Luciano Floridi’s Philosophy of Technology

Volume 8 of the series Philosophy of Engineering and Technology pp 201-222


Levels of Abstraction; Levels of Reality

  • Joseph E. BrennerAffiliated withInternational Center for Transdisciplinary ResearchChemin du Collège1 Email author 

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As Luciano Floridi states in the Introduction to his Philosophy of Information (PI), Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have achieved the status of the characteristic technology of our time. The computer and its related devices constitute a “culturally defining technology”, and Information and Communications Systems (ICSs) and ICT applications are among the most strategic factors governing science, the life of society and its future directions of development. The concept of levels enters inevitably into the Philosophy of Information: one is concerned with their nature, content, and the relations between them, starting from the ‘lowest’ levels of information constituted by physical electronic data themselves. The question of levels of analysis also arises in the Philosophy of Technology, which has emerged as a separate field of study, not coextensive with PI. However, since other papers in this Volume will address the Philosophy of Technology specifically, mine will be limited to aspects of levels in PI. As a tool for analysis of informational issues, Floridi has made a critical construction of epistemological Levels of Abstraction (LoAs), defined as non-empty sets of observables, in his PI. In applying LoAs in various fields, Floridi correctly critiques other uses of ‘levels’ in philosophy (levelism), especially, the lack of a satisfactory concept of ontological levels. This paper approaches the problem of levels from a novel perspective, namely, that of an extension of logic to complex real processes, including those of information production and transfer. This non-propositional, non-truth-functional logic (Logic in Reality; LIR), is grounded in the fundamental dualism (dynamic opposition) inherent in energy and accordingly present in all real phenomena. I show that Floridi’s theory of Levels of Abstraction (LoAs), Gradients of Abstraction (GoAs) and Levels of Organization (LoOs) can be supported by the concept of ontological Levels of Reality (LoRs) based on LIR, defined in terms of the different but isomorphic laws applicable to them. Applications of LoAs can be made ‘jointly’ with LoRs to describe the informational component present in all phenomena. The Floridi concepts are compared to ontological, other epistemological and systems concepts of levels: Levels of Reality and Complexity in the categorical approach of Poli; the nested hierarchical levels of Salthe, which can be related to Floridi’s Gradients of Abstraction (GoAs); and the concept of Levels of Logical Openness of Minati and Licata, which are applied in a systems context. The utility of this new logical perspective on the generalization of applying LoAs and LoRs conjointly to on-going problems in the philosophy and metaphysics of information is suggested.