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The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization

Potochnik, Angela and McGill, Brian (2012) The Limitations of Hierarchical Organization. [Preprint]

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Abstract

The concept of hierarchical organization is commonplace in science. Subatomic particles compose atoms, which compose molecules; cells compose tissues, which compose organs, which compose organisms; etc. Hierarchical organization is particularly prominent in ecology, a field of research explicitly arranged around levels of ecological organization. The concept of levels of organization is also central to a variety of debates in philosophy of science. Yet many difficulties plague the concept of discrete hierarchical levels. In this paper, we show how these difficulties undermine various implications ascribed to hierarchical organization, and we suggest the concept of scale as a promising alternative to levels. Investigating causal processes at different scales offers a way to retain a notion of quasi-levels that avoids the difficulties inherent in the classic concept of hierarchical levels of organization. Throughout, our focus is on ecology, but the results generalize to other invocations of hierarchy in science and philosophy of science.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Potochnik, Angela
McGill, Brian
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Angela Potochnik
Date Deposited: 12 May 2021 03:07
Last Modified: 12 May 2021 03:07
Item ID: 19012
Journal or Publication Title: Philosophy of Science
DOI or Unique Handle: https://doi.org/10.1086/663237
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Date: 2012
Page Range: pp. 120-140
Volume: 79
Number: 1
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/19012

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