Volume 4 · Number 1 · Pages 43–49
The Issue of Reductionism. A Radical Constructivist Approach to the Philosophy of Physics

Andreas Quale

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Abstract

Purpose: To examine the role of reductionism in the theoretical development of modern physics – more specifically, in the quest for a complete unification of physical theory – from the perspective of radical constructivism (RC). Approach: Some central features of the impact of RC on philosophy of physics are pointed out: its position of scientific relativism, with important implications for the validation of scientific propositions; and the notion of sharing constructed knowledge among individual knowers and its consequences for science teaching. The issue of reductionism is then discussed with regard to (a) the hierarchical explanatory ordering of physical phenomena; (b) the idea of a “theory of everything” (TOE); and (c) some of its implications for the methodology and sociology of science. Findings: It is argued that the ontological status of the hierarchical structuring inherent in the sought-after TOE will depend on the individual knower’s epistemic position concerning the notion of truth in science. In the relativist epistemology of RC, any true/false dichotomy of theories is without meaning. A hierarchical ordering is just one of many possible strategies that may be chosen for the construction of physical theories; and such a strategy may then be considered successful only to the extent that it yields a theory that is viable. Implications: The paper serves as an illustration of the impact of RC on the ongoing search in physics for a “final theory.”

Key words: final theory, epistemology, ontology, philosophy of physics, reductionism, relativism, theory of everything

Citation

Quale A. (2008) The issue of reductionism. A radical constructivist approach to the philosophy of physics. Constructivist Foundations 4(1): 43–49. http://constructivist.info/4/1/043

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