Minds and Machines

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 303–329 | Cite as

The Method of Levels of Abstraction

  • Luciano FloridiEmail author


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 of Abstraction”, 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.


Abstraction Level of abstraction Gradient of abstraction Levelism Observable Stance 



I wish to thank Jeff Sanders, who should really be considered a co-author of this paper, with the exception of any of its potential mistakes; Gian Maria Greco, Jesse F. Hughes, Gianluca Paronitti and Matteo Turilli for their discussions of several previous drafts; Paul Oldfield for his editorial suggestions; Carl Craver for having made his forthcoming research available to me; and finally the anonymous referees of the journal for their constructive feedback.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Chair in Philosophy of Information and GPIUniversity of HertfordshireHertfordshireUK
  2. 2.St Cross College and IEGUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  3. 3.School of HumanitiesUniversity of HertfordshireHertfordshireUK

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