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2 The reductionist/holist debate

2.2 Weaknesses in the reductionist position

Foremost in the weaknesses of the reductionist position is that the abstract reductionist thesis itself is neither scientifically testable nor easily reducible to other simpler problems. Thus, although many scientists take it as given, the question of its truth falls squarely outside the domain of traditional science and hence reductionism. Its strength comes from the observation that much successful science has come from scientists that hold this view - it is thus a sort of inductive confirmation. Such inductive support weakens as you move further from the domain in which the induction was drawn. This certainly seems true when applied to various "soft" sciences like economics, where it is spectacularly less successful. The current focusing on "complex systems", is another such possible step away from the thesis' inductive roots.

A second, but unconnected support comes from the Church-Turing thesis. Here the strength of this thesis within mathematics is projected onto physical processes, since any mathematical model of that process we care to posit is amenable to that thesis. If you conflate reality with your model of it then the thesis appears reasonable, but otherwise not.

Thirdly, attempts to formalise any actual scientific reduction in set-theoretic or logical terms, have proved unsatisfactory (see [16]).

Pragmatic Holism - Bruce Edmonds - 22 FEB 96
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