Holism is the belief approach that things can be best understood only when explained by putting the whole system into consideration rather that looking into the constituent parts.  It is based in examining the whole system, the whole behavior or the whole person. Reductionism is the direct opposite of holism. It is the breaking down of a complex phenomenon into simpler constituent components. It is based on the belief that complex phenomena or systems can only be understood by breaking it into simpler levels of explanation.


The reductionism and holism philosophy debate has been in existence since the Newtonian time. Reductionism in the classical assumption has it that dynamics of any complex system can best be understood by analyzing properties of its parts. Chances to understanding a complex system can are greatest comprehended by simplifying it into the basic components, and each studied independently. The controversy goes on to raise doubts on the very nature of the explanation itself. Proponents of reductionism have it that knowing the simple is the basic principle in understanding the complex. On the other hand, proponents of holism hold that the entirety is more important than just the components it is composed of. The assumption supporting holism is that properties of the components contribute in understanding the whole. Understanding of the properties, on the other hand, can only be understood if the dynamics of the whole are analyzed. It supports looking at the bigger picture and not just the components of a bigger thing (Good enough, 2005).


Differences between holism and reductionism

Reductionism rests on the premises that the nature of complex entities is best understood by breaking them into more fundamental parts. It is a philosophical supposition which has it that any complex system is nothing other than the parts making it. It is strongly based in the perspective of causality. Any phenomenon is best understood by looking at the relationship between its fundamental constituents. It’s the approach that trying to understand the behavior by focusing on one single explanation and ignoring others. By reducing the whole system into the simplest components, the entirety is understood (Good enough, 2005).

The term “holism” started in 1926 by Jan Smuts, is the tendency of nature to generate the whole that are bigger than the than all the parts added together. Holism holds that the entirety is superiorly understood by addressing it as a whole rather than the constituent parts. The whole is considered to be greater than its constituent parts; that properties of a given system cannot be understood by the parts alone (Good enough, 2005).

System thinking

In System approach, focus is on the holistic nature of the system. It is the mode of investigations that normally focuses on the way systems constituent components relate as well as how the system works over a long period in the context of the whole system. It focuses on how the main system being studied has a relationship with other constituents of the system for which it makes part of. Thus other than breaking the system being studied into its constituent elements, it works by expanding the view to take into consideration larger number of interactions of the issues being examined. It argues that a behavior is a result of the effects of reaffirming as well as balancing processes. Thus, the attention is not on the parts but the interdependence, as well as interrelations between the parts and the environment. It also looks at how the properties that emerge from this interdependence define the whole system (Sturmberg, 2014).

It is mostly concerned with the understanding of the system is looking at the links and the link between the parts that comprise the whole of the defined system. The system is normally composed of various other simpler basic units which can also be broken down further into other units. Systems thinking can be used to enhance organizations by helping managers improve their leadership. Guided by the various systems as well as a mindful advance to creating change and achieving good performance by use of systems in place it is employed. With system thinking, managers can describe how their organizations perform and what they can do to improve it by learning of the activities and interactions (Razzouk, 2012).

In health matters, system thinking helps in understanding the complexity in the health systems. The practitioners employ it in strengthening the health care design, evaluating the healthcare systems, as well as the policies, interventions and strategies. The models employed in system thinking allow new opportunities to comprehend as well as to evaluate continuously and revise our understanding of the nature of things, mainly how to respond in order to improve people’s health (Chen, 2007).

The nature of system thinking makes it an excellent tool for analyzing as well as solving conflicts that are made of complex issues and call from multiple actors to coordinate and assess the bigger picture but not their part in it. Framework analysis of many conflicts is static as they show only a snapshot of the situation leading to the conflict. They fail to show the feedback, as well as the cross-factor interactions over time. System thinking helps conflict analyst exceed from a fragmented analysis to a comprehensive understanding of a conflict situation that is compelling without long lists as well as identifying key drivers and dynamics without oversimplification. Also, it generates a portable analysis in that the analysis a can be fed into the strategy easily, program development as well as monitoring and evaluation (Sturmberg, 2014).

            The analysis shows that system thinking out of it emphasizes on assessing the interrelations and interconnectedness of parts of the system is the best way of solving problems. In system thinking, analysts learn how to assess the problem from varying angles and perspectives to come up with the best solution. It is in contrast to the reductionism where analysts look at the problem from a fixed angle making it counterproductive. Limiting solution searching to a given perspective limits the scope in looking for solutions. It also fails to consider how the various factors resulting into a problem are interrelated; as a result, leading to a one dimension solution which could lead to a recurrence. Holism allowing for analysis of the interdependence and interconnectedness of the constituent parts of the system, solutions are varied and from different viewpoints, which makes it reliable and productive (Razzouk, 2012).


The tenets of holism and reductionism are employed in solving various problems in the various disciplines such as medicine, leadership, conflict management, and engineering among others. While the proponents of reductionism understand a system by disintegrating it into its constituent components, holism understands the system by looking at its interdependence and connectedness. The interrelationships between the components help in understanding the performance of the whole system. Holism is the most model of solving the problem as it considers the whole system as more important than the constituents.



Good enough, U. (2005). Reductionism and holism, Chance and Selection, mechanism and          mind. Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science, 40(2), 369-380. doi:10.1111/j.1467  9744.2005.00669.x

Sturmberg, J. P., Martin, C. M., & Katerndahl, D. A. (2014). Systems and Complexity Thinking   in the General Practice Literature: An Integrative, Historical Narrative Review. Annals     of Family Medicine, 12(1), 66-74. doi:10.1370/afm.1593

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What Is Design Thinking and Why Is It Important?. Review Of            Educational Research, 82(3), 330-348. doi:10.3102/0034654312457429

Ge, W., Chen, F., Gao, J., Gao, S., Huang, J., Liu, X., & ... Li, J. (2007). Analytical multi-scale     method for multi-phase complex systems in process engineering—bridging reductionism        and holism. Chemical Engineering Science, 62(13), 3346-3377.   doi:10.1016/j.ces.2007.02.049


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