The derivation of a theory of systems engineering has long been complicated by the fact that there is little consensus within the systems engineering community regarding precisely what systems engineering is, what systems engineers do, and what might constitute reasonable systems engineering practices. To date, attempts at theories fail to accommodate even a sizable fraction of the current systems engineering community, and they fail to present a test of validity of systems theories, analytical methods, procedures, or practices. This article presents a more theoretical and more abstract approach to the derivation of a theory of systems engineering that has the potential to accommodate a broad segment of the systems engineering community and present a validity test. It is based on a simple preference statement: “I want the best system I can get.” From this statement, it is argued that a very rich theory can be obtained. However, most engineering disciplines are framed around a core set of widely accepted physical laws; to the authors’ knowledge, this is the first attempt to frame an engineering discipline around a preference.