Philosophy of ecology: An overview

Abstract

The philosophy of ecology addresses foundational conceptual and methodological issues in ecological science. Specifying these issues is complicated by the fact that there is disagreement among ecologists over how to identify the proper domain of ecology. Many ecologists prefer a more restrictive definition that focuses on properties of nonhuman organisms in natural environments. Others defend a more expansive definition that includes the study of human-environment relations, a view that challenges the traditional conception of ecology as strictly a natural biological science. Consequently, one's understanding of the philosophy of ecology will depend in part on whether one endorses a more restrictive or more expansive conception of ecology. This article reviews issues in the philosophy of ecology in both its restrictive and expansive modes. In its restrictive mode, the philosophy of ecology addresses conceptual and methodological issues in population, community and ecosystem ecology. In its expansive mode, the philosophy of ecology also addresses foundational issues in the human ecological sciences, such as ecological economics and ecological psychology. In this expansive mode the line between ecology-the-science and ecology-the-philosophicalworldview becomes increasingly blurred, but a commitment to scientific methodology prevents ecology from becoming a mere mouthpiece for speculative or radical ecological philosophies.

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