Levels: descriptive, explanatory, and ontological


Scientists and philosophers frequently speak about levels of description, levels of explanation, and ontological levels. This paper presents a framework for studying levels. I give a general definition of a system of levels and discuss several applications, some of which refer to descriptive or explanatory levels while others refer to ontological levels. I illustrate the usefulness of this framework by bringing it to bear on some familiar philosophical questions. Is there a hierarchy of levels, with a fundamental level at the bottom? And what does the answer to this question imply for physicalism, the thesis that everything supervenes on the physical? Are there emergent higher-level properties? Are higher-level descriptions reducible to lower-level ones? Can the relationship between normative and non-normative domains be viewed as one involving levels? And might a levelled framework shed light on the relationship between third-personal and first-personal phenomena?



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Christian List
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München

References found in this work

What is it like to be a bat?Thomas Nagel - 1974 - Philosophical Review 83 (October):435-50.
Group agency: the possibility, design, and status of corporate agents.Christian List & Philip Pettit - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Philip Pettit.
Attitudes de dicto and de se.David Lewis - 1979 - Philosophical Review 88 (4):513-543.
Real patterns.Daniel C. Dennett - 1991 - Journal of Philosophy 88 (1):27-51.

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