Levels of Explanation Vindicated

Review of Philosophy and Psychology 2 (1):77-88 (2011)
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Abstract

Marr’s celebrated contribution to cognitive science (Marr 1982, chap. 1) was the introduction of (at least) three levels of description/explanation. However, most contemporary research has relegated the distinction between levels to a rather dispensable remark. Ignoring such an important contribution comes at a price, or so we shall argue. In the present paper, first we review Marr’s main points and motivations regarding levels of explanation. Second, we examine two cases in which the distinction between levels has been neglected when considering the structure of mental representations: Cummins et al.’s distinction between structural representation and encodings (Cummins in Journal of Philosophy, 93(12):591–614, 1996; Cummins et al. in Journal of Philosophical Research, 30:405–408, 2001) and Fodor’s account of iconic representation (Fodor 2008). These two cases illustrate the kind of problems in which researchers can find themselves if they overlook distinctions between levels and how easily these problems can be solved when levels are carefully examined. The analysis of these cases allows us to conclude that researchers in the cognitive sciences are well advised to avoid risks of confusion by respecting Marr’s old lesson

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Author Profiles

Daniel Quesada
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Víctor M. Verdejo
Universitat Pompeu Fabra

References found in this work

Vision.David Marr - 1982 - W. H. Freeman.
Lot 2: The Language of Thought Revisited.Jerry A. Fodor - 2008 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Jerry A. Fodor.
Individualism and psychology.Tyler Burge - 1986 - Philosophical Review 95 (January):3-45.

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