The method of levels of abstraction

Minds and Machines 18 (3):303–329 (2008)
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Abstract
The use of “levels of abstraction” in philosophical analysis (levelism) has recently come under attack. In this paper, I argue that a refined version of epistemological levelism should be retained as a fundamental method, called the method of levels of abstraction. After a brief introduction, in section “Some Definitions and Preliminary Examples” the nature and applicability of the epistemological method of levels of abstraction is clarified. In section “A Classic Application of the Method ofion”, the philosophical fruitfulness of the new method is shown by using Kant’s classic discussion of the “antinomies of pure reason” as an example. In section “The Philosophy of the Method of Abstraction”, the method is further specified and supported by distinguishing it from three other forms of “levelism”: (i) levels of organisation; (ii) levels of explanation and (iii) conceptual schemes. In that context, the problems of relativism and antirealism are also briefly addressed. The conclusion discusses 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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