ANTIREDUCTIONISM (Greek ’αντι- [anti]—against, in comparison with something; Latin reductio—reduction, recovery)—a philosophical position opposed to reductionism, criticizing reduction on the grounds of the philosophy of science and the philosophy of organic nature, which made it possible to establish an alternative program of scientific studies and some constructive positions that show the uniqueness of biological phenomena and systems, and the need for definite methods for studying the objects of these systems.
At present in the philosophy of science reductionism has been criticized by an alternative program of scientific studies. The starting point of this critique is found in certain philosophical ideas of A. Einstein that were taken up and developed by K. R. Popper. A new conception of the relation between philosophy and the history of science (A. Koyré, T. S. Kuhn) and a certain regress of R. Carnap’s idea of reconstructionism was a stimulating factor. The background of the global critique of reductionism is epistemological fallibilism, Popper’s conception of the development of science, P. K. Feyerabend’s theoretical pluralism, and Kuhn’s new historiography of science. In accordance with this program, which J. Agassi, M. Bunge, S. Toulmin, M. Polanyi, M. Scriven, W. Sellars, and others are carrying out, the cultivation of science is anti-inductionistic, antireductionistic, and pluralistic. Science does not develop only in a continuous, gradual, and cumulative way, but also progresses in leaps. The description of links between theories must consider their possible incommensurability. Traditional reductionism is static in the sense that it is a theory of the construction and logical reconstruction of scientific knowledge, knowledge which is built from levels of hypotheses of different degrees of generality. Oppositional antireductionism was dynamic in the sense that it constitutes a logic of science research, that is, an empirical and historical theory of the development of science. New ideas are preferred here in comparison with the normal science that is dominant because of a given paradigm.
The objections raised against reductionism are not only methodological but also meritorious. The critique takes different forms, but it consists of a rule for showing that certain properties of biological systems cannot be interpreted by the laws of the inorganic world. The laws of the inorganic world indeed apply to these systems, but they do not explain biotic reality, especially the genesis, structure, function, and growth of organisms. L. von Bertalanffy, T. Dobzhansky, W. Elssaser, E. May, E. P. Wigner, and others have presented arguments attacking the merit of the theses of reductionism. They show that the incompleteness of our knowledge of the biological system from the perspective of lower levels of analysis precludes any possibility of defining macroscopic biotic features, and for this reason they are called emergent (J. Ladrière). We cannot conceive of them merely on a physico-chemical level. This postulate is typical of holism and states that a holistic analysis of biological systems is necessary (C. L. Morgan, R. G. Collingwood, A. Meyer- Abich). Among the antireductionistic attempts to grasp theoretically the whole of the phenomena of life there are some that do not appeal to empirically unknowable factors. These attempts are described as organismalism. Authors inspired by philosophical meditations on the question of the nature of life accent the objective qualitative distinctness of biotic phenomena and laws. This applies chiefly to the representatives of the tradition classical philosophy (including T. Ballauff, J. Carles, J. M. Oraison) and the representatives of Whiteheadism (e.g., W. E. Agar).
Vitalism (or neovitalism) is opposed to mechanicism. Organic phenomena on the one hand are ultimately reduced to the laws of chemistry and physics. On the other hand, as uniquely organic, they are ultimately explained on the basis of the recognition of a special principle. Traditional controversies between mechanicism and vitalism, and also emergentism and holism, take different forms of the controversy about reducibility. Vitalism not only calls reducibility into question, it also postulates an immaterial factor typical of every organism. The philosophical preferences of reductionism are characterized by monistic and positivistic positions. There is then a marked tendency to overlook qualitative differences of particular levels of natural reality.
General systems theory is an alternative to mechanicism and vitalism (L. von Bertalanffy, P. A. Wiess). Its philosophical contents are expressed in the thesis that the whole is something greater than the sum of its parts. The integration of parts into a whole constitutes properties that did not previously exist. In accordance with a system understood holistically, the whole does not arise as a result of the summation of parts, but the whole and the parts arise in mutual dynamic connections. In general systems theory there are three necessary assumptions: (1) the processes that occur in an organism are determined by the organism as a whole; (2) all organisms as dynamic systems that arise in a natural way are not adequately described by mechanicism or by vitalism; (3) organisms are originally dynamic systems that operate on the basis of internal activity.
The opposing positions discussed are often considered from a philosophical, metaphysical, or ontological point of view, and from a methodological and linguistic point of view. Insofar as methodological reductionism is a technical set of instruments to assist in the exploration of biological systems, and thus a heuristic means of investigation, ontological reductionism is not rationally justified because it grossly simplifies our image of reality. Although life developed from inorganic material as a result of processes of self-organization, biological systems cannot be reduced exclusively to the level of physics and chemistry. For example, Popper’s antireductionism was not of the methodological type. He regarded that kind of position as valuable in research: as far as possible we should reduce more complex theories to less complex theories. However, he rejects philosophical reductionism that holds the thesis that the features and laws of higher levels can be fully reduced to the properties of lower levels. If we treat this position as typical, we may say that the philosophical reductionism which states certain properties or states of things can be reduced to others that are more basic or the only real properties and states is not more universally recognized. Then the question is raised of the nature that is studied in the science of reality, and a certain type of ontology of natural science is preferred.
In accordance with the idea of philosophical antireductionism, the evolution of the world creates things that are authentically new in the sense that they cannot be predicated before they occur. On the basis of this non-predictability, an antireductionistic thesis is formulated according to which descriptions of higher stages of development cannot be reduced to descriptions of lower stages. The opposite position is essentially preformism which is characterized by a materialism (reductionistic materialism) that precludes any creative evolution. The results of the creative process cannot be predicted. Knowledge of these results is not deduced from knowledge about lower steps of development (K. R. Popper, K. Lorenz). The recognition of creative evolution goes together with the rejection of the determinism of Laplace and classical atomism. Every such new phenomenon has an emergent character that cannot be predicted even on the basis of a full description of the preceding lower level. The concept of emergence that appeals to predictibility (K. R. Popper, J. Eccles) is narrower than that which appeals to explicability.
From positions of methodological antireductionism (the vitalism represented by B. Commoner, B. Glass, E. Mayer, G. G. Simpson, P. A. Weiss, and others) arguments are advanced for the distinctness of the biological sciences in comparison to the physical sciences, not so much with respect to the object as to the method of study and the language, which are radically different from the methods and language of the physical sciences. These arguments appeal to teleonomic (teleological) explanation. The teleological behavior of organisms provides an argument against reducing biology to physics and chemistry, to a history of biotic systems, and so to their ontogenesis and philogenesis, and also to their non-identity. The principle of indifferentiation is characteristic of microsystems such as electrons. Biosystems (organisms) and biotic processes also are not ultimately analyzed into physico-chemical elements or events. Subsequent reasons appeal to the basic observability of these systems, to the non-predicative character of the statements of biology, to the limitation of the universality of the laws of biology, and to a preference for the comparative method (the analytic-ordering method) over the other methods in resolving questions of the genesis and development of organisms.
K. R. Popper, J. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain, B 1977; J. A. Czyżewski, Zagadnienie autonomiczności biologii [The question of the autonomy of biology], in: Zarys filozofii przyrody ożywionej [Outline of the philosophy of organic nature], Lb 1980, 163–183; Z. Hajduk, Redukcjonizm wobec zagadnienia autonomiczności biologii [Reductionism in the face of the question of the autonomy of biology], ibidem, 185–202; R. Riedl, P. Parey, Biologie der Erkenntnis, B 1981; E. Jantsch, Selbstorganisation des Universums, Mn 1982; L. von Bertalanffy, Ogólna teoria systemów [General systems theory], Wwa 1984; B. O. Küppers, Geneza informacji biologicznej [Genesis of biological information], Wwa 1991; T. Wojciechowski, Zarys filozofii przyrody ożywionej [Outline of the philosophy of organic nature], Opole 1997.