Functional Reduction with a Third Step:a Larger and Less Reductive Picture

ProtoSociology 39:89-106 (2022)
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Functional reduction follows two familiar steps: a definition of a higher-level or special science property in terms of a functional role, then a statement describing a physical property that plays or occupies that role. But Kim (2005) adds a third step, namely, an explanation regarding how the physical property occupies the functional role. I think Kim is correct. But how is the third step satisfied? An examination of the pertinent scientific explanations reveals that the third step is best satisfied by a multiple-subject, part-whole explanation, which is to say, a decomposition of the occupier’s causal capacities or relations. This is true even in cases wherein role and occupant properties are identical, for an occupier’s causal capacities are always underwritten by a part-whole explanation. As a consequence, functional reduction is transformed into a larger picture that at bottom always contains multiple layers of distinct, nonidentical properties that divide between parts and their whole systems. I call it “Part-Based Functional Reduction.” My aim is to develop this larger picture of reduction.

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Ronald Endicott
North Carolina State University


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