For Holism, Against Atomism

Philip Pettit

in The Common Mind

Published in print September 1996 | ISBN: 9780195106459
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199872251 | DOI:
 For Holism, Against Atomism

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This issue between individualism and collectivism has to do with how far individuals are compromised from on high, by aggregate or structural factors. It is a vertical issue, as we may put it. The issue between atomism and holism, by contrast, has a horizontal character. The question bears, not on the relation between high‐level factors and individual human beings but on the relation between the individuals themselves; it is the question as to how far people's social relationships with one another are of significance in their constitution as subjects and agents. Atomists occupy an extreme position according to which it is possible for a human being to develop all the capacities characteristic of our kind in total isolation from her fellows, if indeed she has any fellows; there is no incoherence, as it is often put, in the notion of the solitary individual. Holists deny this claim, arguing that one or another distinctive capacity – usually the capacity for thought – depends in a noncausal or constitutive way on the enjoyment of social relationships. Drawing on analysis in the first part of the book, this chapter maintains that thought does require social relationships in a constitutive manner, at least if thought is to be “commonable” – accessible in principle to others.

Keywords: atomism; commonable; holism; rule‐following; thought; understanding

Chapter.  28425 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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