Among the many conceits of modern thought is the idea that
philosophy, tainted as it is by subjective evaluation, is a shaky
guide for human affairs. People, it is argued, are better off if
they base their conduct either on know-how with its pragmatic
criterion of truth (i.e., possibility) or on science with its
universal criterion of rational necessity. Since Helmholtz, there
has been increasing concern in the life sciences about the role of
reductionism in the construction of knowledge. Is psychophysics
really possible? Are biological phenomena just the deducible
results of chemical phenomena? And if life can be reduced to
molecular mechanisms only, where do these miraculous molecules come
from, and how do they work? On a psychological level, people wonder
whether psychological phenomena result simply from genetically
hardwired structures in the brain or whether, even if not
genetically determined, they can be identified with the biochemical
processes of that organ. In sociology, identical questions arise.
If physical or chemical reduction is not practicable, should we
think in terms of other forms of reduction, say, the reduction of
psychological to sociological phenomena or in terms of what Piaget
has called the "reduction of the lower to the higher" (e.g.,
teleology)? All in all, then, reductionism in both naive and
sophisticated forms permeates all of human thought and may, at
least in certain cases, be necessary to it. If so, what exactly are
those cases? The papers collected in this volume are all derived
from the 29th Annual Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society. The
intent of the volume is to examine the issue of reductionism on the
theoretical level in several sciences, including biology,
psychology, and sociology. A complementary intent is to examine it
from the point of view of the practical effects of reductionistic
doctrine on daily life.
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