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A Brief Look at the Meaning and Different Interpretations of Holism

Different Interpretations of Holism
Holism is a philosophical doctrine which states that 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts'; pertaining to any system, theory, or phenomenon. Let us take a brief look at the meaning of holism and its different interpretations.
ScienceStruck Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
What is Holism?
"Holism traditionally says that a collection of beings may have a collective property that cannot be inferred from the properties of its members"
― C. West Churchman
The word 'Holism' was first used by the African statesman Jan Smuts in his book 'Holism and Evolution'. He defined it as "the tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than sum of the parts through creative evolution." It is an epistemological theory which is a complement of 'reductionism'. The term 'meaning holism' is applied in semantics, which means that the meanings of all the words in a language are interdependent.

Architecture is believed to be a holistic profession because of an all-inclusive design perspective. Macrosociology which studies society as a whole and not as a function of individual interactions, is based on holism. Let us take a look at the different interpretations of holism in various fields of study.
Holism in Anthropology
Anthropology is defined as "the scientific study of humans, past and present, based on social sciences, life sciences, and humanities." But, it is disputed if anthropology is holistic in nature. Supporters of holism say that it is an all-inclusive field of study consisting of physical, cultural, social anthropology; along with archaeology and linguistics. Those who disagree with the holistic approach, consider it as an imposition of scientific positivism on cultural anthropology. Structural functionalism in anthropology projects society as a holistic, integrated system.
Holism in Psychology
Individual psychology founded by the Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler is based on the whole personality or individual rather than the parts; unlike Freud's structural model of the psyche consisting of the id, ego, and the superego. But at the same time, psychoanalysis is based on an interactive approach between id, ego, and superego. Gestalt psychology which is based on the principle that the mind forms a global whole with self-organizing tendencies is holistic in nature. Social psychology which studies phenomenon in society like the herd mentality, the bystander effect, the bandwagon effect, witch-hunt, etc., has a holistic approach.
Holism in Branding
Noted advertising guru David Ogilvy opined that "you now have to decide what 'image' you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place." When everything from the print ad to the TVC script and the company colors is done by the advertising agency to build an image of the company, it is known as holistic branding.
Holism in Biology and Ecology
In the early twentieth century, there was a stress on studying the organism as a whole to understand life processes. Holism was implied in this 'organismic' approach. Evolutionary biology, genetics, and physiology are instances of a holistic approach. Ecology includes biological, chemical, physical, and economic aspects of a given area. Hence its approach towards studying a given area is based on holism.
Holism in Philosophy and Religion
Theological anthropology explains holism as the belief that nature of humans consists of an ultimately divisible union of components such as body, soul, and spirit. Any doctrine that prioritizes the whole over its individual parts is termed as holistic in philosophy. Semantic holism, confirmation holism, and functionalism in the philosophy of mind are epistemological instances of holism.

Thus, holism is a philosophical doctrine which tries to analyze any system, theory, or phenomenon as a whole. This was a brief description of the meaning of holism and its different interpretations.