Synthese 151 (3):445-475 (2006)

William C. Wimsatt
University of Minnesota
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 approaches fail to engage how science is done. The methods used do so, and support a pragmatic and non-eliminativist realism.
Keywords Aggregativity  Biases  Eliminativism  Heuristics  Identification  Inter-level explanation  Localization  Mechanism  Methodological reductionism  Problem-solving  Wannabe reductionism
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11229-006-9017-0
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,130
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
How the Laws of Physics Lie.Nancy Cartwright - 1983 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

View all 46 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Getting Over Atomism: Functional Decomposition in Complex Neural Systems.Daniel C. Burnston - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (3):743-772.
For Emergence: Refining Archer's Account of Social Structure.Dave Elder-Vass - 2007 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 37 (1):25–44.
When Integration Fails: Prokaryote Phylogeny and the Tree of Life.Maureen A. O’Malley - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4a):551-562.
Cancer and the Goals of Integration.Anya Plutynski - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (4):466-476.

View all 43 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Reductionism as a Research Directive.Fabian Lausen - 2014 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 45 (2):263-279.
New Wave Psychophysical Reductionism and the Methodological Caveats.John Bickle - 1996 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 56 (1):57-78.
Grene on Mechanism and Reductionism: More Than Just a Side Issue.Robert N. Brandon - 1984 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1984:345 - 353.
Is the Brain a Memory Box?Anne Jaap Jacobson - 2005 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4 (3):271-278.
The Limits of Reductionism in the Life Sciences.Marie I. Kaiser - 2011 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 33 (4):453-476.
Reductionism with a Human Face.Timothy Andrew Preston - 2002 - Dissertation, University of South Carolina
Reductionism About Persons; and What Matters.Timothy Chappell - 1998 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 98 (1):41-58.
Two Cheers for Reductionism.Matthew R. Silliman - 2006 - Social Philosophy Today 22:59-70.


Added to PP index

Total views
145 ( #80,700 of 2,506,442 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #416,997 of 2,506,442 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes