[ri-duhk-shuh-niz-uh m]
  1. the theory that every complex phenomenon, especially in biology or psychology, can be explained by analyzing the simplest, most basic physical mechanisms that are in operation during the phenomenon.
  2. the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.

Origin of reductionism

First recorded in 1940–45; reduction + -ism
Related formsre·duc·tion·ist, noun, adjectivere·duc·tion·is·tic, adjective Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

British Dictionary definitions for reductionism


  1. the analysis of complex things, data, etc, into less complex constituents
  2. often derogatory any theory or method that holds that a complex idea, system, etc, can be completely understood in terms of its simpler parts or components
Derived Formsreductionist, noun, adjectivereductionistic, adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for reductionism

1948, in philosophy, from reduction in specialized sense in philosophy (1914) + -ism. Related: Reductionist.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper