Reduction and autonomy in psychology and neuroscience: A call for pragmatism

Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 39 (1):18-31 (2019)
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Psychologists and neuroscientists often struggle to integrate findings in their respective domains, a problem due partly to implicitly and explicitly held philosophical positions on issues of reduction and autonomy across these domains. The present article reviews how reduction and autonomy have been used in philosophical arguments regarding how macro-scale findings relate to micro-scale findings across various scientific disciplines. The present article demonstrates how macro findings are indispensable to explanations of phenomena of interest by (a) providing information regarding higher levels of organization in mechanisms, (b) including information not contained within certain micro explanations that (c) provides more general and stable causal explanations relative to micro explanations in certain situations. The purpose of presenting these analyses and recommendations is to disabuse psychologists and neuroscientists of pervasive assumptions that psychology is reducible to biology and that lower level phenomena (molecular) should be prioritized as somehow more explanatory than higher level phenomena (behavioral). The article concludes with 3 hypothetical scenarios from clinical psychology and psychiatry illustrating this critique and providing a pragmatic approach to clarify the relative roles, and importance, of biological and psychological data in service of general and stable explanations that are tailored to the kind of intervention desired.



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