Skip to main content

Promises and Limits of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences

Promises and Limits of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences

Marc H. V. Van Regenmortel (Editor), David L. Hull (Editor)

ISBN: 978-0-470-85417-4

Feb 2003

382 pages



Reductionism as a scientific methodology has been extraordinarily successful in biology. However, recent developments in molecular biology have shown that reductionism is seriously inadequate in dealing with the mind-boggling complexity of integrated biological systems.
This title presents an appropriate balance between science and philosophy and covers traditional philosophical treatments of reductionism as well as the benefits and shortcomings of reductionism in particular areas of science.
Discussing the issue of reductionism in the practice of medicine it takes into account the holistic and integrative aspects that require the context of the patient in his biological and psychological entirety.
The emerging picture is that what first seems like hopeless disagreements turn out to be differences in emphasis. Although genes play an important role in biology, the focus on genetics and genomics has often been misleading. The consensus view leads to pluralism: both reductionst methods and a more integrative approach to biological complexity are required, depending on the questions that are asked.
* An even balance of contributions from scientists and philosophers of science - representing a unique interchange between both communities interested in reductionism


About the Editors

Introduction (D.L. Hull and M.H.V. Van Regenmortel)

Emergent Properties of Biological Molecules and Cells (R. P. J. Williams)

From Nineteenth Century Ideas on Reduction in Physiology to Non-reductive Explanations in Twentieth Century Biochemistry (C. Debru)

Pitfalls of Reductionism in Immunology (M. H. V. Van Regenmortel)

Reductionism in Medicine: Social Aspects of Health (E.A. Lloyd)

'Who's Afraid of Reductionism?' 'I am!' (S. Shostak)

Round Table Discussion 1 (Chair: A. Rosenberg)

Reductionism in a Historical Science (A. Rosenberg)

Varieties of Reductionism: Derivation and Gene Selection (D. L. Hull)

The Gene: Between Holism and Reductionism (M. Morange)

Genes versus Molecules: How to, and How Not To, Be a Reductionist (S. Sarak)

Limits on Reproduction: A Reductionist Research Strategy in Evolutionary Biology (J. Griesemer)

Evolutionary Psychology: A Case Study in the Poverty of Genetic Determinism (J. Dupre)

Round Table Discussion 2 (Chair: M.H.V. Van Regenmortel)

The Ethical Imperative of Holism in Medicine (A. Tauber)

Levels of Explanation in Human Behaviour: the Poverty of Evolutionary Psychology (S. P. R. Rose)

Reductionism and Social Policy (D. Nelkin)

Reductionism, Complexity and Molecular Medicine: Genetic Chips and the 'Globalization' of the Genome (K. Schaffner)

Round Table Discussion 3 (Chair: K.F. Schaffner)


""...will stimulate anyone with an interest in philosophy or science to reflect on reductionism...fruitful dialogues offer a rich trove of insights..."" (The Quarterly Review of Biology, Sept 2003)