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date: 17 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Reduction and reductionism have been central philosophical topics in analytic philosophy of science for more than six decades. Together they encompass a diversity of issues from metaphysics and epistemology. This article provides an introduction to the topic that illuminates how contemporary epistemological discussions took their shape historically and limns the contours of concrete cases of reduction in specific natural sciences. The unity of science and the impulse to accomplish compositional reduction in accord with a layer-cake vision of the sciences, the seminal contributions of Ernest Nagel on theory reduction and how they strongly conditioned subsequent philosophical discussions, and the detailed issues pertaining to different accounts of reduction that arise in both physical and biological science (e.g., limit-case and part-whole reduction in physics, the difference-making principle in genetics, and mechanisms in molecular biology) are explored. The conclusion argues that the epistemological heterogeneity and patchwork organization of the natural sciences encourages a pluralist stance about reduction.

Keywords: composition, limit-case reduction, Ernest Nagel, mechanisms, part-whole reduction, theory reduction

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