“One World”: Logical and Ethical implications of Holism

“One world”: logical and ethical implications of holism
On 1 June 2016 a two-year collaborative research project based in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies (CPS) began. The project is funded by a large grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The Principal Investigator is Professor Roderick Main of CPS; the Co-Investigator is Dr David Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Psychoanalysis at Middlesex University and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice; and the Research Assistant is Dr Christian McMillan, postdoctoral researcher in CPS.

The following is the project summary:

The aim of this project is to determine the logical and ethical implications of holism. Across many areas of contemporary culture we hear the concept of holism being invoked, as in holistic science, holistic spirituality, holistic healthcare, and holistic education. While there are different varieties of holism, each case implies a perspective in which the whole of a system is considered to be more important than the sum of its parts.

This project will provide an in-depth explanation and comparison of concepts of wholeness in the work of two influential twentieth-century thinkers in this area: the Swiss depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) and the French post- structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995). The research will have a particular focus on the field of psychotherapy, in the context of ongoing professional, academic, and policy debates about the effectiveness, and consequent funding, of psychotherapy in which non-holistic, more reductive therapeutic models seems to be favoured because of their greater amenability to quantitative evaluation through random controlled trials, specifically in relation to the NHS programme ‘Improving Access to Psychological Therapies’.

Advocates of holism associate it with desirable qualities such as inclusion, integration, balance, and wider vision and champion it as a remedy for the fragmentation that is considered to beset the modern world. Critics argue that holism is vague, erases differences, and, by subordinating individual elements to a superior whole, ultimately leads to totalitarianism. This project will examine why holism attracts these strong positive and negative valuations and which point of view, if either, is the better warranted.

Further, holism is usually discussed in relation to a particular system which itself can be considered to be part of a wider whole and ultimately of the widest whole: the total ‘system’ which is referred to by some holists as the ‘one world’. The project will examine the nature of such underpinning concepts of ultimate wholeness, how these concepts relate to the multiplicities of experience, and the links between a particular concept of ultimate wholeness and the positive or negative ethical valuations attaching to holistic thought.