I was reading a wikipedia article on Antireductionism. What I cannot understand is how exactly does antireductionism undermine the "scientific method" to a certain degree?

  • 1
    Please link to the wikipedia article you're referring to.
    – user2953
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


Pearls paraphrased from Wikipedia:

Reductionism in science says that a complex system can be explained by reduction to its fundamental parts. For example, the processes of biology are reducible to chemistry and the laws of chemistry are explained by physics. The Cartesian project in science has been attempting to break matter down into ever smaller bits, in the pursuit of understanding. And this works, to some extent but putting things back together in order to understand them is harder, and typically comes later in the development of a scientist or in the development of science. Holism or anti-reductionism can be viewed as the opposite of reductionism. They contend that scientific reductionism in particular is an inherently limited means to reach understanding of the complex world we live in. The scientific method is a specialized system that focuses on studying small and distinctive parts in isolation, which results in fragmented knowledge. Fragmentalism is an alternative term for reductionism. The term reductionism is occasionally used in a pejorative way as a more subtle attack on scientists, although some scientists agree that there might be conceptual and philosophical shortcomings of reductionism but nonetheless feel comfortable being labelled as reductionists.

A common anti-scientific point of contention arises from the fact that mathematical models do not capture the full reality of existence: A failure to appreciate the subtle complexity of social worlds, means they get excluded from the formulas, even though, no easy reductionism will do justice to the material. This approach often fails to concentrate on social structures, processes, and actions in a specific sense, inequality, mobility, classes, strata, ethnicity, gender relations, urbanization, work and life of different types of people, not just elites, and so tends to generate mostly meaningless oversimplifications. Systems in biology, psychology, or sociology are frequently so complex that their behavior cannot be deduced from the properties of the elements alone. Holism/anti-reductionism has been used as a catchword. This contributed to the resistance encountered by the scientific interpretation of holism/anti-reductionism, which insists that there are ontological reasons that prevent reductive models in principle from providing efficient algorithms for prediction of system behavior in certain classes of systems.


Reductionism is an important strategy in Science. Its paramount exemplar being physics. However its not the only one. But because of the prestige of Physics the scientific method is often conflated with reductionism.

With that understood, one can see why anti-reductionism can be seen as being anti scientific method. In reality it shows the epistemological dominance of reductionism within the understanding of what science is.

  • Weren't changes ever made to the scientific method to include other philosophies like emergence? or has the scientific method been the same as it was in Galileo's time? Commented May 5, 2013 at 13:03

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