Moving from Levels & Reduction to Dimensions & Constraints


Arguments, claims, and discussions about the “level of description” of a theory are ubiquitous in cognitive science. Such talk is typically expressed more precisely in terms of the granularity of the theory, or in terms of Marr’s (1982) three levels (computational, algorithmic, and implementation). I argue that these ways of understanding levels of description are insufficient to capture the range of different types of theoretical commitments that one can have in cognitive science. When we understand these commitments as points in a multi-dimensional space, we find that we must also reconsider our understanding of intertheoretic relations. In particular, we should understand cognitive theories as constraining one another, rather than reducing to one another.

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