While the concept of minimalism has received plenty of attention over the past decade or so, maximalism seems to only lurk in the shadows in negative connotations. Consumerist attitudes are considered to be irresponsible and gluttonous while under threat of overpopulation, allowing the less-is-more attitude to gain traction. Its tenets have been published in books and created as new kinds of products, generating new behaviours surrounding many facets of life, from an aesthetic style to purchasing habits and leisure time. In the busy modern age, minimalism resonates with those orientated toward simplicity and efficiency, saving on materials and time to accomplish some task or goal.

Reductionism is an approach to the generation of explanations which describes natural phenomena in terms of a more fundamental phenomenon.1 The word reduce is derived from Latin reducere which means “to bring back” and in this way, a phenomenon is explained in terms of more basic physical phenomena and interactions. For example, mental activity can be explained by neural activity which is essentially biochemical reactions following the laws of physics based on the movement of electrons. Reductionism in biology, however, is still the source of philosophical debate, as there are different ways of considering whether certain phenomena can be ontologically, epistemologically, or methodologically reduced to other scientific theories.2

Science, in a nutshell, involves the study of the natural world to identify causes for observed events or phenomena. The “why-questions” which result from our observations aim to uncover causal relationships between various aspects of our world, and from this improved understanding, enable us to manipulate aspects of the material world for our advantage. To identify the necessary causal factors, a reductive explanation is generally helpful for establishing fundamental laws or regularities, however, it also risks oversimplification. When generating a mathematical model of some natural phenomenon, certain variables are necessarily ignored if they are not directly responsible for an observed effect. For example, the mathematical model of a pendulum does not consider air resistance, as this variable is generally unchanging and produces negligible effects on the pendulum’s movement. Of course, there can be cases when this claim is false, and air resistance is an important factor to consider, in which case scientists or engineers will incorporate this variable within the model.

Although reductionism may be helpful for scientific endeavours, other domains of inquiry instead benefit from the opposite approach. One which expands outward to examine a number of causal factors responsible for some outcome or event, encompassing the study of various levels of physical reality. For example, the study of human history benefits from collecting reasons as to why changes occur or certain events arise, rather than narrowing reasons down to fewer causal factors. Doing so risks overlooking significant elements which contributed to the occurrence of some shift or event. These elements include leadership, military strategy, sociocultural norms, and geographic properties, just to name a few.

This concept comes from hermeneutics, the study of interpretation of artifacts like arts and literature, historical testimony, and other subject matter requiring an understanding of human actions, intentions, and beliefs, and actions.3 The hermeneutic cycle involves the adoption of new perspectives when interpreting or judging a particular work,4 and when performed repeatedly, open one to even more. This circular approach contrasts the foundational approach which interprets from a vertical structure of beliefs,5 appearing reductive in their explanations. As such, the application of maximalism to both artistic works and general epistemology entails an openness to ideas and perspectives, expanding outward to collect many interpretations.

This notion of vertical and circular can be abstracted from this context of interpretation, and identified in other domains like social structures and physical reality in general. The line and circle are everywhere in our artifacts, experiences, and throughout human history. From binary numerals one and zero, a switch set to on or off, a barrier which can be open and closed, a maximum and a minimum; the zenith and nadir. Furthermore, when viewed in the third dimension, a circle becomes a line when it is rotated 90° to view its width from the side.

The Code of Hammurabi shows a rod and a ring; photo by Mary Harrsch

Additionally, biological organisms implicitly love maximalism, and arguably, our modern consumer culture has merely given in to basal animalistic tendencies. From a biological perspective, these motivations and needs are to be expected given an organism’s need for a continuous supply of fuel. Human societies established organizational structures to mange a surplus of resources, as a result of agriculture and storage. From the mere-survival perspective, maximalism is a point of view which necessarily requires more resources because it fosters a sense of security and peace of mind. This security enables individuals to shift their attention to other endeavours for goals like making art and playing games.

Banquet Still Life by Adriaen by van Utrecht, 1644

So while one should adopt a maximalist perspective when it comes to ideas and interpretation, a minimalist perspective toward the material world is ideal. To go without challenges one’s own mind and body, and as a result, influences the relationship between the two. This reconfiguration of the body and mind will be met with benefits down the road, however, faith is required to understand that one’s discomfort and suffering will eventually yield positive effects or outcomes. It’s as simple as “no pain, no gain” but be sure not to dislocate your shoulder trying to lift a weight which is too heavy for your current abilities.

Works Cited

1 Raphael van Riel and Robert Van Gulick, ‘Scientific Reduction’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta and Uri Nodelman, Spring 2024 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2024),

2 Ingo Brigandt and Alan Love, ‘Reductionism in Biology’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta and Uri Nodelman, Summer 2023 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2023),

3 Theodore George, ‘Hermeneutics’, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2021 (Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2021),

4 George, sec. 1.3.

5 George, sec. 1.2.