Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences

Authored by: Holly K. Andersen

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine

Print publication date:  October  2016
Online publication date:  October  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138846791
eBook ISBN: 9781315720739
Adobe ISBN: 9781317519850


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Reductionism has a long history in philosophical and scientific thought, and it is an intuitively appealing view about how the world works. In its simplest form, reduction involves taking something larger, more complex, or more specific, and reducing it to smaller, simpler, or more universal components. Reduction can be understood as a relationship between parts of the world, in which case it involves the view that larger objects, like physical bodies that we can see and hold, are just lots of very small bodies like atoms and molecules, organized by similarly microscopic forces. Reductionism can also be understood as a relationship between theoretical structures like theories, laws, or models. In that context, reductionism involves commitment to the goal of taking multiple distinct and possibly conflicting models of one phenomenon and reducing those to a single, overarching or unifying model of that phenomenon.

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