Our World Isn't Organized into Levels

In Daniel Stephen Brooks, James DiFrisco & William C. Wimsatt (eds.), Levels of Organization in the Biological Sciences. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press (2021)
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Abstract

Levels of organization and their use in science have received increased philosophical attention of late, including challenges to the well-foundedness or widespread usefulness of levels concepts. One kind of response to these challenges has been to advocate a more precise and specific levels concept that is coherent and useful. Another kind of response has been to argue that the levels concept should be taken as a heuristic, to embrace its ambiguity and the possibility of exceptions as acceptable consequences of its usefulness. In this chapter, I suggest that each of these strategies faces its own attendant downsides, and that pursuit of both strategies (by different thinkers) compounds the difficulties. That both kinds of approaches are advocated is, I think, illustrative of the problems plaguing the concept of levels of organization. I end by suggesting that the invocation of levels may mislead scientific and philosophical investigations more than it informs them, so our use of the levels concept should be updated accordingly.

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Angela Potochnik
University of Cincinnati

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