The tension between (methodological) individualism and holism


  • Danie Strauss North-West University, South Africa


Methodological individualism, Methodological holism, Atomism, Holism, Individualism, Universalism, Nominalism, Realism, Institutional individualism, Structural individualism, Uniqueness, Mutual coherence, Basic (analogical) concepts, Complex analysis, Sphere-sovereignty


Schumpeter, a student of Max Weber, introduced the phrase methodological individualism in 1908. For Weber concepts such as ‘state’, ‘club’ and ‘feudalism’ are reducible to ‘understandable’ actions of individual human beings. Individualism and holism touch deep-seated beliefs, prompting Jellinek to describe them as two opposing world views, an individualistic-atomistic one and a collectivistic-universalistic world view. The modern mechanistic world view has been atomistic by understanding the world in terms of particles in motion. The ‘strong’ sense of the phrase methodological individualism soon has exceeded the original quantitative meaning of the one and the many. Just compare expressions such as institutional individualism, structural individualism, and supervenience individualism. Ultimately the key terms employed in individualist and holist theories respectively derive from the numerical and spatial aspects of reality. What is required is acknowledging the uniqueness and mutual coherence between number and space, analogous to the foundational role of social relationships in respect of economic activities. In conclusion a brief analysis is given of the complexity involved in characterizing a social form of life, transcending the mutually exclusive opposition between methodological individualism and holism and highlighting the significance of the principle of spheresovereignty, one of the cornerstones of a Christian social philosophy.



How to Cite

Strauss, D. (2016). The tension between (methodological) individualism and holism. Tydskrif Vir Christelike Wetenskap | Journal for Christian Scholarship, 52(1), 119-140. Retrieved from



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