From Newton to Newtonianism: Reductionism and the Development of the Social Sciences

Jonathon Louth

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    The Newtonian revolution was central to the development of the social sciences. Adherents to the 'new' complexity sciences are quick to point a critical finger toward this meta-theoretical pedigree. However, this 'pedigree' is not sufficiently historicized by those wishing to shift the paradigm. Indeed, complexity theorists are often guilty of reductive tendencies and homogenizing the Newtonian world. This article traces how the work of Newton seeped into the popular imagination and social enquiry. Newtonianism, then, becomes something separate to Newton. It is a worldview that is as social as it is scientific. Undoing the dominance requires an appreciation for how theory construction in the social sciences continues to be framed by this enduring and often subtle paradigm. Underscoring this exploration into the evolution of the Newtonian tradition is a warning to complexity theorists to be wary and reflective of the consequences of similar reverence to their own rapidly gaining alternative (social) scientific worldview.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)63-83
    Number of pages21
    JournalEmergence: Complexity and Organization
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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