Reductionist explanation – as, e.g., materialism, or Marxism, or scientism, or for that matter any of the other popular conspiracy theories – is always tempting, for there is generally a grain of truth to it. That’s the only way it could be at all appealing to the questing intellect. Things being all coherent, they must all explain each other; must make sense in terms of each other. Thus may they all be viewed in terms of each other with some profit; and any accurate and adequate formalization of reality must in principle be susceptible to translation into the terms of another formalization likewise accurate and adequate. So it is that we can treat of economic transactions as all physical, and vice versa; or, likewise, treat of economic transactions, and ergo physical transactions, as all moral or aesthetic, and vice versa. We can learn all sorts of interesting and useful things by thinking in this way.
But where such reductionist explanation is taken as the final word – where, i.e., such assertions as “economics is nothing but scurrying atoms” are bruited about – it is inadequate to the explication of the whole truth in almost all cases. Whenever you hear “x is nothing but y,” cast an especially jaundiced eye. For, no finite set of causes can exhaustively account for all the infinitely many true statements we could form about any subject. And in the final analysis, nature cannot explain itself.