Reductionism in Biology

  1. Lindley Darden1,
  2. Carl F Craver2

Published Online: 15 SEP 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003356



How to Cite

Darden, L. and Craver, C. F. 2009. Reductionism in Biology. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

  2. 2

    Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2009

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Explanatory and methodological reductionism in biology emphasizes the importance of building explanations and pursuing research at ever-deeper levels of organization. Explanatory and methodological integrationism, in contrast, emphasize the importance of building explanations and pursuing research at and between multiple levels of organization in hierarchically organized mechanisms. Some of the perceived advantages of reduction are reviewed, but it is noted that reductionist tendencies are prone to biases and distortions in the description of biological systems that can be removed with the simultaneous use of integrative research strategies. Integrationism is defined in terms of the search for multilevel mechanisms. Attention to such a multilevel perspective aids in avoiding the biases and distortions that reductionist strategies are prone to produce.

Key concepts

  • Reductionist research strategies have advantages in biology, whereas biases that they introduce can be countered by employing integrative strategies in the search for mechanisms at multiple levels.


  • reduction;
  • reductionism;
  • integration;
  • levels;
  • mechanism