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24. Holism

CHRISTOPHER HOOKWAY


Subject Philosophy

Key-Topics holism, science

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631230205.2001.00027.x


Extract

The term “holism” refers to a variety of positions which have in common a resistance to understanding larger unities as merely the sum of their parts, and an insistence that we cannot explain or understand the parts without treating them as belonging to such larger wholes. Some of these issues concern explanation (see explanation ). It is argued, for example, that facts about social classes are not reducible to facts about the beliefs and actions of the agents who belong to them; or it is claimed that we only understand the actions of individuals by locating them in social roles or systems of social meanings. The most discussed forms of holism in recent philosophy of science have concerned epistemological and semantic issues which have sometimes appeared to threaten reasonable assumptions about rationality. When we make predictions in order to test hypotheses, we rely upon extensive background knowledge: from the reliability of our senses to the other theories presupposed by our experimental techniques, from information about the context of observation to techniques drawn from logic and mathematics, and so on. If our prediction is disappointed, this shows only that something is wrong somewhere: but judgment is needed to conclude that the best overall response is to reject the hypothesis we were testing. In principle, we could reject the embarrassing observations, place some of ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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