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Koers

versión On-line ISSN 2304-8557
versión impresa ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.73 no.2 Pretoria  2008

 

Atomism and holism in the understanding of society and social systems

 

Atomisme en holisme in die verstaan van die samelewing en sosiale stelsels

 

 

D.F.M. Strauss

Faculty of Human Science, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein. E-mail: dfms@cknet.co.za

 

 


ABSTRACT

Throughout its history, reflection on human society has been torn apart by the opposing views of atomism and holism. Traditional societies, the city state of ancient Greece as well as the medieval perfect society apparently resemble a whole with its parts. Early modernity continued this holistic inclination for a while, but soon reverted to atomistic theories of the (hypothetical) social contract. Modern humanism dominated the subsequent views articulated in terms of the dialectical tension between nature and freedom (science ideal and personality ideal) - including mechanistic and vitalistic approaches as well as the more recent acknowledgment of irreducibly complex systems (Behe, 2003). In Wiener's (1954; 1956) "technologicism" human responsibility and freedom are sacrificed. An alternative view is advanced in terms of the normativity of societal life as well as its many-sidedness. It is shown that theories of social systems increasingly tend to explore avenues transcending the limitations of the atomistic additive approach and the boundary-leveling whole-parts scheme entailed in social systems theory. This development is used as a starting point for the classification of social interaction and for underscoring the scope of the principle of sphere-sovereignty for a multidisciplinary understanding of social systems.

Key concepts: atomism; holism; personality ideal; science ideal; social collectivities: community relationships; sovereignty


OPSOMMING

Dwarsdeurdie geskiedenis tref ons teenstellende opvattings oor die menslike samelewing aan, naamlik atomistiese en holis-tiese sienings. Tradisionele samelewings, die stadstaat van an-tieke Griekeland asook die middeleeuse perfekte samelewing, vertoon skynbare ooreenkomste met n geheel en die dele daarvan. Die vroeg-moderne tyd het hierdie holistiese geneigdheid voortgesit, maar het spoedig oorgeslaan na atomistiese teorieë van n hipotetiese sosiale verdrag. In die daaropvolgen-de tydperk was die opvattings van die Humanisme dominant. Dit het gestalte aangeneem in die spanning wat na vore gekom het tussen natuur en vryheid (natuurwetenskapsideaal en persoonlikheidsideaal). Die Humanistiese erfenis het 'n tuiste gebied vir meganistiese- sowel as vitalistiese benaderings asook vir die meer resente erkenning van onherleibaar-komplekse stelsels (Behe, 2003). Wiener (1954; 1956) se "tegnologisisme" het die mens se verantwoordelikheid en vryheid opgeoffer. In 'n alternatiewe siening word aandag gegee aan die normatiwiteit van die menslike samelewing terwyl daar ook gelet word op die veelsydigheid daarvan. Daar word aangetoon dat sosiale sisteemteorieë toenemend daartoe neig om weë te ondersoek waarlangs n mens die beperkings van die atomistiese optelsombenadering asook die grensuitwissende geheel-deleskema van die holisme te bowe kom. Hierdie ontwikkeling word gebruik as aanknopingspunt vir die klassifikasie van vorms van sosiale interaksie asook vir n beklemtoning van die reikwydte van die beginsel van soewereiniteit-in-eie-kring vir 'n multidissiplinêre verstaan van sosiale stelsels.

Kernbegrippe: atomisme; holisme; persoonlikheidsideaal; soewereiniteit in eie kring; verbande: gemeenskapsverhoudings; wetenskapsideaal


 

 

Full text available only in PDF format.

 

 

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