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1. any doctrine that a system may have properties over and above those of its parts and their organization
2. the treatment of any subject as a whole integrated system, esp, in medicine, the consideration of the complete person, physically and psychologically, in the treatment of a disease
3. Philosophy one of a number of methodological theses holding that the significance of the parts can only be understood in terms of their contribution to the significance of the whole and that the latter must therefore be epistemologically prior
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  1. any form of sociological theory which emphasizes the primacy of ‘social structure’, ‘social system’, etc., in determining social outcomes, and in sociological explanations. The opposite position is METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM. As used by POPPER (1957), the term is mainly a pejorative one. see also SITUATIONAL LOGIC.
  2. in a more neutral sense, the tendency of sociology, in contrast with other more specialized social sciences, to maintain an all-inclusive view of social phenomena.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an idealist philosophy of “wholes.” The term was introduced by J. Smuts in his Holism and Evolution (1926).

According to holism, the world is governed by a process of creative evolution, or the process of creating new “wholes.” In the course of evolution, the forms of matter are transformed and renewed, never remaining constant; the holistic process rejects the law of conservation of matter. An unperceived, nonmaterial field, similar to Leibnitz’ monad, which remains constant throughout all of an organism’s changes, is considered to be the bearer of all organic attributes. The “whole” is interpreted in holism as the highest philosophical concept, which synthesizes in itself the objective and the subjective; it is considered to be the “last reality of the universe.” According to holism, the highest concrete form of organic “whole” is the human personality. Imparting a mystical character to the “factor of wholeness,” holism considers it to be nonmaterial and unknowable.

Holistic ideas have been developed by A. Meyer-Abich in Germany and A. Leman in France. In modern Western literature the term is sometimes used to designate the principle of integrity.


Bogomolov, A. S. Ideia razvitiia v burzhuaznoi filosofii 19 i 20 vekov. Moscow, 1962.
Kremianskii, V. I. Strukturnye urovni zhivoi materii. Moscow, 1969.
Haldane, J. S. The Philosophical Basis of Biology. London, 1931.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The view that the whole of a complex system, such as a cell or organism, is functionally greater than the sum of its parts. Also known as organicism.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
While simultaneously embodying all three identities (beast, being, beholder), Hushpuppy evolves in her own understanding of her place in the universe and its significance to a perspective egalitarian holism.
In this story, Hemingway explores his ecological consciousness of ecological holism. The human and nonhuman world should be in harmony to maintain the sustainability of the earth.
In the second part of the article, I raise the possibility that this embrace of holism and voluntarism represents but one latest effort in a broader trend of 'transform[ing hitherto radical] critique into commercial and managerial assets' (Shamir, 2010: 533).
Type holism: some social properties are distinct from any other property when considering from the individual level.
Absolutism is highly influenced by the idea of certainty and holism of traditional epistemology.
He argues instead for what he calls 'power holism': "The specific, determinate nature of each power ...
I am specifically interested in how previous research investigated the role that behaviorism plays in Quine's philosophy of language, Quine's empiricist rejection of the analytic-synthetic distinction, his naturalized epistemology, and his meaning holism in the form of the indeterminacy of translation.
The notion that holism in public policy is dangerously lacking in perspective permeates through the whole set of essays.
The motivation for considering these two apparently disparate subjects resides in the concept of holism.