Definition of holism in US English:



  • 1The theory that parts of a whole are in intimate interconnection, such that they cannot exist independently of the whole, or cannot be understood without reference to the whole, which is thus regarded as greater than the sum of its parts. Holism is often applied to mental states, language, and ecology.

    The opposite of atomism
    • ‘Synthesis and holism is much more scientifically subtle than analysis and reductionism.’
    • ‘He did not believe in holism and Newton's grand design.’
    • ‘In contrast, qualitative methods seek to represent holism and to provide contextual knowledge of the phenomenon being studied.’
    • ‘The final principle is one of holism, which draws together the technical, organizational, and cultural aspects of technology and aims at a synthesis of science and religion.’
    • ‘Reading poetry emphasizes holism in that the entire poem is read to pupils before a discussion to analyze its contents follows.’
    1. 1.1Medicine The treating of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical symptoms of a disease.
      • ‘Doctors and patients need evidence about complementary treatments, but randomised controlled trials need to be carefully designed to take holism into account and avoid invalid results’
      • ‘We explored alternative frameworks that embraced holism and body-mind-spirit unity.’
      • ‘This article will explore the concept of holism, and demonstrate how it can be incorporated into health care settings today.’
      • ‘We report the findings of a national survey of the views of Scotland's general practitioners on holism in primary care.’
      • ‘In their appeal to holism, practitioners claim to be able to work with an implausible number of unique configurations of information.’


1920s: from holo- ‘whole’ + -ism; coined by J. C. Smuts to designate the tendency in nature to produce organized ‘wholes’ (bodies or organisms) from the ordered grouping of units.