Thursday, January 5, 2012

Irreducible Holism

In this paper I would like to explore some issues surrounding ontological reduction, as advocated by the friends of physicalism, and its relation to conceptual reduction, which the said persons generally seem to eschew. It is my intention, and my hope, that the remarks contained herein will shed some new light on those scientific and philosophical programmes that include ontological reduction as one of their foundational assumptions. More specifically, I want to hint at certain general methodological and ethical implications of the research projects (both in the natural sciences and in the philosophy of mind) that aspire to explain the nature of complex phenomena within a physicalist setting, and offer their brief analysis.

Furthermore, I am going to argue against the feasibility of an all-reaching physicalist framework for accomplishing the abovementioned task by attempting to show that a certain set of concepts bridges the ostensible gap between ontological and conceptual reduction; these concepts, which I shall call „irreducibly holistic‟, appear to me to be unamenable to a physicalist treatment in which the metaphysical and semantic components are supposed to be clearly separable. Within the ambit of irreducible holism, as I shall argue, ontological and conceptual reduction are inextricably bound together, hence if the latter is impossible, then so is the former; and since I take irreducibly holistic concepts to be insusceptible to conceptual reduction, physicalism with respect to them (and thus physicalism per se) turns out to be untenable.

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