Levels: Descriptive, Explanatory, and Ontological

Noûs (4):852-883 (2016)

Authors
Christian List
London School of Economics
Abstract
Scientists and philosophers frequently speak about levels of description, levels of explanation, and ontological levels. In this paper, I propose a unified framework for modelling levels. I give a general definition of a system of levels and show that it can accommodate descriptive, explanatory, and ontological notions of levels. I further illustrate the usefulness of this framework by applying it to some salient philosophical questions: (1) Is there a linear 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? (2) Are there emergent properties? (3) Are higher-level descriptions reducible to lower-level ones? (4) Can the relationship between normative and non-normative domains be viewed as one involving levels? Although I use the terminology of “levels”, the proposed framework can also represent “scales”, “domains”, or “subject matters”, where these are not linearly but only partially ordered by relations of supervenience or inclusion.
Keywords Levels of description  Ontological levels  Explanation  Supervenience  Reduction  Coarse-graining  Physicalism  Higher-level properties  Abstraction  Category theory
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Reprint years 2017, 2018, 2019
DOI 10.1111/nous.12241
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References found in this work BETA

On What Grounds What.Jonathan Schaffer - 2009 - In David Manley, David J. Chalmers & Ryan Wasserman (eds.), Metametaphysics: New Essays on the Foundations of Ontology. Oxford University Press. pp. 347-383.
Real Patterns.Daniel C. Dennett - 1991 - Journal of Philosophy 88 (1):27-51.
On the Plurality of Worlds.David K. Lewis - 1986 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 49 (2):333-352.

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Supervenience, Reduction, and Translation.Neil Dewar - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.

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