In M. T. Gibbons, D. Coole, W. E. Connolly & E. Ellis (eds.), Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 1-6 (2015)
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Holism is the notion that all the elements in a system, whether physical, biological, social or political, are interconnected and therefore should be appreciated as a whole. Consequently, the meaning or function of the total system is irreducible to the meaning or function of one or more of the system’s constituent elements. The whole is, on the holist’s account, prior to its parts. In the Metaphysics, Aristotle captures the idea of holism in his statement that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts.” The term holism was coined by South African statesman and scholar Jan Smuts. Etymologically, it comes from a Greek root meaning total, whole, entire or everything. In political thought, the idea is commonly associated with organicism, the view that the state is a living whole (the so-called “body politic”) and therefore studies of the how it functions should be treated systematically rather than piecemeal (cf. Plato, G.W.F. Hegel and Henry Maine).
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