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Summary

Philosophers use “theory reduction” as a term of art to denote the scientific practice whereby a more basic theory expresses or otherwise captures the facts and principles described by a less basic theory. The reducing theory thus preserves the ontology of the reduced theory, at least in ideal cases. Accordingly, theory reduction contrasts with “theory replacement” according to which a less basic theory and its ontology are rejected.

Key works

One important topic concerns the logic of reduction or how it is best conceived. Major ideas includes reduction as a derivation by bridge principles (Nagel 1961), the role of identities in bridge principles (Sklar 1967), approximate reduction (Schaffner 1967), an expanded continuum of strong to weak reduction that advertises no bridge laws (Churchland 1979; Bickle 1997), compositional or mechanistic reduction (Wimsatt 1976; Bechtel 2007), and functional reduction (Kim 2000). Other important topics concern the analysis of scientific cases (Kitcher 1984; Bickle 2005), the nature of theories as sentential items versus models (Suppes 1957), issues of intralevel versus interlevel competition (McCauley 1986), how the co-evolution of theories might affect the prospects for or the interpretation of reduction (Churchland 1986; Endicott 1998), cases wherein a less basic and unreduced theory is retained rather than replaced (Fodor 1974; Rosenberg 2006), and the phenomenon of multiple realizability that underlies the non-reduced status of such theories (Bechtel & Mundale 1999; Batterman 2000; Shapiro 2004; Aizawa & Gillett 2009).

Introductions A paper by Robert McCauley (McCauley web, published in Thagard 2007), provides a nice introduction to theory reduction with an eye to psychology and neuroscience, including discussion of old and new views. Ingo Brigandt and Alan Love (Brigandt & Love 2008) offer a fairly comprehensive and historically sensitive introduction to reduction for the biological sciences.
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  1. Tryg A. Ager, Jerrold L. Aronson & Robert Weingard (1974). Are Bridge Laws Really Necessary? Noûs 8 (2):119-134.
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  2. Sorin Bangu (2011). On the Role of Bridge Laws in Intertheoretic Relations. Philosophy of Science 78 (5):1108-1119.
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  3. Robert W. Batterman (2010). Reduction and Renormalization. In Gerhard Ernst & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Time, Chance and Reduction: Philosophical Aspects of Statistical Mechanics. Cambridge University Press. 159--179.
  4. Robert W. Batterman (2002). The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction, and Emergence. Oxford University Press.
    Robert Batterman examines a form of scientific reasoning called asymptotic reasoning, arguing that it has important consequences for our understanding of the scientific process as a whole. He maintains that asymptotic reasoning is essential for explaining what physicists call universal behavior. With clarity and rigor, he simplifies complex questions about universal behavior, demonstrating a profound understanding of the underlying structures that ground them. This book introduces a valuable new method that is certain to fill explanatory gaps across disciplines.
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  5. Robert W. Batterman (1995). Theories Between Theories: Asymptotic Limiting Intertheoretic Relations. Synthese 103 (2):171 - 201.
    This paper addresses a relatively common scientific (as opposed to philosophical) conception of intertheoretic reduction between physical theories. This is the sense of reduction in which one (typically newer and more refined) theory is said to reduce to another (typically older and coarser) theory in the limit as some small parameter tends to zero. Three examples of such reductions are discussed: First, the reduction of Special Relativity (SR) to Newtonian Mechanics (NM) as (v/c)20; second, the reduction of wave optics to (...)
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  6. Robert W. Batterman (2005). Response to Belot's "Whose Devil? Which Details?". Philosophy of Science 72 (1):154-163.
    I respond to Belot's argument and defend the view that sometimes `fundamental theories' are explanatorily inadequate and need to be supplemented with certain aspects of less fundamental `theories emeritus'.
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  7. Timothy J. Bayne & Jordi Fernandez (2005). Resisting Ruthless Reductionism: A Commentary on Bickle. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (3):239-48.
    Philosophy and Neuroscience is an unabashed apologetic for reductionism in philosophy of mind. Bickle chides his fellow philosophers for their ignorance of mainstream neuroscience, and promises them that a subscription to Cell, Neuron, or any other journal in mainstream neuroscience will be amply rewarded. Rather than being bogged down in the intricacies of two-dimensional semantics or the ontology of properties, philosophers of mind need to get neuroscientifically informed and ruthlessly reductive.
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  8. William Bechtel (2007). Reducing Psychology While Maintaining its Autonomy Via Mechanistic Explanations. In M. Schouten & H. L. De Joong (eds.), The Matter of the Mind: Philosophical Essays on Psychology, Neuroscience and Reduction. Blackwell Publishing.
    Arguments for the autonomy of psychology or other higher-level sciences have often taken the form of denying the possibility of reduction. The form of reduction most proponents and critics of the autonomy of psychology have in mind is theory reduction. Mechanistic explanations provide a different perspective. Mechanistic explanations are reductionist insofar as they appeal to lower-level entities—the component parts of a mechanism and their operations— to explain a phenomenon. However, unlike theory reductions, mechanistic explanations also recognize the fundamental role of (...)
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  9. William P. Bechtel (1984). Autonomous Psychology: What It Should and Should Not Entail. Philosophy of Science Association 1984:43 - 55.
    In the wake of the cognitivist revolution in psychology, a number of philosophers (e.g., Putnam and Fodor) have argued that the functional ontology underlying cognitivism allows for the autonomy of psychology from neuroscience. It is contended that these arguments do not support the kind of autonomy proposed and that, in any case, such autonomy would be misguided. The last claim is supported by considering the consequences such autonomy would have for a number of research programmes in cognitive psychology. It is (...)
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  10. William P. Bechtel & Andrew Hamilton (2007). Reduction, Integration, and the Unity of Science: Natural, Behavioral, and Social Sciences and the Humanities. In T. Kuipers (ed.), Philosophy of Science: Focal Issues (Volume 1 of the Handbook of the Philosophy of Science). Elsevier.
    1. A Historical Look at Unity 2. Field Guide to Modern Concepts of Reduction and Unity 3. Kitcher's Revisionist Account of Unification 4. Critics of Unity 5. Integration Instead of Unity 6. Reduction via Mechanisms 7. Case Studies in Reduction and Unification across the Disciplines.
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  11. John Bickle, Concepts of Intertheoretic Reduction in Contemporary Philosophy of Mind.
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  12. John Bickle (2008). Real Reduction in Real Neuroscience : Metascience, Not Philosophy of Science (and Certainly Not Metaphysics!). In Jakob Hohwy & Jesper Kallestrup (eds.), Being Reduced: New Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and Causation. Oxford University Press.
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  13. John Bickle (2006). Reducing Mind to Molecular Pathways: Explicating the Reductionism Implicit in Current Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience. [REVIEW] Synthese 151 (3):411-434.
    As opposed to the dismissive attitude toward reductionism that is popular in current philosophy of mind, a “ruthless reductionism” is alive and thriving in “molecular and cellular cognition”—a field of research within cellular and molecular neuroscience, the current mainstream of the discipline. Basic experimental practices and emerging results from this field imply that two common assertions by philosophers and cognitive scientists are false: (1) that we do not know much about how the brain works, and (2) that lower-level neuroscience cannot (...)
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  14. John Bickle (2005). Replies. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (3):285-296.
    I reply to challenges raised by contributors to this book symposium. Key challenges include (but are not limited to): distancing my new account of reductionism-in-practice from my previous “new wave” account; clarifying my claimed “heuristic” status for higher-level investigations (including cognitive-neuroscientific ones); defending the “reorientation of philosophical desires” I claim to be required by my project; and addressing consideration about normativity.
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  15. John Bickle (2002). Concepts Structured Through Reduction: A Structuralist Resource Illuminates the Consolidation – Long-Term Potentiation (Ltp) Link. Synthese 130 (1):123 - 133.
    The structuralist program has developed a useful metascientific resource: ontological reductive links (ORLs) between the constituents of the potential models of reduced and reducing theories. This resource was developed initially to overcome an objection to structuralist ``global'' accounts of the intertheoretic reduction relation. But it also illuminates the way that concepts at a higher level of scientific investigation (e.g., cognitive psychology) become ``structured through reduction'' to lower-level investigations (e.g., cellular/molecular neuroscience). After (briefly) explaining this structuralist background, I demonstrate how this (...)
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  16. John Bickle (2001). Precis of Psychoneural Reduction: The New Wave. Grazer Philosophische Studien 61:249-255.
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  17. John Bickle (1997). Psychoneural Reductionism: The New Wave. MIT Press.
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  18. John Bickle (1996). New Wave Psychophysical Reductionism and the Methodological Caveats. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):57-78.
  19. John Bickle (1992). Mental Anomaly and the New Mind-Brain Reductionism. Philosophy of Science 59 (2):217-30.
    Davidson's principle of the anomalousness of the mental was instrumental in discrediting once-popular versions of mind-brain reductionism. In this essay I argue that a novel account of intertheoretic reduction, which does not require the sort of cross-theoretic bridge laws that Davidson's principle rules out, allows a version of mind-brain reductionism which is immune from Davidson's challenge. In the final section, I address a second worry about reductionism, also based on Davidson's principle, that survives this response. I argue that new reductionists (...)
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  20. Thomas Bontly (2000). John Bickle Psychoneural Reduction: The New Wave. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 51 (4):901-905.
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  21. Craig Callender (1999). Reducing Thermodynamics to Statistical Mechanics: The Case of Entropy. Journal of Philosophy 96 (7):348-373.
  22. Patricia S. Churchland (1986). Neurophilosophy: Toward A Unified Science of the Mind-Brain. MIT Press.
    This is a unique book. It is excellently written, crammed with information, wise and a pleasure to read.' ---Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University.
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  23. Patricia S. Churchland (1986). Replies to Comments to Symposium on Patricia Smith Churchland's Neurophilosophy. Inquiry 29 (June):241-272.
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  24. Patricia S. Churchland (1982). Mind-Brain Reduction: New Light From Philosophy of Science. Neuroscience 7:1041-7.
  25. Paul M. Churchland (1989). A Neurocomputational Perspective: The Nature of Mind and the Structure of Science. MIT Press.
    A Neurocomputationial Perspective illustrates the fertility of the concepts and data drawn from the study of the brain and of artificial networks that model the...
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  26. Paul M. Churchland (1986). Some Reductive Strategies in Cognitive Neurobiology. Mind 95 (July):279-309.
  27. Paul M. Churchland (1985). Reduction, Qualia and the Direct Introspection of Brain States. Journal of Philosophy 82 (January):8-28.
  28. Paul M. Churchland (1979). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge University Press.
    The present essay is addressed simultaneously to two distinct audiences.
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  29. Paul M. Churchland & Patricia S. Churchland (1998). On the Contrary: Critical Essays, 1987-1997. Cambridge: MIT Press.
    This collection was prepared in the belief that the most useful and revealing of anyone's writings are often those shorter essays penned in conflict with...
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  30. Paul M. Churchland & Patricia S. Churchland (1994). Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist's Field Guide. In Richard Warner & Tadeusz Szubka (eds.), The Mind-Body Problem: A Guide to the Current Debate. Cambridge: Blackwell.
  31. Huib L. de Jong & Maurice K. D. Schouten (2005). Ruthless Reductionism: A Review Essay of John Bickle's Philosophy and Neuroscience: A Ruthlessly Reductive Account. [REVIEW] Philosophical Psychology 18 (4):473-486.
    John Bickle's new book on philosophy and neuroscience is aptly subtitled 'a ruthlessly reductive account'. His 'new wave metascience' is a massive attack on the relative autonomy that psychology enjoyed until recently, and goes even beyond his previous (Bickle, J. (1998). Psychoneural reduction: The new wave. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.) new wave reductionsism. Reduction of functional psychology to (cognitive) neuroscience is no longer ruthless enough; we should now look rather to cellular or molecular neuroscience at the lowest possible level for (...)
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  32. Ronald P. Endicott (2007). Reinforcing the Three ‘R's: Reduction, Reception, and Replacement. In M. Schouten & H. Looren de Jong (eds.), The Matter of the Mind: Philosophical Essays on Psychology, Neuroscience, and Reduction. Blackwell.
    Philosophers of science have offered different accounts of what it means for one scientific theory to reduce to another. I propose a more or less friendly amendment to Kenneth Schaffner’s “General Reduction-Replacement” model of scientific unification. Schaffner interprets scientific unification broadly in terms of a continuum from theory reduction to theory replacement. As such, his account leaves no place on its continuum for type irreducible and irreplaceable theories. The same is true for other accounts that incorporate Schaffner's continuum, for example, (...)
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  33. Ronald P. Endicott (2001). Post-Structuralist Angst - Critical Notice: John Bickle, Psychoneural Reduction: The New Wave. Philosophy of Science 68 (3):377-393.
    I critically evaluate Bickle’s version of scientific theory reduction. I press three main points. First, a small point, Bickle modifies the new wave account of reduction developed by Paul Churchland and Clifford Hooker by treating theories as set-theoretic structures. But that structuralist gloss seems to lose what was distinctive about the Churchland-Hooker account, namely, that a corrected theory must be specified entirely by terms and concepts drawn from the basic reducing theory. Set-theoretic structures are not terms or concepts but the (...)
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  34. Ronald P. Endicott (1998). Collapse of the New Wave. Journal of Philosophy 95 (2):53-72.
    I critically evaluate the influential new wave account of theory reduction in science developed by Paul Churchland and Clifford Hooker. First, I cast doubt on claims that the new wave account enjoys a number of theoretical virtues over its competitors, such as the ability to represent how false theories are reduced by true theories. Second, I argue that the genuinely novel claim that a corrected theory must be specified entirely by terms from the basic reducing theory is in fact too (...)
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  35. Ronald P. Endicott (1993). Species-Specific Properties and More Narrow Reductive Strategies. Erkenntnis 38 (3):303-21.
  36. Peter Fazekas (2009). Reconsidering the Role of Bridge Laws in Inter-Theoretical Reductions. Erkenntnis 71 (3):303 - 322.
    The present paper surveys the three most prominent accounts in contemporary debates over how sound reduction should be executed. The classical Nagelian model of reduction derives the laws of the target-theory from the laws of the base theory plus some auxiliary premises (so-called bridge laws) connecting the entities of the target and the base theory. The functional model of reduction emphasizes the causal definitions of the target entities referring to their causal relations to base entities. The new-wave model of reduction (...)
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  37. J. A. Fodor (1974). Special Sciences (Or: The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis). Synthese 28 (2):97-115.
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  38. Malcolm R. Forster & Alexei Krioukov, How to ‘See Through’ the Ideal Gas Law in Terms of the Concepts of Quantum Mechanics.
    Textbooks in quantum mechanics frequently claim that quantum mechanics explains the success of classical mechanics because “the mean values [of quantum mechanical observables] follow the classical equations of motion to a good approximation,” while “the dimensions of the wave packet be small with respect to the characteristic dimensions of the problem.” The equations in question are Ehrenfest’s famous equations. We examine this case for the one-dimensional motion of a particle in a box, and extend the idea deriving a special case (...)
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  39. Malcolm R. Forster & Alexey Kryukov (2003). The Emergence of the Macroworld: A Study of Intertheory Relations in Classical and Quantum Mechanics. Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1039-1051.
    Classical mechanics is empirically successful because the probabilistic mean values of quantum mechanical observables follow the classical equations of motion to a good approximation (Messiah 1970, 215). We examine this claim for the one‐dimensional motion of a particle in a box, and extend the idea by deriving a special case of the ideal gas law in terms of the mean value of a generalized force used to define “pressure.” The examples illustrate the importance of probabilistic averaging as a method of (...)
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  40. Clark Glymour (1970). On Some Patterns of Reduction. Philosophy of Science 37 (3):340-353.
    The notion of reduction in the natural sciences has been assimilated to the notion of inter-theoretical explanation. Many philosophers of science (following Nagel) have held that the apparently ontological issues involved in reduction should be replaced by analyses of the syntactic and semantic connections involved in explaining one theory on the basis of another. The replacement does not seem to have been especially successful, for we still lack a plausible account of inter-theoretical explanation. I attempt to provide one.
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  41. C. A. Hooker (2002). Review of Robert W. Batterman, The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction and Emergence. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2002 (10).
  42. C. A. Hooker (1981). Towards a General Theory of Reduction. Part II: Identity in Reduction. Dialogue 20 (02):201-236.
  43. C. A. Hooker (1981). Towards a General Theory of Reduction. Part III: Cross-Categorical Reduction. Dialogue 20 (03):496-529.
  44. Cliff A. Hooker (2006). Reduction as Cognitive Strategy. In Brian L. Keeley (ed.), Paul Churchland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  45. Terence E. Horgan (2001). Multiple Reference, Multiple Realization, and the Reduction of Mind. In Reality and Humean Supervenience: Essays on the Philosophy of David Lewis. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
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  46. Terence E. Horgan (1978). Supervenient Bridge Laws. Philosophy of Science 45 (2):227-249.
    I invoke the conceptual machinery of contemporary possible-world semantics to provide an account of the metaphysical status of "bridge laws" in intertheoretic reductions. I argue that although bridge laws are not definitions, and although they do not necessarily reflect attribute-identities, they are supervenient. I.e., they are true in all possible worlds in which the reducing theory is true.
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  47. Jaegwon Kim (2008). Reduction and Reductive Explanation : Is One Possible Without the Other? In Jakob Hohwy & Jesper Kallestrup (eds.), Being Reduced: New Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and Causation. Oxford University Press.
  48. Jaegwon Kim (2005). Physicalism, or Something Near Enough. Princeton University Press.
    "This is a fine volume that clarifies, defends, and moves beyond the views that Kim presented in Mind in a Physical World.
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  49. Jaegwon Kim (2000). Mind in a Physical World: An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation. MIT Press.
    This book, based on Jaegwon Kim's 1996 Townsend Lectures, presents the philosopher's current views on a variety of issues in the metaphysics of the mind...
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  50. Jaegwon Kim (1989). The Myth of Non-Reductive Materialism. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 63 (3):31-47.
    Somewhat loose arguments that non-reductive physicalist realism is untenable. Anomalous monism makes the mental irrelevant, functionalism is compatible with species-specific reduction, and supervenience is weak or reductive.
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