Antireductionism

reductionism

holism

Antireductionism [an-tee-ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uhm] is a reaction against reductionism (the idea that a system can be totally determined by understanding its components), which instead advocates holism (sometimes called ‘whole to parts,’ in which a contextual overview precedes analysis of constituent parts).

Although ‘breaking complex phenomena into parts, is a key method in science,’ there are those complex phenomena (e.g. in psychology, sociology, ecology) where some resistance to or rebellion against this approach arises, primarily due to the perceived shortcomings of the reductionist approach. Holism is touted as an effective antidote against reductionism, psychiatric hubris, and scientism, a belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method. Arguments against reductionism therefore implicitly carry a critique of the scientific method itself, which engenders suspicion among scientists.

Antireductionism often arises in academic fields such as history, economics, anthropology, medicine, and biology as dissatisfaction with attempts to explain complex phenomena through being reduced to simplistic, ill-fitting models, which do not provide much insight about the matter in hand. An example in psychology is the ‘ontology of events to provide an anti-reductionist answer to the mind/matter debate [and]…the impossibility of intertranslating the two idioms by means of psychophysical laws blocks any analytically reductive relation between…the mental and the physical.’

According to philosopher of science Alex Rosenberg, ‘Physicalism and antireductionism are the ruling orthodoxy in the philosophy of biology…[yet] both reductionists and antireductionists accept that given our cognitive interests and limitations, non-molecular explanations may not be improved, corrected or grounded in molecular ones.’ This is ‘one of the central problems in the philosophy of psychology…an updated version of the old mind-body problem: how levels of theories in the behavioral and brain sciences relate to one another. Many contemporary philosophers of mind believe that cognitive-psychological theories are not reducible to neurological theories…most nonreductive physicalists prefer the idea of a one-way dependence of the mental on the physical.’

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