Werner Ulrich's Home Page:  C.W. Churchman












A Tribute to C. West Churchman

   C. West Churchman (ca. 1995) © A. Schultz











C. West Churchman needs no introduction. He was not only one of the founding fathers of the fields of operational research, management science, and the "systems approach," he also remained one of their major critics – he wanted us to remain faithful to the self-reflective, interdisciplinary and ethical spirit that stood at the beginning of OR/MS and the systems approach.

West was born in 1913. In 2003, he celebrated his 90th birthday. This tribute section of my home page originally was a modest attempt to honor my former teacher's 90 years. After the news of his death in March, 2004, it gained an unintended new significance. In remembrance of West Churchman, I would like to offer the following tribute articles.1)

KEY WORDS: C.W. Churchman – biography; C.W. Churchman – bibliography; C.W. Churchman – appreciation; systems approach; systems thinking; future-responsive management; process of unfolding

C. W. Churchman died on 21 March 2004 in Bolinas, California.


Obituary Notice

In memory of West Churchman, my former teacher and mentor at the University of California, Berkeley, I offer this Tribute section of my home page. After his passing in March, 2004, two additional tribute essays have appeared in print in autumn, 2004 (see my list of publications).



Copyright © 2002-2009

Suggested citation: Ulrich, W. (2002). A tribute to C. West Churchman (rev. version, 27 March 2009). Werner Ulrich's home page, http://wulrich.com/cwc.html .





An Appreciation of C. West Churchman

Revised and expanded version of the author's essay "C. West Churchman – 75 years," originally published as a guest editorial to a special issue in honor of Churchman in Systems Practice, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1988, pp. 341-350. Earlier revisions were published in 1999 in the Section "Luminaries of the Systems Approach" of the web site of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) at http://www.isss.org/lumCWC.htm (relocated to http://projects.isss.org/C_West_Churchman and reformatted as a Wiki page in January 2005, last updated on 4 Nov 2009), and in the present site in 2002 (this current version, last revised on 27 March 2009, references and links updated 8 Nov 2009, click on one of the following links).

  • HTML version (revised version of 27 March 2009)
  • PDF version [256 KB, in this site]  (revised version of 27 March 2009)
  • PDF version [256 KB, in the Academia.edu repository] (revised version of 27 March 2009)



A Bibliography of C.W. Churchman's Writings, 1938-2001

Updated and considerably expanded version of a bibliography that was originally published as an appendix to the aforementioned essay "An appreciation of C. West Churchman" in the Section "Luminaries of the Systems Approach" of the web site of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). The present version is an update of an earlier revision of 2002, with which the bibliography first became an independent on-line resource in the present site.



Honoring C.W. Churchman: Towards Future-Responsive Management

Prepublication version of a contribution to a Special Section of the journal Interfaces in celebration of West Churchman's 80th birthday, titled "Can we secure future-responsive management through systems thinking and design?"

  • HTML version (revised version of 26 March 2009)
  • PDF version [269 KB]  (revised version of 26 March 2009)
  • PDF version [269 KB, in the Academia.edu repository]  (revised version of 26 March 2009)




In Memory of C. West Churchman (1913-2004): Reminiscences, Retrospectives, and Reflections

Prepublication version (original layout file) of a tribute paper written after the passing of my former teacher at Berkeley, and published in the Journal of Organisational Transformation and Social Change, 1, Nos. 2-3, 2004, pp. 199-219. A revised short version was published under the title "Obituary: C. West Churchman, 1913-2004" in the Journal of the Operational Research Society, 55, No. 11, 2004, pp. 1123-1129.




Churchman's Process of Unfolding: An Appreciation from the Viewpoint of Critical Systems Heuristics

Expanded version of a contribution to a Special Issue of Systems Practice, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1988, in celebration of C.W. Churchman's 75 years.

  • HTML version [in prep.]
  • PDF version [in prep.]  




The Way of Inquiring Systems: A Review of C.W. Churchman's "The Design of Inquiring Systems," New York, Basic Books, 1971

Expanded and updated version of a review originally published in 1985. Postpublication version of 4 Nov 2015.




Obituary notice

Extract from: "C. West Churchman – groundbreaking philosopher," Obituary that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle of 25 March 2004.




Picture of the Month: C. West Churchman (1913-2004)

A photographic portrait of C.W. Churchman, prepared shortly after his death, with a short biography, a press release of the University of California at Berkeley, excerpts from West Churchman's writings, and links to further sources.  




A word of caution  In the past, some commentators have quoted from earlier versions of these tribute articles as if they represented the original voice of Churchman. They do not; they represent my personal, possibly biased, interpretation and reformulation of West's thinking in the language of critical systems heuristics.2)  As much as I try to remain faithful to the spirit of his work, they should not be confused with the original sound. They are an attempt to appreciate the importance that his work had for me, by explaining the way I understood and transformed it in my work on critical systems heuristics. A good disciple honors the work of his teacher not by simply copying it but rather, by seeking to use and reconstruct it in new ways. I cannot say it better than West himself explains it, in a tribute essay dedicated to his own philosophical teacher and mentor titled "An appreciation of Edgar Arthur Singer, Jr.":

"I have selected the title of this [essay] rather carefully. An appreciation of someone's lifetime work is not just an evaluation; it is also a process of adding to and adjusting the results of that lifetime of creation of ideas and a system of philosophy. As Singer would put it, an appreciation 'sweeps in' new ideas and corrections for the system."3)

This, indeed, is what the articles that I offer in this section of my web site are all about. Please use them in the spirit in which they are offered, as a personal hommage (appreciation) but certainly not as a shortcut to using West's ideas without first reading and studying them in the original.

click to enlarge

C. W. Churchman (ca. 1970)

Photograph (edited) that appeared on the covers of the books The Design of Inquiring Systems (Basic Books, New York 1971) and Philosophie des Managements (Rombach, Freiburg, Germany, 1973, = German edition of Challenge to Reason, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1968).

  Click to enlarge the picture.





PDF versions are in PDF 1.4 format and require Adobe Reader 5.0 or higher.



The language of critical heuristics is very different from West's; it is shaped by the contemporary revival of practical philosophy in Continental Europe, along with language analysis and discourse theory, and by my subsequent effort to reconstruct the "systems approach" in the terms of practical reason and critical discourse. Conversely, what I have learned from West prompted me to reconstruct discursive practical philosophy in the terms of critical systems thinking.  [BACK TO TEXT]


C.W. Churchman, Thought and Wisdom, Intersystems Publications, Seaside, Calif., 1982, p. 116. [BACK TO TEXT]




© 2002-2015 by Werner Ulrich

Noncommercial use, distribution and citation of this publication are permitted on the condition that accurate reference is given to all material used.

Suggested citation: Ulrich, W. (2002). A tribute to C. West Churchman (rev. version, 5 Nov2015). Werner Ulrich's home page, http://wulrich.com/cwc.html








Last updated 12 Nov 2015 (first published 12 Nov 2002)