si precedes Sj, of Si < Sj for short, iff things of genus Si take part (either as components or as agents) in the assembly of every system in Sj."

"Postulate 6.7 For any x [element of] Sj there is at least one y [element of] Si, where Si < Sj, such that y has taken part in the assembly of x."

"Postulate 6.8 The precedence relations among the system genera are
S1 < S2 < S3 < S4, S5"
Physical - Chemical - Bio - (Social | Technical)

Bunge claims this is a precedence relation and not a hierarchy relation. That precedence is based on emergence while hierarchy is based on dominance.

Bunge explains why he chose these five systems genera on p.247.

"Remark 1. We have not lumped physical and chemical systems into a single category for the following reasons. Firstly, not all physical entities are systems. Secondly, chemical systems are never at rest: if all chemical reactions in a system come to a halt, the system becomes a physical one. Thirdly, chemosystems have hardly any inertia, as shown by their quickness to respond to external inputs and to the cessation of the latter. (Mathematically, the equations of chemical kinetics are of the first order in the rates, whereas most physical equations of evolution are of the second order or higher.) Fourthly, controllers, such as catalyzers, play an important role in chemosystems, for even the H+ and OH- ions are catalyzers. On the other hand the only physical systems endowed with control mechanisms seem to be artificial."

"Remark 2. We might have distinguished a system genus between biosystems and sociosystems, namely psychosystems. We have refrained from doing so from fear of encouraging the myth of disembodied minds. In our view psychosystems belong in the biosystem genus because they are animals endowed with a highly evolved nervous system."

"Remark 3. We have not grouped technical systems, i.e. artifacts, together with any others, because they have ontological traits that set them apart: they are a product of human work and as such, they bear the stamp of human intelligence and purposiveness as well as of social organization."

The Genera

Here we discuss the specific genera.

How should we choose genera? On p.246 Bunge said:

"Philosophers are not equipped to ascertain what kinds of system there are or could be in the world; they can only take note of the variety of systems that science discovers, and help vategorize them. Current science, pure and applied, seems to accept the existence of five system genera."

Postulate 4.26 "An animal society is human iff (i) some of its members are absolutely creative, and (ii) it is composed of an economy, a culture and a polity." [p.183]

('Absolutely creative' is defined as creating a new behaviour or a new construct or discovers and event before any other member of its species and before any other species (p.168).)

Definition 4.57. "If s is an animal society, then
(i) the economy of s is the subsystem of s whose members engage in the active and organized transformation of the environment of s;
(ii) members engage in mental activities that control (or are controlled by) some of the other members of s;
(iii) the polity (or political subsystem) of s is the subsystem of s whose members control (or are controlled by) the social behavior of other members of s."

Breakdown (p.249)

"Postulate 6.6 The more complex a system, the more numerous its possible breakdown modes."

Bunge's Presuppositions

In his concluding words of this section (p.251-2) he gives a Synopsis stating very explicitly the presuppositions made by his ontology. It is very useful, especially in understanding a comparison with Dooyeweerd, for which I try to give both + and -. ...

"Our ontology endorses;

(i) naturalism or materialism, for it countenances only material existents and discounts autonomous ideas, ghosts, and the like; but not physicalism (or mechanism) as this denies that all things are physical entities;

"(ii) systemism, for it holds that every thing is either a system or a component of one; but not holism, as it rejects the myths that the whole is incomprehensible, prior to its components, and superior to them;

"(iii) pluralism as regards the variety of things and processes, hence the plurality of kinds of thing and laws; and also monism as regards the substance that possesses properties and undergoes change (namely matter) as well as the number of worlds (just one);

"(iv) emergentism with regard to novelty, for it holds that while some bulk properties of systems are resultant, others are emergent; but not irrationalism with regard to the possibility of explaining and predicting emergence;

"(v) dynamicism, for it assumes that every thing is in flux in some respect or other; but not dialectics, for it rejects the tenets that every thing is a unity of opposites, and that every change consists in or is caused by some strife or ontic contradiction;

"(vi) evolutionism with regard to the formation of systems of new kinds, for it maintains that new systems pop up all the time and are selected by their environment; but neither gradualism nor saltationism, for it recognizes both smooth changes and leaps;

"(vii) determinism with regard to events and processes, by holding all of them to be lawful and none of them to come out of the blue or disappear without leaving traces; but not causalism, for it recognises randomness and goal striving as types of process alongside causal ones;

"(viii) biosystemism with regard to life, for it regards organisms as material systems that, though composed of chemosystems, have properties not found on other levels; but neither vitalism not machinism nor mechanism;

"(ix) psychosystemism with regard to mind, for it holds that mental functions are emergent activities (processes) of complex neural systems; but neither eliminative nor reductive materialism, for it affirms that the mental, though explainable with the help of physical, chemical, biological and social premises, is emergent;

"(x) sociosystemism with regard to society, for it claims that society is a system composed of subsystems (economy, culture, polity, etc.), and possessing properties (such as stratification and political stability) that no individual has; hence neither individualism nor collectivism, neither idealism nor vulgar materialism.

"The reader accustomed to dwell in a single ism or on none is likely to throw up his hands in despair at the multiplicity of isms embraced by our ontology [I did not]. Let this be said in defense of such multiplicity. First, it is possible to synthesize a variety of philosophical isms provided they are not mutually inconsistent [eg. of different aspects] - i.e. provided the result is a coherent conceptual system rather than an eclectic bag. (We have tried to secure consistency by adopting the axiomatic format.) Second, it is necessary to adopt (and elaborate) a number of philosophical isms to account for the variety and mutability of reality [here, his isms seem to relate to perspectives centring on aspects] - provided the various theses harmonize with science [and Dooyeweerd would say his aspects do since science is the discovery of aspectual laws]. Third, tradition can be avoided only at the risk of unfairness and ignorance: rather than dismiss our philosophical legacy altogether, we should try and enrich it. [this is what Dooyeweerd can do]"


Bunge M (1979) Treatise on Basic Philosophy, Volume 4. Ontology II A World of Systems. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel.
This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 3 October 2005 Last updated: 3 February 2006 on myth and fear, and reasons for selection of aspects! rid counter.