Reduction and Reductionism: A New Look
Kim (Jaegwon)
Source: Kim - Mind in a Physical World - An Essay on the Mind-Body Problem and Mental Causation, 2000, Chapter 4
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Expressions like "reduction", "reductionism," "reductionist theory," and "reductionist explanation" have become pejoratives not only in philosophy, on both sides of the Atlantic, but also in the general intellectual culture of today. They have become common epithets thrown at one's critical targets to tarnish them with intellectual naivete and backwardness. To call someone "a reductionist," in high-culture press if not in serious philosophy, goes beyond mere criticism or expression of doctrinal disagreement; it is to put a person down, to heap scorn on him and his work. We used to read about "bourgeois reductionism" in left-wing press; we now regularly encounter charges of "biological reductionism," "sociological reductionism," "economic reductionism," and the like, in the writings about culture, race, gender, and social class. If you want to be politically correct in philosophical matters, you would not dare come anywhere near reductionism, nor a reductionist. It is interesting to note that philosophers who are engaged in what clearly seem like reductionist projects would not call themselves reductionists or advertise their work as reductionist programs.
  2. A general rehabilitation of the reductionist strategy is not something I would attempt — at least not here. What I want to do is to discuss how best to understand reduction in the sense that is relevant to our present concerns, what might motivate mind-body reductionism, and what its costs and benefits might be.
  3. I hope to persuade you that reductionism about the mind is a serious, motivated philosophical position, and that although in the end we may decide to reject it, we should do so for the right reasons.
  4. There is also some unfinished business to attend to in this final lecture — in particular, I need to say a bit more about what I called the generalisation argument. As you may recall, this is the contention that the supervenience argument against mental causation and related considerations apply to all other special-science properties, and that this demonstrates the emptiness erf the problem of mental causation.
  5. Our final consideration of the issue of the generalizability of the mental causation problem will lead us to some concluding reflections concerning what options are open to us in regard to the mind-body problem and mental causation.

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