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Levels: descriptive, explanatory, and ontological

List, Christian (2019) Levels: descriptive, explanatory, and ontological. Noûs, 53 (4). 852 - 883. ISSN 0029-4624

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Identification Number: 10.1111/nous.12241


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.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Divisions: Government
Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Sets: Departments > Government
Departments > Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method
Research centres and groups > Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science (CPNSS)
Date Deposited: 20 Apr 2018 11:12
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2021 01:25

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