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HPS Lecture Series: Prof. Angela Potochnik, University of Cincinnati

September 14, 2018 - 3:00pm to 5:30pm

"What We’re Talking About When We Talk About Levels"

Prof. Angela Potochnik, Philosophy, University of Cincinnati

Abstract: Concepts of 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 talk, I suggest that each of these strategies faces its own attendant downsides, and that the pursuit of both strategies in the philosophical and scientific literature 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 can mislead scientific and philosophical investigations just as much as it informs them, and that levels should be explicitly treated as one limited heuristic or axis of analysis among many.

Location and Address

Cathedral of Learning, Room 363