from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. An attempt or tendency to explain a complex set of facts, entities, phenomena, or structures by another, simpler set: "For the last 400 years science has advanced by reductionism ... The idea is that you could understand the world, all of nature, by examining smaller and smaller pieces of it. When assembled, the small pieces would explain the whole” ( John Holland).

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. an approach to studying complex systems or ideas by reducing them to a set of simpler components
  • n. any of several theories holding that complex systems or ideas can always be reduced to a set of simpler components

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a theory that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components
  • n. the analysis of complex things into simpler constituents


Sorry, no etymologies found.


  • The first is actually itself a problem in terms of scientific self-understanding: the problem usually designated by the word reductionism, which is the problem of how you decide what's the most basic form of explanation and whether you think that the most basic form of explanation is the only real form of explanation.

    Archbishop's Holy Week Lecture: Faith & Science

  • Due to the conceptual incompatibilities between different theories, and simple limitations in the tractability of equations when dealing with systems containing billions of particles, epistemological reductionism is false.

    Stuart Kauffman and Reinventing the Sacred

  • This is known as reductionism: the ironclad belief that describing events in biological terms comprises a scientific advancement no matter how hypothetical the explanation is and how little it improves our understanding of -- or ability to influence -- outcomes.

    Stanton Peele: So You Think That Sibling Study in Science Proves Something About Addiction?

  • Materialist reductionism is the official religion, and has had some successes, so we stick with it.

    Angelical Participation? « Unknowing

  • Today, reductionism is the complete victor, and has gone to extremes that Barfield probably wouldn’t have imagined.

    Angelical Participation? « Unknowing

  • The insanity springs from what in philosophy is known as reductionism, ie, the belief that the whole is just the simple sum of its parts.

    The Volokh Conspiracy » Against Nationalism

  • The problem, in other words, is in no way with scientific analysis, but with reductionism, that is to say, the attempt to say that humans are "nothing but" the chemicals of which we are made, or a symphony is "nothing but" vibrations.

    Archive 2009-02-01

  • Using the ancient story the way you are with this one-word reductionism is giving in to a cultural and linguistic ignorance.

    Jon Stewart vs. Mike Huckabee on Gay Marriage

  • This assumption brings with it the idea of reductionism; higher-level sciences (psychology) should be reducible to lower-level sciences (neurophysiology).

    Components of positivism

  • My concern, on the other hand, is solely with synchronic reductionism, that is to say, with the relations between coexisting theories addressed to different levels of organization.

    Reductionism in Biology


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