Holism in Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Physics


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Monism: The Priority of the Whole. Jonathan Schaffer - - Philosophical Review 1 Metaphysical Interdependence. Naomi Thompson - - In Mark Jago ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. This is certainly a reductive explanation, and it is true, as far as it goes. It also represents a case of ontological reductionism, because it says that the only things that exist are subatomic particles or strings, or whatever.

Reductionism: Examples and Definition | Philosophy Terms

Remember that ontology is the branch of metaphysics concerned with claims of existence. But now consider another possible meaning of the utterance made by our cocktail party physicist: that physics is the only relevant science because everything in the universe can be explained in physical terms. This claim is epistemological epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with how we know things , and much more debatable. Unless your physicist friend is ready to provide you with, say, a quantum mechanical explanation of why you two are having that particular conversation, his epistemic reductive claim fails abysmally.


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Now, a holist could take issue with both the ontological and the epistemic claim, but she would probably be more successful with the latter than with the former. It is hard to imagine, given the current status of scientific knowledge, denying that everything is, in fact, made of subatomic particles or strings, or whatever. There is one more sense in which ontological reductionism may turn out to be problematic — and hence a holistic, or system-level, approach to be useful — though it is still somewhat speculative. I am talking about the idea of emergent properties. These are properties of complex matter that are not reducible to the properties of its simpler constituents.

Take, for instance, the fact that a large enough number of molecules of water acquires the property of being wet at certain temperatures and pressures. It only emerges when enough molecules interact together, which means that it can be studied only holistically, so to speak, not reductionistically.

Reductionism

Generally speaking, it is more constructive to think of the holism-reductionism contrast as a complementarity rather than an antagonism: on the one hand, we can often make progress in understanding complex systems by breaking them down into smaller chunks and see how they can be put together again; on the other hand, we still need to take seriously the idea that some things only function, or even exist, at certain levels of complexity and not below them.

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