The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization

Philosophy of Science 79 (1):120-140 (2012)
Download Edit this record How to cite View on PhilPapers
The concept of hierarchical organization is commonplace in science. Subatomic particles compose atoms, which compose molecules; cells compose tissues, which compose organs, which compose organisms; etc. Hierarchical organization is particularly prominent in ecology, a field of research explicitly arranged around levels of ecological organization. The concept of levels of organization is also central to a variety of debates in philosophy of science. Yet many difficulties plague the concept of discrete hierarchical levels. In this paper, we show how these difficulties undermine various implications ascribed to hierarchical organization, and we suggest the concept of scale as a promising alternative to levels. Investigating causal processes at different scales offers a way to retain a notion of quasi-levels that avoids the difficulties inherent in the classic concept of hierarchical levels of organization. Throughout, our focus is on ecology, but the results generalize to other invocations of hierarchy in science and philosophy of science.
No keywords specified (fix it)
PhilPapers/Archive ID
Revision history
Archival date: 2015-11-21
View upload history
References found in this work BETA
Top-Down Causation Without Top-Down Causes.Craver, Carl F. & Bechtel, William
Special Sciences.Fodor, Jerry A.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Patterns in Cognitive Phenomena and Pluralism of Explanatory Styles.Potochnik, Angela & Sanches de Oliveira, Guilherme
A New Look at Emergence. Or When After is Different.Guay, Alexandre & Sartenaer, Olivier
Ecological Hierarchy and Biodiversity.Lean, Christopher & Sterelny, Kim

View all 17 citations / Add more citations

Added to PP index

Total views
410 ( #9,718 of 47,323 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
82 ( #7,820 of 47,323 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks to external links.