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What is Holism? Proposal for a General Conception

  • Michael Esfeld
Chapter
  • 187 Downloads
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 298)

Summary

After setting out three requirements for a general conception of holism [1.1], a proposal for such a conception is developed in two steps:
  1. 1)

    What sort of dependence subsists among the parts of a holistic system? The suggestion set out in this chapter is that generic ontological dependence is the way in which the parts of a holistic system depend on each other. Having a general conception of holism in view, I formulate generic ontological dependence in such a way that it does not refer to the existence of the parts as such, but to the parts insofar as they have certain properties.

     
  2. 2)

    Which properties? I introduce the notion of parts by which a system of the kind S is constituted, i.e., constituent parts, or constituents for short. For every constituent of an S, there is a family of properties that make something a constituent of an S provided that there is a suitable arrangement with other things. Generic ontological dependence among the constituents of a holistic system relates to things insofar as they have some of the properties that belong to such a family of properties.

     

These two steps yield the following proposal for a general conception of holism: Consider a system of the kind S and its constituent parts. For every constituent of an S, there is a family of qualitative properties that make something a constituent of an S provided that there is a suitable arrangement. An S is holistic if and only if the following condition is satisfied by all the things which are its constituents: with respect to the instantiation of some of the properties that belong to such a family of properties, a thing is ontologically dependent in a generic way on there actually being other things together with which it is arranged in such a way that there is an S [1.2]. Discussing the application of this proposal to candidates for holistic systems, it is shown that it contains a general and substantial criterion for holism which excludes trivial cases. In particular, it is argued that functional definitions of parts are not sufficient to make a case for holism [1 3] Finally, two types of holism within this general conception are introduced: a bottom-up conceptualization of holism that begins with the constituents and their properties, and a top-down conceptualizations that begins with the properties of the whole. It is shown that the proposed general view of holism covers both these conceptualizations [1.4].

Keywords

General Conception Social Community Constituent Part Downward Causation Suitable Arrangement 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael Esfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.University of KonstanzGermany
  2. 2.University of HertfordshireEngland

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