Reduction versus Reductionism

Let’s take a house. The thing about looking at a house is that under no circumstance do you see the entire house at one time. You can walk around it, but you never see the entire thing standing in a single spot. If you are in the front, you do not see the back. If you are in the back, you do not see the side. And so on. You always see what objectively is a complete house, but you see it only from one subjective viewpoint at a time.

Can you be in error regarding your own, subjective viewpoint? Yes. Let’s say you are looking at a white house. You describe it as a red house. You are wrong. No matter where you stand (your subjective viewpoint), you are looking at a white house, not a red one. So, we have subjective understandings but are always faced with objective reality. We can misperceive reality. We can be objectively wrong in our subjective perceptions.

The eidetic reduction was Husserl’s method of determining the true, objective essence of an object knowing that we never see something in its entirety from any single viewpoint. To discover the true essence of an object, the eidetic reduction strips away all that is unnecessary. What if we changed the color? Does a house have to be white to be a house? No. Remove color as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have two stories? No. Remove the number of stories as inherent to the essence of a house. Does a house have to have a roof? Yes. Keep a roof as inherent to the essence of a house. And so on and so forth until we have the “eidetic principles” governing the concept of a house.

“Reductionism” on the other hand is something entirely different from Husserl’s eidetic reduction. Reductionism is the dome of oppression under which we suffer in our model world. Reductionism is the situation where I see the front of the house and hold that my view of the house is the only one. What I see from the front of the house “is the house.” My view from the front defines the essence of the house. You tell me you are seeing something a little different from the back. I tell you that you are a heretic, that your position is not orthodox, it is an evil teaching because the view from the front is the only correct one.

Notice that reductionism closes the reductionist from any expression of the truth that remains to be discovered. Discovery of “new truths” that follow the “objective principles” of the objective house are stifled. I can “discover” new expressions of the one, objective house if I were to walk around and look from other viewpoints, all without violating the objectivity inherent in the house. To more fully understand the objective essence of the house, I need to be open to “phenomenological discovery” which requires an openness to what the house “gives” of itself from various viewpoints while rejecting only those perceptions that are erroneous to the objective principles underlying the house (it’s white, not red). I cannot say the white house is red. However, I can be open to what the house reveals to me from the back or the sides in order to get a more complete picture.An openness to true phenomenological reduction would be a significant help in the modern world.

An openness to “phenomenological reduction” would help mitigate the divisive tribalism resulting from “reductionism.” Phenomenological reduction is an openness to the world, while reductionism closes us off from it.

We even can discover “new truths” in a world of “unchanging truth.”

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