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intertheoretic reduction

The idea of intertheoretic reduction states that one theory that is derived from another can be reduced back to that original theory. Ernest Nagel gave two required criteria for reduction: 'connectability' and 'derivability.' This means that two theories must share qualities and also one must be “logically derivable” from the other, but only when they use similar words and terminologies. Many philosophers had trouble interpreting this and even more trouble finding any good examples. Paul Feyerabend showed that intertheoretic reduction is impossible under most circumstances. This led philosophers to put aside intertheoretic reduction in favor of the more basic, but less awkward, concept of intertheory relations.

Another type of reductionism states that something of a certain kind can be reduced to a set of simpler things. This is not only for the laws of science, but also for all ideas and objects. A common example of this is the fact that all material things are made up of an assortment of atoms and molecules. The implications of reductionism are far-reaching. This means that all knowledge, theories, and objects can be diminished into more elementary components. A reductionist would argue that all areas of study are hierarchically interconnected, each field being made up of a more basic or general set of theories. This kind of reductionism is one of Quine's "two dogmas of empiricism." Quine, through this essay, demonstrated his abandonment of reductionism. He called for science to be taken as a whole as the basis of meaning. Quine found this holist perspective of scientific theories to be much less problematic in explaining empirical meaning and knowledge.

--Kenneth D'Amica


Quine, W. V. O. "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", From a Logical Point of View, Harvard University Press, 1953.

Batterman, Robert, "Intertheory Relations in Physics", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2004 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2004/entries/physics-interrelate