Reductionism is often understood to include two theses: (1) every singular occurrence that the special sciences can explain also can be explained by physics; (2) every law in a higher-level science can be explained by physics. These claims are widely supposed to have been refuted by the multiple realizability argument, formulated by Putnam (1967, 1975) and Fodor (1968, 1975). The present paper criticizes the argument and identifies a reductionistic thesis that follows from one of the argument's premises.
This paper analyses the anti-reductionist argument from renormalisation group explanations of universality, and shows how it can be rebutted if one assumes that the explanation in question is captured by the counterfactual dependence account of explanation.
Ever since Darwin a great deal of the conceptual history of biology may be read as a struggle between two philosophical positions: reductionism and holism. On the one hand, we have the reductionist claim that evolution has to be understood in terms of changes at the fundamental causal level of the gene. As Richard Dawkins famously put it, organisms are just ‘lumbering robots’ in the service of their genetic masters. On the other hand, there is a long holistic tradition (...) that focuses on the complexity of developmental systems, on the non-linearity of gene– environment interactions, and on multi-level selective processes to argue that the full story of biology is a bit more complicated than that. Reductionism can marshal on its behalf the spectacular successes of genetics and molecular biology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Holism has built on the development of entirely new disciplines and conceptual frameworks over the past few decades, including evo-devo and phenotypic plasticity. Yet, a number of biologists are still actively looking for a way out of the reductionism–holism counterposition, often mentioning the word ‘emergence’ as a way to deal with the conundrum. This paper briefly examines the philosophical history of the concept of emergence, distinguishes between epistemic and ontological accounts of it, and comments on conceptions of emergence that can actually be useful for practising evolutionary biologists. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
After the discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953, scientists working in molecular biology embraced reductionism—the theory that all complex systems can be understood in terms of their components. Reductionism, however, has been widely resisted by both nonmolecular biologists and scientists working outside the field of biology. Many of these antireductionists, nevertheless, embrace the notion of physicalism—the idea that all biological processes are physical in nature. How, Alexander Rosenberg asks, can these self-proclaimed physicalists also be antireductionists? With (...) clarity and wit, Darwinian Reductionism navigates this difficult and seemingly intractable dualism with convincing analysis and timely evidence. In the spirit of the few distinguished biologists who accept reductionism—E. O. Wilson, Francis Crick, Jacques Monod, James Watson, and Richard Dawkins—Rosenberg provides a philosophically sophisticated defense of reductionism and applies it to molecular developmental biology and the theory of natural selection, ultimately proving that the physicalist must also be a reductionist. (shrink)
With the advent of the Human Genome Project there have been many claims for the genetic origins of complex human behavior including insanity, criminality, and intelligence. But what does it really mean to call something 'genetic'? This is the fundamental question that Sahotra Sarkar's book addresses. The author analyses the nature of reductionism in classical and molecular genetics. He shows that there are two radically different kinds of reductionist explanation: genetic reduction and physical reduction . This important book clarifies (...) the meaning of the term 'genetic', shows how molecular studies have affected genetics, and provides the philosophical background necessary to understand the debates over the Human Genome Project. It will be of particular interest to professionals and students in the philosophy of science, the history of science, and the social studies of science, medicine, and technology. (shrink)
The contrast between the strategies of research employed in reductionism and holism masks a radical contradiction between two different scientific philosophies. We concentrate in particular on an analysis of the key philosophical issues which give structure to holistic thought. A first (non-exhaustive) analysis of the philosophical tradition will dwell upon: a) the theory of emergence: each level of organisation is characterised by properties whose laws cannot be deduced from the laws of the inferior levels of organisation (Engels, Morgan); b) (...) clarification of the relations between the “whole” and the “parts” (Woodger, Needham); c) the ontological or epistemological nature of the emergent properties; are they a phenomenological reality or solely an artefact of the state of our knowledge? (Pepper, Henle, Hempel and Oppenheim); d) the proposition of the holistic theoretical and methodological model ( Novikoff, Feibleman). I then go on to examine the differences that exist between the reductionist and the holistic approaches at various levels of analysis: that is to say, the differences which affect their ontologies, methodologies and epistemologies respectively. I attempt to understand the spirit of a holistic approach to ecology by analyzing the major work of E.P. Odum Fundamentals of ecology (1953, 1959, 1971). I set forward what might be meant by the “holistic approach”, which is implicated in all the different levels of organisation at which the problem of “complexity” is debated. Ecology presents itself as an “holistic science” and Odum’s book offers a vision of the world which dates far back in the history of philosophy. By looking at the three different editions of this fundamental text on ecology, we may become aware of the evolution of Odum’s thought. In fact, only in the third and last edition is there a conscious appropriation of the holistic approach (by using the theoretical models of Feibleman who, for his part, refers to Novikoff). However, even when formally referring to the theory of emergence (that is to say the ontological nucleus of every holistic approach), Odum’s systemic analysis presents the same logical errors, which push him back into the reductionist domain. Above all, in his examination of the main concepts of “population”, “community” and “ecosystem”, there is a misunderstanding of the profound difference between “collective properties” and “emergent properties”. Moreover, the cybernetic models of Odum’s systemic analysis (introduced into ecology by Margalef), allowed him to vastly oversimplify his methodological task: in fact, neither how many levels nor which levels of organization are fundamental for the study of each individual level is clearly marked. Finally, Odum analyses the ecosystem as composed of energetic flux and cycles of matter, referring to the trophic-dynamic vision of Lindeman. That is to say, in my opinion, he juxtaposes a reductionistic methodology and epistemology to an holistic ontology. (shrink)
Hans Jonas’ “philosophical biology,” although developed several decades ago, is still fundamental to the contemporary reflection upon the meaning of life in a systems thinking perspective. Jonas, in fact, closely examines the reasons of modern science, and especially of Wiener’s Cybernetics and Bertalanffy’s General System Theory, and at the same time points out their basic limits, such as their having a reductionistic attitude to knowledge and ontology. In particular, the philosopher highlights the problematic consequences of scientific reductionism for human (...) nature. As the final result of an overall process of naturalization, the essence of the human being is reduced to its quantitative features only, while the “meaning” of life as such becomes no different from the “fact” of its material consistency. However, the problem is that by such a process, the human being is deprived of his specificity. (shrink)
Contemporary philosophers of mind tend to assume that the world of nature can be reduced to basic physics. Yet there are features of the mind consciousness, intentionality, normativity that do not seem to be reducible to physics or neuroscience. This explanatory gap between mind and brain has thus been a major cause of concern in recent philosophy of mind. Reductionists hold that, despite all appearances, the mind can be reduced to the brain. Eliminativists hold that it cannot, and that this (...) implies that there is something illegitimate about the mentalistic vocabulary. Dualists hold that the mental is irreducible, and that this implies either a substance or a property dualism. Mysterian non-reductive physicalists hold that the mind is uniquely irreducible, perhaps due to some limitation of our self-understanding. In this book, Steven Horst argues that this whole conversation is based on assumptions left over from an outdated philosophy of science. While reductionism was part of the philosophical orthodoxy fifty years ago, it has been decisively rejected by philosophers of science over the past thirty years, and for good reason. True reductions are in fact exceedingly rare in the sciences, and the conviction that they were there to be found was an artifact of armchair assumptions of 17th century Rationalists and 20th century Logical Empiricists. The explanatory gaps between mind and brain are far from unique. In fact, in the sciences it is gaps all the way down.And if reductions are rare in even the physical sciences, there is little reason to expect them in the case of psychology. Horst argues that this calls for a complete re-thinking of the contemporary problematic in philosophy of mind. Reductionism, dualism, eliminativism and non-reductive materialism are each severely compromised by post-reductionist philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind is in need of a new paradigm. Horst suggests that such a paradigm might be found in Cognitive Pluralism: the view that human cognitive architecture constrains us to understand the world through a plurality of partial, idealized, and pragmatically-constrained models, each employing a particular representational system optimized for its own problem domain. Such an architecture can explain the disunities of knowledge, and is plausible on evolutionary grounds. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that anti-reductionist moral realism still has trouble explaining supervenience. My main target here will be Russ Shafer-Landau's attempt to explain the supervenience of the moral on the natural in terms of the constitution of moral property instantiations by natural property instantiations. First, though, I discuss a recent challenge to the very idea of using supervenience as a dialectical weapon posed by Nicholas Sturgeon. With a suitably formulated supervenience thesis in hand, I try to show how (...) Shafer-Landau's proffered strategy to explain supervenience not only fails to explain supervenience, but that it also has a number of implausible consequences. The more general lesson is that strategies which may work well for explaining supervenience in the philosophy of mind and other areas cannot be assumed to carry over successfully to the metaethical context. We should therefore treat so-called `companions in guilt' arguments in this area of philosophy with considerable skepticism. Key Words: expressivism moral realism non-naturalism reductionism supervenience trope. (shrink)
In the contemporary life sciences more and more researchers emphasize the “limits of reductionism” (e.g. Ahn et al. 2006a, 709; Mazzocchi 2008, 10) or they call for a move “beyond reductionism” (Gallagher/Appenzeller 1999, 79). However, it is far from clear what exactly they argue for and what the envisioned limits of reductionism are. In this paper I claim that the current discussions about reductionism in the life sciences, which focus on methodological and explanatory issues, leave the (...) concepts of a reductive method and a reductive explanation too unspecified. In order to fill this gap and to clarify what the limits of reductionism are I identify three reductive methods that are crucial in the current practice of the life sciences: decomposition, focusing on internal factors, and studying parts in isolation. Furthermore, I argue that reductive explanations in the life sciences exhibit three characteristics: first, they refer only to factors at a lower level than the phenomenon at issue, second, they focus on internal factors and thus ignore or simplify the environment of a system, and, third, they cite only the parts of a system in isolation. (shrink)
The special and unique attitudes that we take towards events in our futures/pasts—e.g., attitudes like the dread of an impeding pain—create a challenge for “Reductionist” accounts that reduce persons to aggregates of interconnected person stages: if the person stage currently dreading tomorrow’s pain is numerically distinct from the person stage that will actually suffer the pain, what reason could the current person stage have for thinking of that future pain as being his? One reason everyday subjects believe they have a (...) substantially extended temporal existence stems from introspection—they introspectively experience their selves as being temporally extended. In this paper, I examine whether a Reductionist about personal identity can co-opt this explanation. Using Galen Strawson’s recent work on self-experience as a resource, I reach both a negative and a positive conclusion about the prospects of such a position. First, the relevant kind of self-experience—i.e., the introspective experience of one’s self as being a substantially temporally extended entity—will not automatically arise within a person stage simply in virtue of that stage being psychologically connected to/continuous with other person stages. Second, the relevant kind of self-experience will arise, however, in virtue of person stages weaving together their respective experiences, actions, etc. via a narrative. This positive conclusion points towards a new Reductionist position that focuses upon a narrative, and not mere psychological continuity, in attempting to justify the special attitudes we take towards events in our futures/pasts. (shrink)
In debates between holism and reductionism in biology, from the early 20th century to more recent re-enactments involving genetic reductionism, developmental systems theory, or systems biology, the role of chance – the presence of theories invoking chance as a strong explanatory principle – is hardly ever acknowledged. Conversely, Darwinian models of chance and selection (Dennett 1995, Kupiec 1996, Kupiec 2009) sit awkwardly with reductionist and holistic concepts, which they alternately challenge or approve of. I suggest that the juxtaposition (...) of chance and the holism-reductionism pair (at multiple levels, ontological and methodological, pertaining to the vision of scientific practice as well as to the foundations of a vision of Nature, implicit or explicit) allows the theorist to shed some new light on these perennial tensions in the conceptualisation of Life. (shrink)
A classification of models of reduction into three categories — theory reductionism, explanatory reductionism, and constitutive reductionism — is presented. It is shown that this classification helps clarify the relations between various explications of reduction that have been offered in the past, especially if a distinction is maintained between the various epistemological and ontological issues that arise. A relatively new model of explanatory reduction, one that emphasizes that reduction is the explanation of a whole in terms of (...) its parts is also presented in detail. Finally, the classification is used to clarify the debate over reductionism in molecular biology. It is argued there that while no model from the category of theory reduction might be applicable in that case, models of explanatory reduction might yet capture the structure of the relevant explanations. (shrink)
In previous work, I defend the following disparity between moral and epistemic facts: whereas moral facts are irreducibly normative, epistemic facts – facts such as that some subject is epistemically justified in believing something – are reducible to facts from some other domain (such as facts about probabilities). This moral-epistemic disparity is significant because it undercuts an important kind of argument for robust moral realism. My defense of epistemic reductionism and of the moral-epistemic disparity has been criticized by Richard (...) Rowland (2013) and by Terence Cuneo and Christos Kyriacou (forthcoming). This paper aims to rebut these criticisms and, more generally, to clarify and strengthen the case for epistemic reductionism and the moral-epistemic disparity. (shrink)
This paper investigates the seeming incompatibility of reductionism and non-reductionism in the context of complexity sciences. I review algorithmic information theory for this purpose. I offer two physical metaphors to form a better understanding of algorithmic complexity, and I briefly discuss its advantages, shortcomings and applications. Then, I revisit the non-reductionist approaches in philosophy of mind which are often arguments from ignorance to counter physicalism. A new approach called mild non-reductionism is proposed which reconciliates the necessities of (...) acknowledging irreducibility found in complex systems, and maintaining physicalism. (shrink)
Reductionists about agency maintain that an agent’s causing something is reducible to states and events involving the agent causing something. Some worry that reductionism cannot accommodate robust forms of agency, such as self-determination. One reductionist answer to this worry, which I call ‘identification reductionism,’ contends that self-governing agents are identified with certain attitudes, and so these attitudes’ causing a decision count as the agent’s self-determining the decision. I argue that a prominent species of identification reductionism developed by (...) Harry Frankfurt, Agnieszka Jaworska, Jeffrey Seidman, and David Shoemaker—according to which an agent is identified with his (deepest) cares—is inadequate. (shrink)
Pluralism is often put forth as a counter-position to reductionism. In this essay, I argue that reductionism and pluralism are in fact consistent. I propose that there are several potential goals for reductions and that the proper form of a reduction should be considered in tandem with the goal that it aims to achieve. This insight provides a basis for clarifying what version of reductionism are currently defended, for explicating the notion of a fundamental level of explanation, (...) and for showing how one can be both a reductionist and a pluralist. (shrink)
Nathan Salmon, in his paper Trans-World Identification and Stipulation (1996) purports to give a proof for the claim that facts concerning trans-world identity cannot be conceptually reduced to general facts. He calls this claim ‘Extreme Haecceitism.’ I argue that his proof is fallacious. However, I also contend that the analysis and ultimate rejection of his proof clarifies the fundamental issues that are at stake in the debate between the reductionist and haecceitist solutions to the problem of trans-world identity. These issues (...) hinge on the ability of modal logic and possible worlds semantics to draw a hard and fast distinction between the logic and the metaphysics of modal logic. I shall claim that the considerations in this paper call into question the viability of such a distinction. (shrink)
The holism-reductionism debate, one of the classic subjects of study in the philosopy of science, is currently at the heart of epistemological concerns in ecology. Yet the division between holism and reductionism does not always stand out clearly in this field. In particular, almost all work in ecosystem ecology and landscape ecology presents itself as holistic and emergentist. Nonetheless, the operational approaches used rely on conventional reductionist methodology.From an emergentist epistemological perspective, a set of general 'transactional' principles inspired (...) by the work of J. Dewey and J.K. Feibleman are proposed in an effort to develop a coherent ontological and methodological semantics. (shrink)
I argue that a certain version of physicalism, which is viewed by both its admirers and its detractors as non-reductionist, in fact entails two claims which, though not reductionist in the currently most popular sense of 'reductionist', conform to the spirit of reductionism sufficiently closely to compromise its claim to be a comprehensively non-reductionist version of physicalism. Putatively non-reductionist versions of physicalism in general, I suggest, are likely to be non-reductionist only in some senses, but not in others, and (...) hence to disappoint those who wish to be physicalists but still to remain soft and cuddly non-reductionists. (shrink)
The current antireductionist consensus rests in part on the indefensibility of the deductive-nomological model of explanation, on which classical reductionism depends. I argue that the DN model is inessential to the reductionist program and that mechanism provides a better framework for thinking about reductionism. This runs counter to the contemporary mechanists’ claim that mechanism is an alternative to reductionism. I demonstrate that mechanists are committed to reductionism, as evidenced by the historical roots of the contemporary mechanist (...) program. This view shares certain core commitments with reductionism. It is these shared commitments that constitute the essential elements of the reductionist program. (shrink)
A popular “Reductionist” account of personal identity unifies person stages into persons in virtue of their psychological continuity with one another. One objection to psychological continuity accounts is that there is more to our personal identity than just mere psychological continuity: there is also an active process of self-interpretation and self-creation. This criticism can be used to motivate a rival account of personal identity that appeals to the notion of a narrative. To the extent that they comment upon the issue, (...) proponents of narrative accounts typically reject Reductionist metaphysics that (ontologically) reduce persons to aggregates of person stages. In contrast to this trend, we seek to develop a narrative account of personal identity from within Reductionist metaphysics: we think person stages are unified into persons in virtue of their narrative continuity with one another. We argue that this Reductionist version of the narrative account avoids some serious problems facing non-Reductionist versions of the narrative account. (shrink)
_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 (...) be reduced to physical descriptions by means of functional reduction, despite multiple realization. The book develops arguments for from the metaphysics of properties and the philosophy of physics. These arguments lead to a conservative ontological reductionism. It then develops functional reduction into a fully-fledged, conservative theory reduction by means of introducing functional sub-types that are coextensive with physical types, illustrating that conservative reductionism by means of case studies from biology. (shrink)
The classical holism-reductionism debate, which has been of major importance to the development of ecological theory and methodology, is an epistemological patchwork. At any moment, there is a risk of it slipping into an incoherent, chaotic Tower of Babel. Yet philosophy, like the sciences, requires that words and their correlative concepts be used rigorously and univocally. The prevalent use of everyday language in the holism-reductionism issue may give a false impression regarding its underlying clarity and coherence. In reality, (...) the conceptual categories underlying the debate have yet to be accurately defined and consistently used. There is a need to map out a clear conceptual, logical and epistemological framework. To this end, we propose a minimalist epistemological foundation. The issue is easier to grasp if we keep in mind that holism generally represents the ontological background of emergentism, but does not necessarily coincide with it. We therefore speak in very loose terms of the “holism-reductionism” debate, although it would really be better characterised by the terms emergentism and reductionism. The confrontation between these antagonistic paradigms unfolds at various semantic and operational levels. In definitional terms, there is not just emergentism and reductionism, but various kinds of emergentisms and reductionisms. (shrink)
Abstract The goal of this chapter is to provide an opinionated overview of the psychologically based account of personal identity and the role of agency within such an account. I describe the essential points of the psychological criterion of personal identity. Then, I discuss how the psychological criterion is related to the Reductionist View of personal identity and whether it is committed to what Derek Parfit names the Extreme Claim. I further discuss how the agency-based views of personal identity can (...) be accommodated within Derek Parfit’s psychologically based view of personal identity. I end the chapter by discussing how an agency-based view, as most notably developed by Christine Korsgaard, could be used to vindicate practical concerns that are traditionally related to personal identity. (shrink)
It is generally believed that moral reductionism is immune from notorious problems in moral metaphysics and epistemology, such as the problem of moral explanation – it is at least on this dimension that moral reductionism scores better than moral anti- reductionism. However, in this article I reject this popular view. First, I argue that moral reductionism fails to help vindicate the explanatory efficacy of moral properties because the reductionist solution is either circular or otiose. Second, I (...) attempt to show that a successful vindication, if any, of moral explanation requires moral-descriptive irreducibility. My discussion thus raises an explanatory challenge to moral reductionism. (shrink)
. Philosopher-theologian Bernard J. F. Lonergan defines emergence as the process in which âotherwise coincidental manifolds of lower conjugate acts invite the higher integration effected by higher conjugate formsâ (Insight,  1992, 477). The meaning and implications of Lonergan’s concept of emergence are considered in the context of the problem of reductionism in the natural sciences. Examples are taken primarily from physics, chemistry, and biology.
Nonreductive physicalists have a causal exclusion problem. Given certain theses all physicalists accept, including psychophysical supervenience and the causal closure of the physical realm, it is difficult to see how irreducible mental phenomena could make a causal difference to the world. The upshot, according to those who push the problem, is that we must embrace reductive physicalism. Only then is mental causation saved. -/- Grant the argument, at least provisionally. Here our focus is the conditional question: What form should one's (...)reductionism take if it is motivated in part by the exclusion problem? Must one be a type identity theorist, or are alternative reductive views available, as Jaegwon Kim has suggested more than once? (shrink)
Several authors have commented on my reductionist account of spirituality in nursing, describing it variously as naïve, disrespectful, demeaning, paternalistic, arrogant, reifying, indicative of a closed mind, akin to positivism, a procrustean bed, a perpetuation of fraud, a matter of faith, an attempt to secure ideological power, and a perspective that puritanically forbids interesting philosophical topics. In responding to this list of felonies and misdemeanours, I try to justify my excesses by arguing that the critics have not really understood what (...)reductionism involves; that rejecting reductionism is not the same as providing arguments against it; that the ethical dilemmas allegedly associated with reductionist views are endemic to health care; that 'reifying' is what believers in the spiritual realm do; and that the closed minds belong to those who dismiss reductionist science without having studied its achievements. (shrink)
. Nonreductive physicalism, as opposed to reductionism, enjoys wide popularity by virtue of being regarded as comporting with the traditional image of human beings as free and ontologically unique without the difficulties of mind-body dualism. A consideration of reasons, both good and bad, for which reductionism is rejected suggests instead that the move to nonreductive physicalism does nothing to mitigate the implications of a physicalist account of human nature.
Kim maintains that a physicalist has only two genuine options, eliminativism and reductionism. But physicalists can reject both by using the Strict Implication thesis (SI). Discussing his arguments will help to show what useful work SI can do.(1) His discussion of anomalous monism depends on an unexamined assumption to the effect that SI is false.
Functional reductionism concerning mental properties has recently been advocated by Jaegwon Kim in order to solve the problem of the 'causal exclusion' of the mental. Adopting a reductionist strategy first proposed by David Lewis, he regards psychological properties as being 'higher-order' properties functionally defined over 'lower-order' properties, which are causally efficacious. Though functional reductionism is compatible with the multiple realizability of psychological properties, it is blocked if psychological properties are subdivided or crosscut by neurophysiological properties. I argue that (...) there is recent evidence from cognitive neuroscience that shows that this is the case for the psychological property of fear. Though this may suggest that some psychological properties should be revised in order to conform to those of neurophysiology, the history of science demonstrates that this is not always the outcome, particularly with properties that play an important role in our folk theories and are central to human concerns. (shrink)
Davidson's principle of the anomalousness of the mental was instrumental in discrediting once-popular versions of mind-brain reductionism. In this essay I argue that a novel account of intertheoretic reduction, which does not require the sort of cross-theoretic bridge laws that Davidson's principle rules out, allows a version of mind-brain reductionism which is immune from Davidson's challenge. In the final section, I address a second worry about reductionism, also based on Davidson's principle, that survives this response. I argue (...) that new reductionists should revise some significant details of the program, particularly the conception of theories, to circumvent this more potent Davidson-inspired worry. (shrink)
Paleo-compatibilism is the view that the freedom required for moral responsibility is not incompatible with determinism about the factors relevant to moral assessment, since the claim that we are free and the claim that the psychophysical elements are causally determined are true in distinct and incommensurable ways. This is to be accounted for by appealing to the distinction between conventional truth and ultimate truth developed by Buddhist Reductionists. Paleo-compatibilists hold that the illusion of incompatibilism only arises when we illegitimately mix (...) two distinct vocabularies, one concerned with persons, the other concerned with the parts to which persons are reducible. I explore the view, its roots in Buddhist Reductionism, and its prospects. (shrink)
Philosophy and Neuroscience is an unabashed apologetic for reductionism in philosophy of mind. Bickle chides his fellow philosophers for their ignorance of mainstream neuroscience, and promises them that a subscription to Cell, Neuron, or any other journal in mainstream neuroscience will be amply rewarded. Rather than being bogged down in the intricacies of two-dimensional semantics or the ontology of properties, philosophers of mind need to get neuroscientifically informed and ruthlessly reductive.
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. (shrink)
In the context of the free will debate, both compatibilists and event-causal libertarians consider that the agent’s mental states and events are what directly causes her decision to act. However, according to the ‘disappearing agent’ objection, if the agent is nothing over and above her physical and mental components, which ultimately bring about her decision, and that decision remains undetermined up to the moment when it is made, then it is a chancy and uncontrolled event. According to agent-causalism, this sort (...) of problem can be overcome if one realizes that the agent herself, as an irreducible substance, is the true originator of her actions. I’ll present arguments that favor this view. Event-causalists have countered that if the agent identifies with some of the inner states that play the self-determining causal role in bringing about the action, then it is as though the action was directly caused by herself. I’ll object that this is not a distinctive aspect of free agency. Agent-causalism has been criticized from most naturalistically inclined fronts, and it must address risks of implausibility, contradiction and unintelligibility. Even though I’ll acknowledge these challenges, I’ll still argue that libertarian free will cannot be defended by any reductionist alternative, and that agent-causalism does not conflict with contemporary science but only with some of its unproven assumptions. (shrink)
I offer support for the view that physicalist theories of cognition don't reduce to neurophysiological theories. On my view, the mind-brain relationship is to be explained in terms of evolutionary forces, some of which tug in the direction of a reductionistic mind-brain relationship, and some of which which tug in the opposite direction. This theory of forces makes possible an anti-reductionist account of the cognitive mind-brain relationship which avoids psychophysical anomalism. This theory thus also responds to the complaint which arguably (...) lies behind the Churchlands' strongest criticisms of anti-reductionism — namely the complaint that anti-reductionists fail to supply principled explanations for the character of the mind-brain relationship. While lending support to anti-reductionism, the view defended here also insures a permanent place for mind-brain reduction as an explanatory ideal analogous to Newtonian inertial motion or Aristotelian natural motion. (shrink)
To understand consciousness we must first describe what we experience accurately. But oddly, current dualist vs reductionist debates characterise experience in ways which do not correspond to ordinary experience. Indeed, there is no other area of enquiry where the phenomenon to be studied has been so systematically misdescribed. Given this, it is hardly surprising that progress towards understanding the nature of consciousness has been limited. This chapter argues that dualist vs. reductionist debates adopt an implicit description of consciousness that does (...) not resemble ordinary experience. If one adopts an accurate description of conscious phenomenology along with an understanding of the fundamental differences between correlation, causation and ontological identity, reductionism cannot succeed. However the alternative is not a dualism that places consciousness beyond science. Rather, it is a nonreductionist science of consciousness. (shrink)
In his 'The Disorder of Things' John Dupré presents an objection to reductionism which I call the 'anti-essentialist objection': it is that reductionism requires essentialism, and essentialism is false. I unpack the objection and assess its cogency. Once the objection is clearly in view, it is likely to appeal to those who think conceptual analysis a bankrupt project. I offer on behalf of the reductionist two strategies for responding, one which seeks to rehabilitate conceptual analysis and one (more (...) concessive) which avoids commitment to any such analysis. (shrink)
A physicalist view of qualia labelled non-eliminative reductionism is outlined. If it is true, qualia and physicalism can co-exist without difficulty. First, qualia present no particular problem for reductionist physicalism - they are entirely physical, can be studied and explained using the standard scientific approach, and present no problem any harder than any other scientists face. Second, reductionist physicalism presents no particular problem for qualia – they can be encompassed within an entirely physicalist position without any necessity, either to (...) reduce them to non-existence, or to treat them as new fundamental properties. It is suggested that the position also has sufficient explanatory power to successfully deal with the 'why like anything – why does experience exist at all' question and to counter both Chalmers' Conceivability Argument and Jackson's Knowledge Argument. (shrink)
This paper's ?I examines Derek Parfit's main, metaphysical, argument for reductionism about personal identity. ?II considers three possible ethical arguments for reductionism, and suggests a new approach to the question of what matters about personal identity which has to do with the notion of an ethical narrative.
Alexander Rosenberg recently claimed (1997) that developmental biology is currently being reduced to molecular biology. cite several concrete biological examples that are intended to impugn Rosenberg's claim. I first argue that although Laubichler and Wagner's examples would refute a very strong reductionism, a more moderate reductionism would escape their attacks. Next, taking my cue from the antireductionist's perennial stress on the importance of spatial organization, I describe one form an empirical finding that refutes this moderate reductionism would (...) take. Finally, I point out an actual example, anterior-posterior axis determination in the chick, that challenges the reductionist's belief that all developmental regularities can be explained by molecular biology. In short, I argue that Rosenberg's position can be saved from Laubichler and Wagner's criticisms and putative counter-examples, but it would not survive a different kind of counter-example. (shrink)
It has been suggested that Marr took the three levels he famously identifies to be independent. In this paper, we argue that Marr's view is more nuanced. Specifically, we show that the view explicitly articulated in his work attempts to integrate the levels, and in doing so results in Marr attacking both reductionism and vagueness. The result is a perspective in which both high-level information-processing constraints and low-level implementational constraints play mutually reinforcing and constraining roles. We discuss our recent (...) work on Spaun—currently the world's largest functional brain model—that demonstrates the positive impact of this kind of unifying integration of Marr's levels. We argue that this kind of integration avoids his concerns with both reductionism and vagueness. In short, we suggest that the methods behind Spaun can be used to satisfy Marr's explicit interest in combining high-level functional and detailed mechanistic explanations. (shrink)
The reductionist/holist debate is highly polarised. I propose an intermediate position of pragmatic holism. It derives from two claims: firstly, that irrespective of whether all natural systems are theoretically reducible, for many systems it is utterly impractical to attempt such a reduction, and secondly, that regardless of whether irreducible 'wholes exist, it is vain to try and prove this. This position illuminates the debate along new pragmatic lines by refocussing attention on the underlying heuristics of learning about the natural world.