The Ethics of Reductionism in the Medical Sciences Essays

The Ethics of Reductionism in the Medical Sciences Essays

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Reductionism is a method of explanation that assumes the workings of complex phenomena are reducible to the relationship of their simpler, fundamental, constituents. This practice is utilized in some form or another throughout nearly all fields of science: including physics, chemistry, ecology, sociology, medical sciences, etc. Reducing complex systems to the mechanisms of their parts is risky – it neglects properties that may emerge from the system as a whole. These emergent properties may be unpredictable, unnecessary, or unprecedented and, therefore, must be observed from higher levels of organization. There are several terms used to describe “anti-reductionism,” or, the belief that the whole is greater than the sum or its parts. To remain consistent, I will adhere to the term “holism” to represent this theory of explanation. I will examine expositions by various philosophers who describe the use of reductionism in medicine: James A. Marcum explores the uses of reductionism and organicism (holism) in cancer research; Elisabeth A. Lloyd discusses the socioeconomic aspects of human health; and Alfred I. Tauber explains the vital importance of holism in medicine. I will conclude with the conviction that the integration of holism and reductionism, together, create the most ethically sound approach in medicine based on the epistemological challenges of reductionism in biological sciences and medicine, as well as the moral imperative that demands a holistic approach to understand the functioning of human beings.
James Marcum (2005) uses cancer research as a model to view the importance of metaphysical presuppositions in guiding scientific studies. When beginning to study the profound complexity of biological systems and processes, ...

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...ually provide the necessary bridge between knowledge obtained from reductionist and holistic studies to obtain the best medical treatment possible (Marcum, 2005).

Works Cited

Lloyd, Elsabeth A. “Reductionism in Medicine: Social Aspects of Health.” Promises and Limits
of Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences. Eds. Van Regenmortel, Marc H., and David L. Hull. Chichester, West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.

Marcum, J.A. "Metaphysical Presuppositions and Scientific Practices: Reductionism and
Organicism in Cancer Research." International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 19.1 (2005): 31-45. Print.
Tauber, Alfred I. “The Ethical Imperative of Holism in Medicine.” Promises and Limits of
Reductionism in the Biomedical Sciences. Eds. Van Regenmortel, Marc H., and David L.
Hull. Chichester, West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2002. Print.

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