Holism (from Greek ὅλος holos "all, whole, entire") is the idea that various systems (e.g. physical, biological, social) should be viewed as wholes, not merely as a collection of parts.[1][2] The term "holism" was coined by Jan Smuts in his 1926 book Holism and Evolution.[3]

The exact meaning of "holism" depends on context. Smuts originally used "holism" to refer to the tendency in nature to produce wholes from the ordered grouping of unit structures.[3] However, in common usage, "holism" usually refers to the idea that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.[4] In this sense, "holism" may also be spelled "wholism", and it may be contrasted with reductionism or atomism.[5] Finally, in the context of holistic medicine, "holism" refers to treating all aspects of a person's health, including psychological and cultural factors, rather than only his/her physical conditions or symptoms.[6] In this sense, holism may also be called "holiatry".[7]

See also


  1. Oshry, Barry (2008), Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler.
  2. Auyang, Sunny Y (1999), Foundations of Complex-system Theories: in Economics, Evolutionary Biology, and Statistical Physics, Cambridge University Press.
  3. "holism, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/87726. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  4. J. C. Poynton (1987) SMUTS'S HOLISM AND EVOLUTION SIXTY YEARS ON, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 46:3, 181-189, DOI:10.1080/00359198709520121
  5. "wholism, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/228738. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  6. "holistic, adj." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/87727. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  7. Dictionary.com: holism

Further reading

  • Fodor, Jerry, and Ernst Lepore, Holism: A Shopper's Guide Wiley. New York. 1992
  • Phillips, D.C. Holistic Thought in Social Science. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 1976.
  • Media related to Holism at Wikimedia Commons
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