About this topic

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 1998). 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 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.
Related categories

134 found
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  1. added 2018-12-14
    Spacetime 'Emergence'.Nick Huggett - 2018 - In Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Physics. Routledge.
    Could spacetime be derived rather than fundamental? The question is pressing because attempts to quantize gravity have led to theories in which (arguably) there are either no, or only extremely thin, spacetime structures. Moreover, recent proposals for the interpretation of quantum mechanics have suggested that 3-dimensional space may be an ‘appearance’ derived from the 3N-dimensional space in which an N-particle wavefunction lives (cross- reference). In fact, I will largely assume a positive answer, and investigate how it could be; in particular, (...)
  2. added 2018-02-25
    Should Explanations Omit the Details?Darren Bradley - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    There is a widely shared belief that the higher level sciences can provide better explanations than lower level sciences. But there is little agreement about exactly why this is so. It is often suggested that higher level explanations are better because they omit details. I will argue instead that the preference for higher level explanations is just a special case of our general preference for informative, logically strong, beliefs. I argue that our preference for informative beliefs entirely accounts for why (...)
  3. added 2018-02-16
    Who’s Afraid of Nagelian Reduction?Foad Dizadji-Bahmani, Roman Frigg & Stephan Hartmann - 2010 - Erkenntnis 73 (3):393-412.
    We reconsider the Nagelian theory of reduction and argue that, contrary to a widely held view, it is the right analysis of intertheoretic reduction. The alleged difficulties of the theory either vanish upon closer inspection or turn out to be substantive philosophical questions rather than knock-down arguments.
  4. added 2017-12-01
    Inter-Theory Relations in Quantum Gravity: Correspondence, Reduction, and Emergence.Karen Crowther - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics.
    Relationships between current theories, and relationships between current theories and the sought theory of quantum gravity (QG), play an essential role in motivating the need for QG, aiding the search for QG, and defining what would count as QG. Correspondence is the broad class of inter-theory relationships intended to demonstrate the necessary compatibility of two theories whose domains of validity overlap, in the overlap regions. The variety of roles that correspondence plays in the search for QG are illustrated, using examples (...)
  5. added 2017-05-19
    Renormalizability, Fundamentality and a Final Theory: The Role of UV-Completion in the Search for Quantum Gravity.Karen Crowther & Niels Linnemann - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axx052.
    Principles are central to physical reasoning, particularly in the search for a theory of quantum gravity (QG), where novel empirical data is lacking. One principle widely adopted in the search for QG is UV completion: the idea that a theory should (formally) hold up to all possible high energies. We argue---/contra/ standard scientific practice---that UV-completion is poorly-motivated as a guiding principle in theory-construction, and cannot be used as a criterion of theory-justification in the search for QG. For this, we explore (...)
  6. added 2017-03-20
    Reduction Sentences and Metaphysics.Manley H. Thompson - 1941 - Philosophical Review 50 (6):610-615.
  7. added 2017-02-14
    Ontology, Reduction, Emergence: A General Frame.C. Ulises Moulines - 2006 - Synthese 151 (3):313-323.
    In a scientific context, ontological commitments should be considered as supervenient over accepted scientific theories. This implies that the primarily ontological notions of reduction and emergence of entities of different kinds should be reformulated in terms of relations between existing empirical theories. For this, in turn, it is most convenient to employ a model-theoretic view of scientific theories: the identity criterion of a scientific theory is essentially given by a class of models. Accordingly, reduction and emergence are to be seen (...)
  8. added 2017-02-14
    Handshaking Your Way to the Top: Inconsistency and Falsification in Intertheoretic Reduction.Eric Winsberg - 2006 - In Borchert (ed.), Philosophy of Science. Macmillan. pp. 73--582.
  9. added 2017-02-14
    A Case Study on Theory Reduction and its Philosophy of Science1.Shunkichi Matsumoto - 2000 - Annals of the Japan Association for Philosophy of Science 9 (5):255-270.
  10. added 2017-02-14
    A Model of Intertheoretic Reduction.Ernest Nagel - 1999 - In Robert Klee (ed.), Scientific Inquiry: Readings in the Philosophy of Science. Oxford University Press. pp. 106.
  11. added 2017-02-13
    Minisymposia-IV Substructuring, Dimension Reduction and Applications-Parallel Algorithms for Balanced Truncation Model Reduction of Sparse Systems.Jose M. Badia, Peter Benner, Rafael Mayo & Enrique S. Quintana-Orti - 2006 - In O. Stock & M. Schaerf (eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer Verlag. pp. 267-275.
  12. added 2017-02-13
    Minisymposia-IV Substructuring, Dimension Reduction and Applications-Structure-Preserving Model Reduction.Ren-Cang Li & Zhaojun Bai - 2006 - In O. Stock & M. Schaerf (eds.), Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Springer Verlag. pp. 3732--323.
  13. added 2017-02-13
    On the Reduction of Type Theory.Marcel Crabbé - 1983 - Mathematical Logic Quarterly 29 (4):235-237.
  14. added 2017-02-12
    Reductionism and Discourse Relativity.D. S. Clarke - 2009 - Philo 12 (1):61-72.
    This paper is an interpretation and defense of Putnam’s claim that reductionist sentences identifying experiences with physical events or processes are meaningless. Discourses are formulated within frameworks that are characterized by their methods of justification, types of term introduction, and vocabularies. Examples of both meaningful intra-framework and meaningless cross-framework identities are considered, along with examples of theoretical identities across sub-frameworks. In agreement with Putnam, mental/physical identities are classified as cross-framework. But I qualify Putnam’s thesis by arguing that they can be (...)
  15. added 2017-02-10
    Failures of the Reduction Principle in an Ellsberg-Type Problem.Michele Bernasconi & Graham Loomes - 1992 - Theory and Decision 32 (1):77-100.
  16. added 2017-02-09
    Informal Aspects of Theory Reduction.David L. Hull - 1974 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1974:653 - 670.
  17. added 2017-02-08
    Jakob Hohwy and Jesper Kallestrup (Eds), Being Reduced: New Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and Causation.M. I. Eronen - 2012 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 63 (1):227-231.
    The notion of reduction continues to play an important role in contemporary analytic philosophy. Being Reduced is a collection of essays that not only presents novel contributions to our understanding of reduction, but also aims at finding connections between the debates in philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, which have surprisingly remained rather detached from each other. Being reduced succeeds in this difficult task, and is a very welcome addition to the growing philosophical literature on reduction.
  18. added 2017-02-02
    Problem Reduction and its Relevance: Reply to Thomas Nickles.Theo A. F. Kuipers - 2005 - Poznan Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 84 (1):134-137.
  19. added 2017-02-01
    Asymptotics, Reduction and Emergence.C. A. Hooker - 2004 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 55 (3):435-479.
    All the major inter-theoretic relations of fundamental science are asymptotic ones, e.g. quantum theory as Planck's constant h 0, yielding (roughly) Newtonian mechanics. Thus asymptotics ultimately grounds claims about inter-theoretic explanation, reduction and emergence. This paper examines four recent, central claims by Batterman concerning asymptotics and reduction. While these claims are criticised, the discussion is used to develop an enriched, dynamically-based account of reduction and emergence, to show its capacity to illuminate the complex variety of inter-theory relationships in physics, and (...)
  20. added 2017-02-01
    Reduction of Thermodynamics: A Few Problems.Sang Wook Yi - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1028-1038.
    Lawrence Sklar in his book, Physics and Chance (1993), proposes a sophisticated account of reduction of thermodynamics (TD) by statistical mechanics (SM). I argue that Sklar's analysis of the alleged reduction of TD by SM is problematic in several respects. I consider a few counterexamples to show that none of what Sklar takes to be the central features of successful reduction in science (unification and identification) holds in the case of TD and SM. I suggest the broader conclusion that a (...)
  21. added 2017-02-01
    Reduction as Replacement. [REVIEW]Ron Yoshida - 1981 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 32 (4):400-410.
  22. added 2017-02-01
    Some Intertheoretic Relations Between Ptolemean and Copernican Astronomy.Michael Heidelberger - 1976 - Erkenntnis 10 (3):323 - 336.
  23. added 2017-01-22
    Marrying the Merits of Nagelian Reduction and Functional Reduction.Michael Esfeld, Christian Sachse & Patrice Soom - 2012 - Acta Analytica 27 (3):217-230.
    This paper points out the merit of Nagelian reduction, namely to propose a model of inter-theoretic reduction that retains the scientific quality of the reduced theory and the merit of functional reduction, namely to take multiple realization into account and to offer reductive explanations. By considering Lewis and Kim’s proposal for local reductions, we establish that functional reduction fails to achieve a theory reduction and cannot retain the scientific quality of the reduced theory. We improve on that proposal by showing (...)
  24. added 2017-01-21
    Towards a General Theory of Reduction. Part I: Historical and Scientific Setting.C. A. Hooker - 1981 - Dialogue 20 (1):38-59.
  25. added 2017-01-21
    Intertheoretic Relations as a Tool for the Rational Reconstruction of Scientific Development.Lorenz Krüger - 1980 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 11 (2):89-101.
  26. added 2017-01-19
    Reduction: Some Criteria and Criticisms of the Structuralist Concept. [REVIEW]Hans Rott - 1987 - Erkenntnis 27 (2):231 - 256.
  27. added 2017-01-19
    Logical Properties of the Structuralist Concept of Reduction.David Pearce - 1982 - Erkenntnis 18 (3):307 - 333.
  28. added 2017-01-18
    HOT Theory: The Mentalistic Reduction of Consciousness.William E. Seager - 1999 - In Theories of Consciousness: An Introduction and Assessment. Routledge.
  29. added 2017-01-18
    Theorienreduktion in den Sozialwissenschaften. Eine Fallstudie Am Beispiel der Balancetheorien.Klaus Manhart - 1998 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 29 (2):301-326.
    Theory Reduction in the Social Sciences. The example of balance theories. A central topic both in philosophy of science as well as in the empirical sciences is the reconstruction of the relations between theories. In the past comparisons of theories by means of traditional linguistic methods have proved to be extremely difficult and complicated. In this article the reconstruction of intertheoretical relations based on model-theoretical terms is propagated, as formulated within the structuralist view of theories. The efficiency of a model (...)
  30. added 2017-01-18
    Identity Statements and Microreductions.Berent Enc - 1976 - Journal of Philosophy 73 (June):285-306.
    The view that scientific reduction succeeds by establishing property identities is challenged. it is argued that, instead of identity statements making reductions successful, the fact that a reduction is successful makes the identity statements possible. the argument proceeds first by showing that an explanatory asymmetry is generated by statements expressing property identities, second by locating the source of the asymmetry in a "generative relation" that obtains between the two properties. it is then argued that reduction succeeds only if the reducing (...)
  31. added 2017-01-18
    The Replacement of Scientific Theories: Reduction and Explication.James Gaa - 1975 - Philosophy of Science 42 (4):349-372.
    An examination of earlier views yields an account of theoretic change on which changes in theory which do involve changes in meanings of terms are classified as a special (and by no means exhaustive) case of theoretic change which, latter, is construed as a more general phenomenon. Only the general problem is given detailed consideration here. The account given considers the problem of how replacement of intensional theories by extensional ones may be treated within the general framework provided. Among its (...)
  32. added 2017-01-14
    The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction, and Emergence.Robert W. Batterman - 2001 - Oxford University Press USA.
    Batterman examines a form of scientific reasoning called asymptotic reasoning, arguing that it has important consequences for our understanding of what physicists call universal behavior, as well as of the scientific process as a whole.
  33. added 2016-12-08
    Conservative Reductionism.Michael Esfeld & Christian Sachse - 2011 - Routledge.
    _Conservative Reductionism_ sets out a new theory of the relationship between physics and the special sciences within the framework of functionalism. It argues that it is wrong-headed to conceive an opposition between functional and physical properties and to build an anti-reductionist argument on multiple realization. By contrast, all properties that there are in the world, including the physical ones, are functional properties in the sense of being causal properties, and all true descriptions that the special sciences propose can in principle (...)
  34. added 2016-12-08
    Reconsidering the Role of Bridge Laws In Inter-Theoretical Reductions.Peter Fazekas - 2009 - 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 (...)
  35. added 2016-12-08
    Reductionism and its Heuristics: Making Methodological Reductionism Honest.William Wimsatt - 2006 - Synthese 151 (3):445-475.
    Methodological reductionists practice ‘wannabe reductionism’. They claim that one should pursue reductionism, but never propose how. I integrate two strains in prior work to do so. Three kinds of activities are pursued as “reductionist”. “Successional reduction” and inter-level mechanistic explanation are legitimate and powerful strategies. Eliminativism is generally ill-conceived. Specific problem-solving heuristics for constructing inter-level mechanistic explanations show why and when they can provide powerful and fruitful tools and insights, but sometimes lead to erroneous results. I show how traditional metaphysical (...)
  36. added 2016-12-08
    Reduction: The Cheshire Cat Problem and a Return to Roots.Kenneth F. Schaffner - 2006 - Synthese 151 (3):377-402.
    In this paper, I propose two theses, and then examine what the consequences of those theses are for discussions of reduction and emergence. The first thesis is that what have traditionally been seen as robust, reductions of one theory or one branch of science by another more fundamental one are a largely a myth. Although there are such reductions in the physical sciences, they are quite rare, and depend on special requirements. In the biological sciences, these prima facie sweeping reductions (...)
  37. added 2016-12-08
    The Emergence of the Macroworld: A Study of Intertheory Relations in Classical and Quantum Mechanics.Malcolm R. Forster & Alexey Kryukov - 2003 - 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 (...)
  38. added 2016-12-08
    The Peripherality of Reductionism in the Development of Molecular Biology.Kenneth F. Schaffner - 1974 - Journal of the History of Biology 7 (1):111-139.
    I have not attempted to provide here an analysis of the methodology of molecular biology or molecular genetics which would demonstrate at what specific points a more reductionist aim would make sense as a research strategy. This, I believe, would require a much deeper analysis of scientific growth than philosophy of science has been able to provide thus far. What I have tried to show is that a straightforward reductionist strategy cannot be said to be follwed in important cases of (...)
  39. added 2016-09-21
    Reviewing Reduction in a Preferential Model‐Theoretic Context.Emma Ruttkamp & Johannes Heidema - 2005 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19 (2):123 – 146.
    In this article, we redefine classical notions of theory reduction in such a way that model-theoretic preferential semantics becomes part of a realist depiction of this aspect of science. We offer a model-theoretic reconstruction of science in which theory succession or reduction is often better - or at a finer level of analysis - interpreted as the result of model succession or reduction. This analysis leads to 'defeasible reduction', defined as follows: The conjunction of the assumptions of a reducing theory (...)
  40. added 2015-09-16
    “Formal” Versus “Empirical” Approaches to Quantum–Classical Reduction.Joshua Rosaler - 2015 - Topoi 34 (2):325-338.
    I distinguish two types of reduction within the context of quantum-classical relations, which I designate “formal” and “empirical”. Formal reduction holds or fails to hold solely by virtue of the mathematical relationship between two theories; it is therefore a two-place, a priori relation between theories. Empirical reduction requires one theory to encompass the range of physical behaviors that are well-modeled in another theory; in a certain sense, it is a three-place, a posteriori relation connecting the theories and the domain of (...)
  41. added 2015-09-16
    Local Reduction in Physics.Joshua Rosaler - 2015 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 50:54-69.
    A conventional wisdom about the progress of physics holds that successive theories wholly encompass the domains of their predecessors through a process that is often called reduction. While certain influential accounts of inter-theory reduction in physics take reduction to require a single "global" derivation of one theory's laws from those of another, I show that global reductions are not available in all cases where the conventional wisdom requires reduction to hold. However, I argue that a weaker "local" form of reduction, (...)
  42. added 2015-04-06
    Theory Reduction and Theory Change.Lawrence Sklar - 2000
  43. added 2015-04-05
    Ontological Reduction and Abstract Entities.Daniel Albert Bonevac - 1980 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
    In the final chapter I examine Quine's criterion of ontological commitment, finding it vague and somewhat misleading. I sharpen the criterion both syntactically and semantically, and show that on a literal reading, it clashes with Quine's emphasis on the significance of reduction. In order to make room for an ontologically interesting notion of reduction, we must distinguish questions of ostensible commitment, closely linked to existential quantification, from those of real commitment, which take reductive relations into account. "What can be reduced (...)
  44. added 2015-03-26
    Structuralist Contributions – and Limitations? – to the Study of Scientific Reduction.John Bickle - 2012 - Metatheoria 2 (2):1-23.
    Structuralism provides useful resources for advancing our understanding of the intertheoretic reduction relation and its place in the history of science. This paper begins by surveying these resources and assessing their metascientific significance. Nevertheless, important challenges remain. I close by arguing that the reductionism implicit in current scientific practice in a paradigmatic reductionistic scientific field –“molecular and cellular cognition”– is better understood on an “intervene and track” model rather than as any kind of intertheoretic relation. I illustrate my alternative model (...)
  45. added 2015-03-24
    Intertheoretic Reduction and the Cumulativity of Scientific Knowledge.Svetozar Sinđelić - 1996 - Theoria 39 (2):49-124.
  46. added 2015-03-23
    Dualities and Intertheoretic Relations.Elena Castellani - 2009 - In Mauricio Suarez, Mauro Dorato & Miklos Redei (eds.), EPSA Philosophical Issues in the Sciences · Launch of the European Philosophy of Science Association. Springer. pp. 9--19.
    This is the first of two papers concerned with the philosophical significance of dualities as applied in recent fundamental physics. The general idea is that, for its peculiarity, this ‘new’ ingredient in theory construction can open unexpected perspectives in the current philosophical reflection on contemporary physics. In particular, today’s physical dualities represent an unusual type of intertheory relation, the meaning of which deserves to be investigated. The aim is to show how discussing this point brings into play, at the same (...)
  47. added 2015-03-23
    Psychoneural Reduction: The New Wave.John W. Bickle - 2008 - Bradford.
    One of the central problems in the philosophy of psychology is 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. However, this antireductionism has not spawned a revival of dualism. Instead, most nonreductive physicalists prefer the idea of a one-way dependence of the mental on the physical.In Psychoneural Reduction, John Bickle presents a (...)
  48. added 2015-03-23
    Intertheoretic Reduction: A Neuroscientist's Field Guide.Paul M. Churchland & Patricia S. Churchland - 1992 - In Y. Christen & P. S. Churchland (eds.), Neurophilosophy and Alzheimer's Disease. Cambridge: Springer Verlag. pp. 18--29.
  49. added 2015-03-11
    Montague Reduction, Confirmation, and the Syntax-Semantics Relation.Stephan Hartmann & Kristina Liefke - manuscript
    Intertheoretic relations are an important topic in the philosophy of science. However, since their classical discussion by Ernest Nagel, such relations have mostly been restricted to relations between pairs of theories in the natural sciences. In this paper, we present a model of a new type of intertheoretic relation, called 'Montague Reduction', which is assumed in Montague's framework for the analysis and interpretation of natural language syntax. To motivate the adoption of our new model, we show that this model extends (...)
  50. added 2015-03-07
    Theory Reduction by Means of Functional Sub‐Types.Michael Esfeld & Christian Sachse - 2007 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 21 (1):1 – 17.
    The paper sets out a new strategy for theory reduction by means of functional sub-types. This strategy is intended to get around the multiple realization objection. We use Kim's argument for token identity (ontological reductionism) based on the causal exclusion problem as starting point. We then extend ontological reductionism to epistemological reductionism (theory reduction). We show how one can distinguish within any functional type between functional sub-types. Each of these sub-types is coextensive with one type of realizer. By this means, (...)
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