Friday, December 7, 2012

A point on reductionism

If to you "reductionism" means approach things by explaining how the stuff that makes up the thing works together to make the thing, then perhaps in some senses science is reductionist.

But I think the implication for a lot of people is that reductionism tosses out certain information and focuses only on the stuff that makes up the thing you're talking about. Feser seems to approach it this way when he writes: "If the reductive method involves ignoring the appearances of a thing and redefining the thing in terms of something other than the appearances...". That is wrong as a description of science. The former is right, and I suppose the former could be called "reductionism" in some sense, but usually people think about reductionism in terms of throwing out certain understandings of things. Appearances are not being thrown out at all. They are being voraciously pursued, compared, corroborated, and explained. Nothing about the man on the street view of color changes or is abandoned at all: it is elaborated on and expanded, not abandoned. None of the sensations or appearances are rejected or contradicted - they are housed in a broader context.


  1. Thank you for this. This nicely identifies how Murphy is distorting what I say (I feel like Paul Krugman). His example about gas prices is predicated on e saying we can throw out mental notions like intent or desire. That's completely wrong.

    My fav example of reductionsim, because it's such a small step, is the regulator on a steam engine. It has a purpose. It causes behavior. You need these ideas to explain how the train works. But it is totally explicable in terms of gravity, centrifugal force (so called) etc. No engine designer would doubt that reduction, nor would he cease to reason about the unit as a regulator or argue some other regulator with different workings is inappropriate. The notion of regulator is intact but reduced. Reduction is explanation not denial.

  2. I have not read Feser and I'm jumping into this blind. Are you all discussing naturalism and physicalism, and Feser sees science as reducing everything to physical properties? (i.e., everything that exists in the world, and everything there is to know/explain about the world, are particular physical properties.)


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