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The “Freely Adaptive System”. Application of this Cybernetic Model to an Organization Formed by Two Dynamic Human Systems


Management cybernetics has been in development since the 1960s, although its implementation has been relatively modest. Two of the best-known proposals are Beer’s Viable System Model and Steinbruner’s Cybernetic Theory of Decision. Both are homeostatic systems, inspired by living organisms. Professor Juan A. Pérez López (1934–1996) argued that homeostatic systems are not fully appropriated for human beings, and proposed instead the “Freely Adaptive System” (FAS) model to explain the dynamics of an organization formed by two dynamic human systems. This model, although it is within the management cybernetic paradigm, and does not propose any anthropological philosophy, is consistent with several features of the Aristotelian anthropological tradition, including epistemology, practical reason, and virtues. The FAS model can help as a compass for decision making by considering three basic criteria—effectiveness, internal efficiency and consistency—when two persons—an active agent and a reactive agent—interact repeatedly. The model sheds light on the interdependence of ethics and efficiency in successive interactions.

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Fig. 1


  1. Drawing from the way the human brain organizes the actions of the body, Beer identified five interacting systems of control in organizations and, in general, in any viable system. System 1: operations (production of a product and local control), System 2: coordination (assuring production serves to the whole organization), System 3: optimization (optimizing production and coordination), System 4: strategy (screening the environment and reacting if necessary), System 5: policy (making decisions about policy, as well as to set goals for strategies and overall performance) (Beer 1972, 1979).

  2. Regla de decisión viva, in the Spanish original (Pérez López, 1998, p. 198).

  3. Two other pioneering management authors also seem to have been quite influential on JAPL. One was Chester I. Barnard through this book The Functions of the Executive (1968[1938]). The second was Herbert Simon, especially in his Administrative Behavior (1976[1947]), although JAPL avoided the Neo-positivism of this author. In addition, as Pérez López himself mentioned once, Pope John Paul II was one of his masters in philosophical anthropology, especially in the JAPL view on human work (Pérez López 1995a, p. 14). Here, we focus on the influence of Aristotle.

  4. As noted above, JAPL considers two types of knowledge: “abstract knowledge” and “experimental knowledge” and connects them to rational and spontaneous motivation, respectively.

  5. JAPL used “external results” instead of “transitive effects”. Followers like Ferreiro and Alcázar (2002, p. 59) term them “transcendent results”. In our opinion, “transitive effects” could make the content more intuitive.


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Melé, D., Chinchilla, M.N. & López-Jurado, M. The “Freely Adaptive System”. Application of this Cybernetic Model to an Organization Formed by Two Dynamic Human Systems. Philosophy of Management 18, 89–106 (2019).

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  • Aristotle
  • Cybernetic
  • Decision-making
  • Management cybernetic
  • Philosophical anthropology
  • Ethics
  • Freely adaptive system