(3) The Layer Cake Model of the World & Non-Reductive Physicalism’, Kriterion
30 (1): 39-59. [open access]
Levels of Organisation in Scientific Inquiry. Awarded without corrections on July 12, 2018, CEU Budapest. PDF
Until recently, in philosophy, the concept of ‘levels of organisation’ was synonymous with the Layer Cake Model (LCM), (Oppenheim and Putnam, 1958). The LCM posited a global account of levels according to which every object of scientific inquiry could be placed into a single hierarchical structure; with the organisation of scientific inquiry reflecting the very same hierarchical structure. Whilst this is arguably a well-known organisational structure for scientific inquiry and the world it investigates, it has long since been widely rejected as playing any significant role in contemporary scientific practice or reflecting the organisation of our scientific inquiries (Brooks, 2016; Feibleman, 1954; Guttman, 1976; Potochnik and McGill, 2012; Waters, 2008). A central theme within discussions of levels of organisation has concerned whether the concept has outlived its utility both in scientific practice and the philosophical analysis of it (DiFrisco, 2016; Eronen, 2013, 2015), or whether the concept can still serve to illustrate an important aspect of scientific practice in a very different form to the LCM (Brooks, 2017; Craver, 2015; Kaiser, 2015).
In this dissertation I provide a new pluralistic analysis of levels of organisation with the aim of demonstrating the concept’s centrality to many forms of scientific practice and its role as a fruitful component in analyses of those practices. My account proposes that levels of organisation are collections of purpose-relative vertical and horizontal principles deployed as representative tools in the conceptualisation of a target system of inquiry. Further, I argue that, understood this way, the concept of levels of organisation serves as a lens through which to analyse key epistemic practices, specifically the manipulation, integration, and transfer of information of, and between, systems of inquiry. In the process of developing and defending my account, I examine the use of levels across a wide-range of cutting-edge research in the life sciences, including the Human Microbiome Project, cancer research, homeostatic processes of the human digestive system, and protein signalling networks. I argue that the plausibility of my account is evidenced in these diverse research fields and also demonstrate how levels of organisation can serve as a conceptual tool with which to illuminate key aspects of the dynamic and complex processes of knowledge production in the sciences.
University of Twente
University of Cincinnati
Central European University