Chapter

What Was Reductionism?

in Darwinian Reductionism

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2006 | ISBN: 9780226727295
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226727318 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226727318.003.0002
What Was Reductionism?

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This chapter shows how the philosophical problem of reductionism has been modified over the course of the last half century by discoveries in biology and advances in the philosopher's understanding of biology. It explains how and why the Darwinian character of biological phenomena precludes any straightforward reduction of the sort we are familiar with from physical science. The key is to recognize that once nature begins to select among traits of organisms, it does so by selecting them for their effects on survival and reproduction. Natural selection cannot discriminate between structurally different traits with the same effects, especially when the structural differences are slight. Since many different structures will have the same or similar effects on the survival and reproduction of the organisms that bear them, structural heterogeneity among equally well adapted organisms will be commonplace. The sort of reduction physical science leads us to expect cannot deal with the prospect that processes to be explained by reduction to their components are the products of a diverse and unmanageably large number of different, more basic processes, that is, are “multiply realized.”

Keywords: biology; reductionism; Darwin; natural selection; physical science; structural heterogeneity; multiple realizability

Chapter.  13819 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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