Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 519–530 | Cite as

Peirce and Beer

  • J. R. Stephens
  • T. Haslett


This paper considers the philosophical background of Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Diagnosis (VSD) as profoundly influenced by Charles Peirce. In a general sense, our work discusses the VSD theory base in the development of a model for actionable theory in organizations. This paper examines VSD theory in the Beer trilogy ‘Brain of the Firm,’ ‘The Heart of the Enterprise’ and ‘Diagnosing the System’ and we propose that a sound set of VSD action principles can be derived from this trilogy. We contend that the philosophical background underpinning these principles is important. Using Beer’s ‘Decision and Control,’ we consider that philosophical background and link Operational Research and the interdisciplinary learning within Cybernetics to modern general systems theory. We explore Beer’s viewpoint on the Peirce depiction of four main methods of fixing belief; tenacity, authority, a priori and finally the scientific to assist in that expansion. We consider how knowledge of Beer’s perspective on making sense of the world is important in the linkage of VSD theory to the managerial problem arena. We relate the Peirce methods to previously reported problem solving exercises involving the VSD ideology, which we will develop individually at a later date. This paper reflects our desire to express the interpretation of VSD theory in a language that the well-informed manager may readily translate into the third step of testing theory in practice.


Operational Research Cybernetics Viable Systems Diagnosis (VSD) management action Practitioner/Scholar 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Greyhound Racing VictoriaMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ManagementMonash UniversityAustralia

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