Patterns, models, and predictions: Robert Macarthur's approach to ecology

Philosophy of Science 74 (5):642-653 (2007)
Robert MacArthur's mathematical ecology is often regarded as ahistorical and has been criticized by historically oriented ecologists and philosophers for ignoring the importance of history. I clarify and defend his approach, especially his use of simple mathematical models to explain patterns in data and to generate predictions that stimulate empirical research. First I argue that it is misleading to call his approach ahistorical because it is not against historical explanation. Next I distinguish three kinds of criticism of his approach and argue that his approach is compatible with the first two of them. Finally, I argue that the third kind of criticism, advanced by Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths, is largely irrelevant to MacArthur's approach. ‡I am especially grateful to Thomas Nickles for encouragement and helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to Guy Hoelzer, Stephen Jenkins, and Jay Odenbaugh for comments on an earlier draft, Kim Sterelny for clarifications of the Tasmania example, Gregory Mikkelson for references, and the audience at PSA 2006 for discussions. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, 1017 Cathedral of Learning, Pittsburgh, PA 15260; e-mail:
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1086/525610
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 22,570
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 6 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Viorel Pâslaru (2014). The Mechanistic Approach of The Theory of Island Biogeography and its Current Relevance. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45 (1):22-33.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

20 ( #204,559 of 1,938,522 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #449,299 of 1,938,522 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.