Toward a philosophical underpinning of the holistic concept of integrity of organisms within organic agriculture

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Wageningen University and Research Centre, the Netherlands: Royal Netherlands Society for Agricultural Sciences


Organic agriculture can be defined by and contrasted from conventional agriculture through the concept of naturalness, given that naturalness encompasses the absence of synthesized chemicals, the presence of integral systematic and ecological principles, and a deep respect for the integrity of living organisms. The practical agricultural aspects and implications of the integrity concept are explored through examples within the article. Many scientists and ontological reductionists have severely criticized the concept of holistic integrity of organisms, as they often hold that an organism is a non-concept because an organism is a mere collection of atoms and molecules. An underpinning of the concept of holistic concept of organisms needs to be developed for the concept to gain credibility in scientific fields and to promote its utilization in agricultural systems. The article explores the validity of the concept of integrity through analysis of the methodological and ontological aspects of reductionism and the examination of expert knowledge and the system of pattern recognition and application. To conclude, the article highlighted the short-comings of reductionist theory – mainly that it does not “fit in with” other theories concerning the organization of matter. The article argued that it is necessary to have a concept of existence at a level of wholeness, distinguishable from existence on the level of mere parts.


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Holism-reductionist debate, Wholeness of organism, Governance


NJAS - Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences 54(4): 463–477