System Concepts in Psychopathology

General system theory has its roots in the organismic conception in biology. On the European continent, this was developed by the present author (1928a) in the 1920’s, with parallel developments in the Anglo-Saxon countries (Whitehead, Woodger, Cog- hill and others) and in psychological gestalt theory (W. Kohler). It is interesting to note that Eugen Bleuler (1931) followed with sympathetic interest this development in its early phase. A similar development in psychiatry was represented by Goldstein (1939).


In contrast to physical forces like gravity or electricity, the phenomena of life are found only in individual entities called organisms. Any organism is a system, that is, a dynamic order of parts and processes standing in mutual interaction (Bertalanffy, 1949a, p. 11). Similarly, psychological phenomena are found only in individualized entities which in man are called personalities. “Whatever else personality may be, it has the properties of a system” (G. Allport, 1961, p. 109).

The “molar” concept of the psychophysical organism as system contrasts with its conception as a mere aggregate of “molecular” units such as reflexes, sensations, brain centers, drives, reinforced responses, traits, factors, and the like. Psychopathology clearly shows mental dysfunction as a system disturbance rather than as a loss of single functions. Even in localized traumas (for example, cortical lesions), the ensuing effect is impairment of the total action system, particularly with respect to higher and, hence, more demanding functions. Conversely, the system has considerable regulative capacities (Bethe, 1931; Goldstein, 1959; Lashley, 1929).


“Even without external stimuli, the organism is not a passive but an intrinsically active system. Reflex theory has presupposed that the primary element of behavior is response to external stimuli. In contrast, recent research shows with increasing clarity that autonomous activity of the nervous system, resting in the system itself, is to be considered primary. In evolution and development, reactive mechanisms appear to be superimposed upon primitive, rhythmic-locomotor activities. The stimulus (i.e., a change in external conditions) does not cause a process in an otherwise inert system; it only modifies processes in an autonomously active system” (Bertalanffy, 1937, pp. 133 ff.; also 1960).

The living organism maintains a disequilibrium called the steady state of an open system and thus is able to dispense existing potentials or “tensions” in spontaneous activity or in response to releasing stimuli; it even advances toward higher order and organization. The robot model considers response to stimuli, reduction of tensions, reestablishment of an equilibrium disturbed by outside factors, adjustment to environment, and the like, as the basic and universal scheme of behavior. The robot model, however, only partly covers animal behavior and does not cover an essential portion of human behavior at all. The insight into the primary immanent activity of the psychophysical organism necessitates a basic reorientation which can be supported by any amount of biological, neurophysiological, behavioral, psychological, and psychiatric evidence.

Autonomous activity is the most primitive form of behavior (von Bertalanffy, 1949a; Carmichael, 1954; Herrick, 1956; von Holst, 1937; Schiller, 1957; H. Werner 1957a); it is found in brain function (Hebb, 1949) and in psychological processes. The discovery of activating systems in the brain stem (Berlyne, 1960; Hebb, 1955; Magoun, 1958) has emphasized this fact in recent years. Natural behavior encompasses innumerable activities beyond the S-R scheme, from exploring, play, and rituals in animals (Schiller, 1957) to economic, intellectual, esthetic, religious, and the like pursuits to self- realization and creativity in man. Even rats seem to “look” for problems (Hebb, 1955), and the healthy child and adult are going far beyond the reduction of tensions or gratification of needs in innumerable activities that cannot be reduced to primary or secondary drives (G. Allport, 1961, p. 90). All such behavior is performed for its own sake, deriving gratification (“function pleasure,” after K. Buhler) from the performance itself.

For similar reasons, complete relaxation of tensions as in sensory- deprivation experiments is not an ideal state but is apt to produce insufferable anxiety, hallucinations, and other psychosislike symptoms. Prisoner’s psychosis, or exacerbation of symptoms in the closed ward, and retirement and weekend neurosis are related clinical conditions attesting that the psychophysical organism needs an amount of tension and activity for healthy existence.

It is a symptom of mental disease that spontaneity is impaired. The patient increasingly becomes an automaton or S-R machine, is pushed by biological drives, obsessed by needs for food, elimination, sex gratification, and so on. The model of the passive organism is a quite adequate description of the stereotype behavior of compulsives, of patients with brain lesions, and of the waning of autonomous activity in catatonia and related psychopathology. But by the same token, this emphasizes that normal behavior is different.


Many psychophysiological regulations follow the principles of homeostasis. However, there are apparent limitations (cf. pp. 160ff.). Generally, the homeostasis scheme is not applicable (1) to dynamic regulations—i.e., regulations not based upon fixed mechanisms but taking place within a system functioning as a whole (for example, regulative processes after brain lesions); (2) to spontaneous activities; (3) to processes whose goal is not reduction but is building up of tensions; and (4) to processes of growth, development, creation, and the like. We may also say that homeostasis is inappropriate as an explanatory principle for those human activities which are nonutilitarian—i.e., not serving the primary needs of self-preservation and survival and their secondary derivatives, as is the case with many cultural The evolution of Greek sculpture, Renaissance painting, or German music had nothing to do with adjustment or survival because they are of symbolic rather than biological value (Bertalanffy, 1959; also 1964c) (compare below). But even living nature is by no means merely utilitarian (von Bertalanffy, 1949a, pp. 106ff).

The principle of homeostasis has sometimes been inflated to a point where it becomes silly. The martyr’s death at the stake is explained (Freeman, 1948) “by abnormal displacement” of his internal processes so that death is more “homeostating” than continuing existence (pp. 142ff.); the mountain climber is supposed to risk his life because “losing valued social status may be more upsetting” (Stagner, 1951). Such examples show to what extremes some writers are willing to go in order to save a scheme which is rooted in economic-commercial philosophy and sets a premium on conformity and opportunism as ultimate values. It should not be forgotten that Cannon (1932), eminent physiologist and thinker that he was, is free of such distortions; he explicitly emphasized the “priceless unessentials” beyond homeostasis (p. 323) (cf. also Frankl, 1959b; Toch and Hastorf, 1955).

The homeostasis model is applicable in psychopathology because nonhomeostatic functions, as a rule, decline in mental patients. Thus Karl Menninger (1963) was able to describe the progress of mental disease as a series of defense mechanisms, settling down at ever lower homeostatic levels until mere preservation of physiological life is left. Arieti’s (1959) concept of progressive teleological regression in schizophrenia is similar.


“Differentiation is transformation from a more general and homeogeneous to a more special and heterogeneous condition” (Conklin after Cowdry, 1955, p. 12). “Wherever development occurs it proceeds from a state of relative globality and lack of differentiation to a state of increasing differentiation, articulation, and hierarchic order” (H. Werner, 1957b).

The principle of differentiation is ubiquitous in biology, the evolution and development of the nervous system, behavior, psychology, and culture. We owe to Werner (1957a) the insight that mental functions generally progress from a syncretic state where percepts, motivation, feeling, imagery, symbols, concepts, and so forth are an amorphous unity, toward an ever clearer distinction of these functions. In perception the primitive state seems to be one of synesthesia (traces of which are left in the human adult and which may reappear in schizophrenia, mescaline, and LSD experience) out of which visual, auditional, tactual, chemical, and other experiences are separated.* In animal and a good deal of human behavior, there is a perceptual-emotive-motivational unity; perceived objects without emotional- motivational undertones are a late achievement of mature, civilized man. The origins of language are obscure; but insofar as we can form an idea, it seems that “holophrastic” (W. Humboldt, cf. Werner, 1957a) language and thought—i.e., utterances and thoughts with a broad aura of associations—preceded separation of meanings and articulate speech. Similarly, the categories of developed mental life such as the distinction of “I” and objects, space, time, number, causality, and so forth, evolved from a perceptual-conceptual- motivational continuum represented by the “paleologic” perception of infants, primitives, and schizophrenics (Arieti, 1959; Piaget, 1959; Werner, 1957a). Myth was the prolific chaos from which language, magic, art, science, medicine, mores, morals, and religion were differentiated (Cassirer, 1953-1957).

Thus “I” and “the world,” “mind” and “matter,” or Descartes’s “res cogitans” and “res extensa” are not a simple datum and primordial antithesis. They are the final outcome of a long process in biological evolution, mental development of the child, and cultural and linguistic history, wherein the perceiver is not simply a receptor of stimuli but in a very real sense creates his world (for example Bruner, 1958; Cantril, 1962; Geertz, 1962; Matson, 1964, pp. 181ff.). The story can be told in different ways (for example, G. Allport, 1961, pp. 110-138; von Bertalanffy, 1964a and 1965; Cassirer, 1953-1957; Freud, 1920; Merloo, 1956, pp. 196-199; Piaget, 1959; Werner, 1957a), but there is general agreement that differentiation arose from an “undifferentiated absolute of self and environment” (Berlyne, 1957), and that the animistic experience of the child and the primitive (persisting still in Aristotelian philosophy), the “physiognomic” outlook (Werner, 1957a), the experience of “we” and “thou” (still much stronger in Oriental than in Western thinking— Koestler, 1960), empathy, etc., were steps on the way until Renaissance physics eventually “discovered inanimate nature.” “Things” and “self” emerge by a slow build-up of innumerable factors of gestalt dynamics, of learning processes, and of social, cultural, and linguistic determinants; the full distinction between “public objects” and “private self” is certainly not achieved without naming and language, that is, processes at the symbolic level; and perhaps this distinction presupposes a language of the Indo- Germanic type (Whorf, 1956).

In psychopathology and schizophrenia, all these primitive states may reappear by way of regression and in bizarre manifestations; bizarre because there are arbitrary combinations of archaic elements among themselves and with more sophisticated thought processes. On the other hand, the experience of the child, savage, and non- Westerner, though primitive, nevertheless forms an organized universe. This leads to the next group of concepts to be considered.


“Organisms are not machines; but they can to a certain extent become machines, congeal into machines. Never completely, how- ever; for a thoroughly mechanized organism would be incapable of reacting to the incessantly changing conditions of the outside world” (von Bertalanffy, 1949a, pp. 17ff.). The principle of progressive mechanization expresses the transition from undifferentiated wholeness to higher function, made possible by specialization and “division of labor”; this principle implies also loss of potentialities in the components and of regulability in the whole.

Mechanization frequently leads to establishment of leading parts, that is, components dominating the behavior of the system. Such centers may exert “trigger causality,” i.e., in contradistinction to the principle, causa aequat effectum, a small change in a leading part may by way of amplification mechanisms cause large changes in the total system. In this way, a hierarchic order of parts or processes may be established (cf. Chapter 3). These concepts hardly need comment except for the one debated point.

In the brain as well as in mental function, centralization and hierarchic order are achieved by stratification (A. Gilbert, 1957; Lersch, 1960; Luthe, 1957; Rothacker, 1947), i.e., by superimposition of higher “layers” that take the role of leading parts. Particulars and disputed points are beyond the present survey. However, one will agree that—in gross oversimplification—three major layers, or evolutionary steps, can be distinguished. In the brain these are (1) the paleencephalon, in lower vertebrates, (2) the neencephalon (cortex), evolving from reptiles to mammals, and (3) certain “highest” centers, especially the motoric speech (Broca’s) region and the large association areas which are found only in man. Concurrently there is an anterior shift of controlling centers, for example, in the apparatus of vision from the colliculi optici of the mesencephalon (lower vertebrates) to the corpora geniculata lateralia of the diencephalon (mammals) to the regio calcarina of the telencephalon (man).*

In some way parallel is stratification in the mental system which can be roughly circumscribed as the domains of instincts, drives, emotions, the primeval “depth personality”; perception and voluntary action; and the symbolic activities characteristic of man. None of the available formulations (for example, Freud’s id, ego, and superego, and those of German stratification theorists) is unobjectionable. The neurophysiological meaning of a small portion of brain processes being “conscious” is completely unknown. The Freudian unconscious, or id, comprises only limited aspects and already pre-Freudian authors have given a much more comprehensive survey of unconscious functions (Whyte, 1960). Although these problems need further clarification, it is incorrect when Anglo-Saxon authors refuse stratification for being “philosophical” (Eysenck, 1957) or insist that there is no fundamental difference between the behavior of rat and that of man (Skinner, 1963). Such an attitude simply ignores elementary zoological facts. Moreover, stratification is indispensable for understanding psychiatric disturbances.


The psychotic state is sometimes said to be a “regression to older and more infantile forms of behavior.” This is incorrect; already E. Bleuler noted that the child is not a little schizophrenic but a normally functioning though primitive being. “The schizophrenic will regress to, but not integrate at, a lower level; he will remain disorganized” (Arieti, 1959, p. 475). Regression is essentially disintegration of personality; that is, dedifferentiation and decentralization. Dedifferentiation means that there is not a loss of meristic functions, but a reappearance of primitive states (syncretism, synesthesia, paleologic thinking, and so forth). Decentralization is, in the extreme, functional dysencephalization in the schizophrenic (Arieti, 1955). Splitting of personality, according to E. Bleuler, in milder form neurotic complexes (i.e., psychological entities that assume dominance), disturbed ego function, weak ego, and so forth, similarly indicate loosening of the hierarchic mental organization.


Any system as an entity which can be investigated in its own right must have boundaries, either spatial or dynamic. Strictly speaking, spatial boundaries exist only in naive observation, and all boundaries are ultimately dynamic. One cannot exactly draw the boundaries of an atom (with valences sticking out, as it were, to attract other atoms), of a stone (an aggregate of molecules and atoms which mostly consist of empty space, with particles in planetary distances), or of an organism (continually exchanging matter with environment).

In psychology, the boundary of the ego is both fundamental and precarious. As already noted, it is slowly established in evolution and development and is never completely fixed. It originates in proprioceptive experience and in the body image, but selfidentity is not completely established before the “I,” “Thou,” and “it” are named. Psychopathology shows the paradox that the ego boundary is at once too fluid and too rigid. Syncretic perception, animistic feeling, delusions and hallucinations, and so on, make for insecurity of the ego boundary; but within his self-created universe the schizophrenic lives “in a shell,” much in the way animals live in the “soap bubbles” of their organization- bound worlds (Schiller, 1957). In contrast to the animal’s limited “ambient,” man is “open to the world” or has a “universe”; that is, his world widely transcends biological bondage and even the limitations of his senses. To him, “encapsulation” (Royce, 1964) —from the specialist to the neurotic, and in the extreme, to the schizophrenic—sometimes is a pathogenic limitation of potentialities. These are based in man’s symbolic functions.


“Except for the immediate satisfaction of biological needs, man lives in a world not of things but of symbols” (von Bertalanffy, 1956a). We may also say that the various symbolic universes, material and non-material, which distinguish human cultures from animal societies, are part, and easily the most important part, of man’s behavior system. It can be justly questioned whether man is a rational animal; but he certainly is a symbol- creating and symbol-dominated being throughout.

Symbolism is recognized as the unique criterion of man by biologists (von Bertalanffy, 1956a; Herrick, 1956), physiologists of the Pavlovian school (“secondary signal system”) (Luria, 1961), psychiatrists (Appleby, Scher 8c Cummings, 1960; Arieti, 1959; Goldstein, 1959), and philosophers (Cassirer, 1953-1957; Langer, 1942). It is not found even in leading textbooks of psychology in consequence of the predominant robot philosophy. But it is precisely for symbolic functions that “motives in animals will not be an adequate model for motives in man” (G. Allport, 1961, p. 221), and that human personality is not finished at the age of three or so, as Freud’s instinct theory assumed.

The definition of symbolic activities will not be discussed here; the author has attempted to do so elsewhere (von Bertalanffy, 1956a and 1965). It suffices to say that probably all notions used to characterize human behavior are consequences or different aspects of symbolic activity. Culture or civilization; creative pro- ception in contrast to passive perception (Murray, G. W. Allport), objectivation of both things outside and the self (Thumb, 1943), ego-world unity (Nuttin, 1957), abstract against concrete stratum (Goldstein, 1959); having a past and future, “timebinding,” anticipation of future; true (Aristotelian) purposiveness (cf. Chapter 3), intention as conscious planning (G. Allport, 1961, p. 224); dread of death, suicide; will to meaning (Frankl, 1959b), interest as engaging in self-gratifying cultural activity (G. Allport, 1961, p. 225), idealistic devotion to a (perhaps hopeless) cause, martyrdom; “forward trust of mature motivation” (G. Allport, 1961, p. 90); self-transcendence; ego autonomy, conflict- free ego functions; essential aggression (von Bertalanffy, 1958); conscience, superego, ego ideal, values, morals, dissimulation, truth and lying—all these stem from the root of creative symbolic universes and can therefore not be reduced to biological drives, psychoanalytic instincts, reinforcement of gratifications, or other biological factors. The distinction of biological and specific human values is that the former concerns the maintenance of the individual and the survival of the species; the latter always concern a symbolic universe (Bertalanffy, 1959 and 1964c).

In consequence, mental disturbances in man, as a rule, involve disturbances of symbolic functions. Kubie (1953), appears to be correct when, as a “new hypothesis” on neuroses, he distinguishes “psychopathological processes which arise through the distorting impact of highly charged experiences at an early age” from those “consisting in the distortion of symbolic functions.” Disturbances in schizophrenia are essentially also at the symbolic level and able to take many different forms: Loosening of associational structure, breakdown of the ego boundary, speech and thought disturbances, concretization of ideas, desymbolization, paleologic thinking, and others. We refer to Arieti’s (1959) and Goldstein’s (1959) discussions.

The conclusion (which is by no means generally accepted) is that mental illness is a specifically human phenomenon. Animals may behaviorally show (and for all we know by empathy experience) any number of perceptional, motoric and mood disturbances, hallucinations, dreams, faulty reactions, and the like. Animals cannot have the disturbances of symbolic functions that are essential ingredients of mental disease. In animals there cannot be disturbance of ideas, delusions of grandeur or of persecution, etc., for the simple reason that there are no ideas to start with. Hence, “animal neurosis” is only a partial model of the clinical entity (von Bertalanffy, 1957a).

This is the ultimate reason why human behavior and psychology cannot be reduced to biologistic notions like restoration of homeostasis, conflict of biological drives, unsatisfactory mother- infant relationships, and the like. Another consequence is the culture- dependence of mental illness both in symptomatology and epidemiology. To say that psychiatry has a physio-psychosociological framework is but another expression of the same fact.

For the same reason, human striving is more than self-realization; it is directed toward objective goals and realization of values (Frankl, 1959a, 1959b; 1960), which means nothing else than symbolic entities which in a way become detached from their creators (von Bertalanffy, 1956a; also 1965). Perhaps we may venture a definition. There may be conflict between biological drives and a symbolic value system; this is the situation of psychoneurosis. Or there may be conflict between symbolic universes, or loss of value orientation and experience of meaninglessness in the individual; this is the situation when existential or “noogenic” neurosis arises. Similar considerations apply to “character disorders” like juvenile delinquency that, quite apart from their psychodynamics, stem from the breakdown or erosion of the value system. Among other things, culture is an important psycho-hygienic factor (von Bertalanffy, 1959 and 1964c).


Having gone through a primer of system-theoretical notions, we may summarize that these appear to provide a consistent framework for psychopathology.

Mental disease is essentially a disturbance of system functions of the psychophysical organism. For this reason, isolated symptoms or syndromes do not define the disease entity (von Bertalanffy, 1960a). Look at some classical symptoms of schizophrenia. “Loosening of associational structure” (E. Bleuler) and unbridled chains of associations; quite similar examples are found in “purple” poetry and rhetoric. Auditory hallucinations; “voices” told Joan of Arc to liberate France. Piercing sensations; a great mystic like St. Teresa reported identical experience. Fantastic world constructions; those of science surpass any schizophrenic’s. This is not to play on the theme “genius and madness,” but it is apt to show that not single criteria but integration makes for the difference.

Psychiatric disturbances can be neatly defined in terms of system functions. In reference to cognition, the worlds of psychotics, as impressively described by writers of the phenomenological and existentialist schools (for example, May et al., 1958), are “products of their brains.” But our normal world is shaped also by emotional, motivational, social, cultural, linguistic, and the like factors, amalgamated with perception proper. Illusions and delusions, and hallucinations at least in dreams, are present in the healthy individual; the mechanisms of illusion play even an important role in constancy phenomena, without which a consistent world image would be impossible. The contrast of normality to schizophrenia is not that normal perception is a plane mirror of reality “as is,” but that schizophrenia has subjective elements that run wild and that are disintegrated.

The same applies at the symbolic level. Scientific notions such as the earth running with unimaginable speed through the universe or a solid body consisting mostly of empty space interlaced with tiny energy specks at astronomical distances, contradict all everyday experience and “common sense” and are more fantastic than the “world designs” of schizophrenics. Nevertheless the scientific notions happen to be “true”—i.e., they fit into an integrated scheme.

Similar considerations apply to motivation. The concept of spontaneity draws the borderline. Normal motivation implies autonomous activity, integration of behavior, plasticity in and adaptability to changing situations, free use of symbolic anticipation, decision, and so forth. This emphasizes the hierarchy of functions, especially the symbolic level superimposed upon the organismic. Hence beside the organismic principle of “spontaneous activity” the “humanistic” principle of “symbolic functions” must be basic in system-theoretical consideration.

Hence the answer whether an individual is mentally sound or not is ultimately determined by whether he has an integrated universe consistent within the given cultural framework (von Bertalanffy, 1960a). So far as we can see, this criterion comprises all phenomena of psychopathology as compared with normality and leaves room for culture-dependence of mental norms. What may be consistent in one culture may be pathological in another, as cultural anthropologists (Benedict, 1934) have shown.

This concept has definite implications for psychotherapy. If the psychophysical organism is an active system, occupational and adjunctive therapies are an obvious consequence; evocation of creative potentialities will be more important than passive adjustment. If these concepts are correct, more important than “digging the past” will be insight into present conflicts, attempts at reintegration, and orientation toward goals and the future, that is, symbolic anticipation. This, of course, is a paraphrase of recent trends in psychotherapy which thus may be grounded in “personality as system.” If, finally, much of present neurosis is “existential,” resulting from meaninglessness of life, then “logo- therapy” (Frankl, 1959b), i.e., therapy at the symbolic level, will be in place.

It therefore appears that—without falling into the trap of “nothing- but” philosophy and disparaging other conceptions— a system theory of personality provides a sound basis for psychology and psychopathology.


System theory in psychology and psychiatry is not a dramatic dénouement of new discovery, and if the reader has a déjà vu feeling, we shall not contradict him. It was our intention to show that system concepts in this field are not speculation, are not an attempt to press facts into the straitjacket of a theory which happens to be in vogue, and have nothing to do with “mentalistic anthropomorphism,” so feared by behaviorists. Nevertheless, the system concept is a radical reversal with respect to robotic theories, leading to a more realistic (and incidentally more dignified) image of man. Moreover, it entails far-reaching consequences for the scientific world view which can only be alluded to in the present outline:

  • The system concept provides a theoretical framework which is psychophysically Physical and physiological terms such action potentials, chemical transmission at synapses, neural network, and the like are not applicable to mental phenomena, and even less can psychological notions be applied to physical phenomena. System terms and principles like those discussed can be applied to facts in either field.
  • The mind-body problem cannot be discussed here, and the author has to refer to another investigation (von Bertalanffy, 1964a). We can only summarize that the Cartesian dualism between matter and mind, objects outside and ego inside, brain and consciousness, and so forth, is incorrect both in the light of direct phenomenological experience and of modern research in various fields; it is a conceptualization stemming from 17th- century physics which, even though still prevailing in modern debates (Hook, 1961; Scher, 1962), is obsolete. In the modern view, science does not make metaphysical statements, whether of the materialistic, idealistic, or positivistic sense-data variety. It is a conceptual construct to reproduce limited aspects of experience in their formal structure. Theories of behavior and of psychology should be similar in their formal structure or Possibly systems concepts are the first beginning of such “common language” (compare Piaget and Bertalanfiy in Tanner and Inhelder, 1960). In the remote future this may lead to a “unified theory” (Whyte, 1960) from which eventually material and mental, conscious and unconscious aspects could be derived.
  • Within the framework developed, the problem of free will or determinism also receives a new and definite meaning. It is a pseudo- problem, resulting from confusion of different levels of experience and of epistemology and metaphysics. We experience ourselves as free, for the simple reason that the category of causality is not applied in direct or immediate experience. Causality is a category applied to bring order into objectivated experience reproduced in symbols. Within the latter, we try to explain mental and behavioral phenomena as causally determined and can do so with increasing approximation by taking into account ever more factors of motivation, by refining conceptual models, etc. Will is not determined, but is determinable, particularly in the machine-like and average aspects of behavior, as motivation researchers and statisticians know. However, causality is not metaphysical necessity, but is one instrument to bring order into experience, and there are other “perspectives” (Chapter 10), of equal or superior standing.
  • Separate from the epistemological question is the moral and legal question of Responsibility is always judged within a symbolic framework of values as accepted in a society under given circumstances. For example, the M’Naghten rules which excuse the offender if “he cannot tell right from wrong,” actually mean that the criminal goes unpunished if his symbolic comprehension is obliterated; hence his behavior is determined only by “animal” drives. Killing is prohibited and is punished as murder within the symbolic framework of the ordinary state of society, but is commanded (and refusal of the command is punished) in the different value frame of war.

Source: Bertalanffy Ludwig Von (1969), General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, George Braziller Inc.; Revised edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *