Discussion papers

CPM-96-08 - 21 February 1996

Pragmatic Holism

Bruce Edmonds

An extended version is published as: Edmonds, B. (1999). Pragmatic Holism (or pragmatic reductionism), Foundations of Science, 4:57-82.

Abstract

The reductionist/holist debate seems an impoverished one, with many participants appearing to adopt a position first and constructing rationalisations second. Here I propose an intermediate position of pragmatic holism, that irrespective of whether all natural systems are theoretically reducible, for many systems it is completely impractical to attempt such a reduction, also that regardless if whether irreducible `wholes’ exist, it is vain to try and prove this in absolute terms. This position thus illuminates the debate along new pragmatic lines, and refocusses attention on the underlying heuristics of learning about the natural world.

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