Some Metaphysical Anxieties of Reductionism

By now it is cliché to observe that so-called reductionism is not one mammoth doctrine. There are, as it were, many reductionisms. Needless to say, there are at least as many antireductionisms. Despite the fact that neither reductionisms nor their counterparts are single and unified doctrines there do seem to be some family resemblances. One, it seems to me, is that both reductionisms and antireductionisms are acute responses to certain metaphysical worries. Some of these worries are metaphysical in nature, and others are worries about the nature of metaphysics. My contention is that these worries are by and large misguided, and thus that the anxious reactions of both reductionists and antireductionists are unwarranted. For the present purposes I will distinguish between reductionist and antireductionist theses, on the one hand, and reductionist and antireductionist approaches, on the other. This is a perhaps clumsy distinction, and I don’t know that it carves reductionism at its joints. But I think it can be made to do some work. By theses I have in mind particular views about the nature of reduction and reductive relations, which can be worked out in various ways some of which will be discussed below. By approaches I have in mind the motivations and background assumptions that go into formulating or adopting particular theses. Individual reductionists and antireductionists usually hold what we might then call a theory, a combination of an approach and a thesis. A great deal has been written about the merits of or truth of any number of 1 reductionist or antireductionist theses. Presumably there are some assumptions about approaches and motivations lurking in the background. But very little has been said about the merits of the various approaches themselves. Put another way: There is a lively debate over whether particular reductionist theses can solve certain problems or avoid certain objections. But not enough attention has been given to whether these are problems worth solving or objections worth overcoming.
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