We examine some assumptions about the nature of ‘levels of reality’ in the light of examples drawn from physics. Three central assumptions of the standard view of such levels (for instance, Oppenheim and Putnam 1958) are (i) that levels are populated by entities of varying complexity, (ii) that there is a unique hierarchy of levels, ranging from the very small to the very large, and (iii) that the inhabitants of adjacent levels are related by the parthood relation. Using examples from physics, we argue that it is more natural to view the inhabitants of levels as the behaviors of entities, rather than entities themselves. This suggests an account of reduction between levels, according to which one behavior reduces to another if the two are related by an appropriate limit relation. By considering cases where such inter-level reduction fails, we show that the hierarchy of behaviors differs in several respects from the standard hierarchy of entities. In particular, while on the standard view, lower-level entities are ‘micro’ parts of higher-level entities, on our view, a system’s macro-level behavior can be seen as a (‘non-spatial’) part of its micro-level behavior. We argue that this second hierarchy is not really in conflict with the standard view and that it better suits examples of explanation in science.
KeywordsLevels Reduction Physicalism Part–whole relations
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.
- Batterman R. (2002) The devil in the details. Asymptotic reasoning in reduction, explanation and emergence. Oxford UP, OxfordGoogle Scholar
- Heil J. (1999) Multiple realizability. American Philosophical Quarterly 36: 189–208Google Scholar
- Hempel C. (1966) The philosophy of natural science. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
- Holmes M.H. (1995) Introduction to perturbation methods. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Kim J. (1998) Mind in a physical world. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
- Lewis D. (1991) Parts of classes. Blackwell, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
- McGivern, P. (2005). Physicalism, compositionality, and parthood: A perspective from the physical sciences. Doctoral thesis, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta.Google Scholar
- Nagel E. (1961) The Structure of science. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Oppenheim, P., & Putnam, H. (1958). Unity of science as a working hypothesis. In H. Feigl et al. (Eds.), Concepts, theories, and the mind-body problem. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Vol. II, pp. 3–36). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Wimsatt, W. C. (1994). The ontology of complex systems: Levels of organization, perspectives, and causal thickets. In M. Matthen et al. (Eds.), Biology and Society. Canadian Journal of Philosophy (Supplementary Vol. 20, pp. 207–274). Calgary: University of Calgary Press.Google Scholar