Levellism and the method of abstraction

IEG Research Report (2004)
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The use of "levels of abstraction" in philosophical analysis (levellism) has recently come under attack. In this paper, we argue that a refined version of epistemological levellism should be retained as a fundamental method, which we call the method of abstraction. After a brief introduction, in section two we make clear the nature and applicability of the (epistemological) method of levels of abstraction. In section three, we show the fruitfulness of the new method by applying it to five case studies: the concept of agenthood, the Turing test, the definition of emergence, quantum observation and decidable observation. In section four, we further characterise and support the method by distinguishing it from three other forms of "levellism": (i) levels of organisation; (ii) levels of explanation and (iii) conceptual schemes. In this context, we also briefly address the problems of relativism and antirealism. In the conclusion, we indicate some of the work that lies ahead, two potential limitations of the method and some results that have already been obtained by applying the method to some long-standing philosophical problems.

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Luciano Floridi
Yale University


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