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Holism (from Greek ὅλος holos "all, whole, entire") is the idea that various systems (e.g. physical, biological, social) should be viewed as wholes, not merely as a collection of parts.[1][2] The term "holism" was coined by Jan Smuts in his 1926 book Holism and Evolution.[3]


The exact meaning of "holism" depends on context. Smuts originally used "holism" to refer to the tendency in nature to produce wholes from the ordered grouping of unit structures.[3] However, in common usage, "holism" usually refers to the idea that a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.[4] In this sense, "holism" may also be spelled "wholism", and it may be contrasted with reductionism or atomism.[5]

Diet and health[edit]

The term holistic when applied to diet or medical health refers to intuitive approach to food, eating, or lifestyle.[6] One example is in the context of holistic medicine, "holism" refers to treating all aspects of a person's health, including psychological and societal factors, rather than only his/her physical conditions or symptoms.[7] In this sense, holism may also be called "holiatry".[8] Several approaches are used by medical doctors, dietitians, and religious institutions, usually recommended based on an individual basis.[9][10][11] Adherents of religious institutions that practice a holistic dietary and health approach have been shown have longer lifespans than those of surrounding populations, including Hinduism,[9] Shinto,[12] and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oshry, Barry (2008), Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler.
  2. ^ Auyang, Sunny Y (1999), Foundations of Complex-system Theories: in Economics, Evolutionary Biology, and Statistical Physics, Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b "holism, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/87726. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  4. ^ J. C. Poynton (1987) SMUTS'S HOLISM AND EVOLUTION SIXTY YEARS ON, Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 46:3, 181-189, DOI:10.1080/00359198709520121
  5. ^ "wholism, n." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/228738. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  6. ^ Chesak, Jennifer (October 23, 2018). "The No BS Guide to Holistic, Healthier Eating". Healthline. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  7. ^ "holistic, adj." OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/87727. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  8. ^ Dictionary.com: holism
  9. ^ a b Fenton, Crystal (April 16, 2010). "Holistic Diet". LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  10. ^ "28-Day Holistic Health Overhaul". doctoroz.com. January 27, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  11. ^ a b "8 foods for a longer, healthier life". TODAY.com. October 21, 2016. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "FACING THE SPIRITS: ILLNESS AND HEALING IN A JAPANESE COMMUNITY". Eesti Rahvaluule. Retrieved October 9, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fodor, Jerry, and Ernst Lepore, Holism: A Shopper's Guide Wiley. New York. 1992
  • Phillips, D.C. Holistic Thought in Social Science. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 1976.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Holism at Wikimedia Commons