An epistemological approach to knowledge that recognises the necessity of moving between parts and wholes.
This encompasses two kinds of reduction:
- Macro-reduction: from parts to wholes
- Micro-reduction: from wholes to parts
Having observed some interesting phenomenon in the world there is an attempt to identify the mechanism that caused it. This is a micro-reduction. Equipped with this new understanding a model of the phenomenon can be constructed. This is a macro-reduction.
Crucially, the initial naive observation — a human experience — is not destroyed or undermined in this process. It may remain sufficient for many people, and may be enriched for those who have obtained the new knowledge. This is reminiscent of the process of defamiliarisation.
Dissatisfaction with reductionism can often lead to calls for a holistic turn that emphasises the whole. An alternative shift towards systemism avoids the superficiality and anti-intellectualism characteristic of holism.