Reductionism and the Development of Knowledge

Edited by Terrance Brown, Leslie Smith

© 2002 – Psychology Press

248 pages

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New in Paperback: 9780415651387
pub: 2013-07-09
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pub: 2002-11-01
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About the Book

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.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface. T. Brown, Reductionism and the Circle of the Sciences. Part I: Ways of Understanding. W.F. Overton, Understanding, Explanation, and Reductionism: Finding a Cure for Cartesian Anxiety. W.C. Wimsatt, Evolution, Entrenchment, and Innateness. J.O.F. Vega, G. Hernández, J.J. Rivaud, Reductionism in Mathematics. Part II: Representation. M.H. Bickhard, The Biological Emergence of Representation. T. Nunes, The Role of Systems of Signs in Reasoning. L. Morgado, The Role of Representation in Piagetian Theory: Changes Over Time. C. Lightfoot, Breathing Lessons: Self as Genre and Aesthetic. Part III: Looking Toward the Future. L. Smith, From Epistemology to Psychology in the Development of Knowledge.

About the Series

Jean Piaget Symposia Series

Each year, following their annual meeting, the Jean Piaget Society publishes an edited volume.  This approximately 300-page volume covers the main themes of the symposium and is published by Psychology Press.

Members of the society receive the volume free of charge. Non-members can order copies from this website.

About the Jean Piaget Society

The Jean Piaget Society, established in 1970, has an international, interdisciplinary membership of scholars, teachers and researchers interested in exploring the nature of the developmental construction of human knowledge. The Society was named in honor of the Swiss developmentalist, Jean Piaget, who made major theoretical and empirical contributions to our understanding of the origins and evolution of knowledge.

The Society's aim is to provide an open forum, through symposia, books, our journal, and other publications, for the presentation and discussion of scholarly work on issues related to human knowledge and its development. The Society further encourages the application of advances in the understanding of development to education and other domains.

In 1989, the name of the Society was changed to Jean Piaget Society: Society for the Study of Knowledge and Development.

You can find out more on the Jean Piaget Society website at .

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Developmental / General