Nagel's analysis of reduction: Comments in defense as well as critique

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics 41 (2):163-170 (2010)
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Despite all the criticism showered on Nagel’s classic account of reduction, it meets a fundamental desideratum in an analysis of reduction that is difficult to question, namely of providing for a proper identification of the reducing theory. This is not clearly accommodated in radically different accounts. However, the same feature leads me to question Nagel’s claim that the reducing theory can be separated from the putative bridge laws, and thus to question his notion of heterogeneous reduction. A further corollary to the requirement that all the necessary conditions be incorporated in an adequate formulation of the putative reducing theory is that the standard example of gas temperature is not reducible to average molecular kinetic energy. As originally conceived, Nagel’s conception of reduction takes no account of approximate reasoning and this failure has certainly restricted its applicability, perhaps to the point of making it unrealistic as a model of reduction in science. I suggest approximation can be accommodated by weakening the original requirement of deduction without jeopardizing the fundamental desideratum. Finally, I turn to briefly consider the idea sometimes raised of the ontological reducibility of chemistry.

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Paul Needham
Stockholm University

References found in this work

Making sense of emergence.Jaegwon Kim - 1999 - Philosophical Studies 95 (1-2):3-36.
1953 and all that. A tale of two sciences.Philip Kitcher - 1984 - Philosophical Review 93 (3):335-373.
The Foundations of Geometry.David Hilbert - 1899 - Open Court Company (This Edition Published 1921).

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