What is it called to consider the whole to be the fundamental block of reality rather than its parts? Philosophers most often say that the building blocks of this world are small like atoms like Democritus the greek philosopher, but some suggest that the whole is the building blocks and we have a bias towards seeing the smaller things as the building block. What is this position called in philosophy? Is there any related term?

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    I feel like there was a similar question asked recentlyish... I'll try to find it. Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 21:05
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    Here it is. Not quite the same question, but anyway, Conifold's answer to that includes the answer to this: holism. Commented Jun 28, 2021 at 21:06
  • With respect @datazn , who suggests that the whole is the building blocks – building blocks, by definition, suggests we're talking about parts. To the best of my knowledge the debate about the fundamental constituents of reality are always parts-oriented … you know: atoms, monads, objects, and so on. Can you remember who exactly said that the entirety of all there is (the whole – singular) is the building blocks (the parts – plural). Thanks for the question!
    – igravious
    Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 16:02
  • @igravious On the other hand, the one who suggests the whole cant be reduced to the parts, by definition denies the parts. So the whole is the, well, whole. Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 20:36
  • This is vaguely related to the notion of multiple realizability. That the whole may be made up of its parts, but there is more to the whole than its parts, that makes it a whole. These are two different realizations of the complete object, neither of them superior or 'more real'. Temperature may be traceable to molecular motion, but it exists as itself as well, we don't have to consider it 'less real' because of its composite nature. It is concurrently both effects. A glass of water has a temperature only as a composite whole, not as a collection of separately moving molecules. Commented Jun 29, 2021 at 22:08

1 Answer 1


The view that sees the whole first is (w)holism. The opposite is called reductionism. The whole is reduced to its parts.

It depends on your personal taste which one you prefer. Reductionists claim to have found a theory of everything but their everything is a ràther limited view on reality. Only in the reductionist view you can call this theory one of everything. Only elementary particles ( their number can even be reduced to two) are considered.

Composed objects are considered but a reductionist thinks that all properties of these objects can be reduced to the properties of the basis.

Holists think that the properties of large structures can't be reduced. Composed objects have properties that they posses by the very fact that they are composed and even consider them composed is an artifact.

Most present day physicists have a reductionist mind, especially elementary particle ones. As you might have guesded.

David Bohm is a physicist who has an ouspoken holist view on reality. In his book "Wholeness and Implicate Order" he displays his ideas. Reality consists of an infinite number of layers that are loosely connected. The strength of the connection between two layers depends on where the layerd are in the stack.

Many problems in our world are caused by a reductionist view on Nature but this not the place to go any deeper into that. Reductionism combombulates holism, in general but not vice-versa.

So take your pick!

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