Some recent developments in ecology, economics, and ethics can be brought together within a remarkably simple yet general theoretical framework. Two applications of this framework involve the effects of species diversity on ecosystem productivity, and of economic inequality on biodiversity loss, respectively. In each of these two cases, part of the overall causal relationship is mediated by a diminishing-returns relationship at the lower level (the level of the population or the person, respectively). But same-level (ecosystem or societal, respectively) and/or higher-level (...) (landscape or inter-societal) mechanisms also come in play. In the diversity-productivity case, the proposed theoretical perspective enables one to quantify how much more "the whole is... than the sum of the parts". These aspects of the ecological and economic realms have interesting parallels in the domain of "pure" ethics. (shrink)
The idea that biological diversity enhances ecological stability has inspired a huge body of scientific research, from the 1950's and before to the 2000's and beyond. It has also played an important role in environmental ethics, e.g., in Leopold's land ethic. In his view, biodiversity is essential for "a food chain aimed to harmonize the wild and the tame in the joint interest of stability, productivity, and beauty." (1949, p. 199) Then, as now, potential links between diversity and stability helped (...) to whet the impetus for conservation. (shrink)
Human activity is causing high rates of biodiversity loss. Yet, surprisingly little is known about the extent to which socioeconomic factors exacerbate or ameliorate our impacts on biological diversity. One such factor, economic inequality, has been shown to affect public health, and has been linked to environmental problems in general. We tested how strongly economic inequality is related to biodiversity loss in particular. We found that among countries, and among US states, the number of species that are threatened or declining (...) increases substantially with the Gini ratio of income inequality. At both levels of analysis, the connection between income inequality and biodiversity loss persists after controlling for biophysical conditions, human population size, and per capita GDP or income. Future research should explore potential mechanisms behind this equality-biodiversity relationship. Our results suggest that economic reforms would go hand in hand with, if not serving as a prerequisite for, effective conservation. (shrink)
By Gregory M. Mikkelson School of Environment and Department of Philosophy McGill University, 3534 University Street Montréal, QC H3A 2A7 CANADA email@example.com Keynote contribution to the session "Integrating Ecological and Social Scales" Electronic conference "Landscape Scale Biodiversity Assessment" European Platform for Biodiversity, www.bioplatform.info Posted March 9th, 2005..
Ecology is the science of who eats whom, of what lives where and when it got there, of why the world is green, and how the human species might fit in. Despite, or perhaps because of, the fascinating variety of its subject matter, ecology has received less attention from philosophers of biology than have other fields – notably genetics and evolutionary biology. Our time of catastrophic environmental change calls for dramatic improvements in ecological understanding. It thus behooves philosophers – along (...) with everybody else – to become more familiar with ecological science. (shrink)
Scientists must sometimes choose between competing definitions of key terms. The degree to which different definitions facilitate important dis- coveries should ultimately guide decisions about which terms to accept. In the short run, rules of thumb can help. One such rule is to regard with suspicion any definition that turns a seemingly important empiri- cal matter into an a priori exercise. Several prominent definitions of eco- logical “stability” are suspect, according to this rule. After evaluating alternatives, I suggest that the (...) faulty definitions resulted from an over- emphasis on population dynamics in community ecology. Machine met- aphors of nature may have given rise to a related problem of experimen- tal design. (shrink)
One of the most exciting things about science is the access that it provides to phenomena remote from everyday experience. Through science we delve into the distant past, explore other cultures, peer across vast reaches of space, and assay the microscopic structure of the world. As our understanding extends in all these directions, philosophers and scientists often ask how the resulting branches of knowledge are related.
Richness theory offers an alternative to the paradigms that have dominated the short history of environmental ethics as a self-conscious field. This alternative theoretical paradigm defines intrinsic value as “richness”—a synonym for “organic unity” or “unity in diversity.” Richness theory can handily reconcile two kinds of ideas that seem to be in tension with each other:that (1) an individual human being has a greater worth than an individual organism of just about any other species; and (2) yet the world would (...) be a better place with substantially fewer humans and/or less consumption per capita, thus leaving more resources for other species.The mutual compatibility of such ideas within the framework of richness theory can be demonstrated both verbally and through a simplified mathematical model. (shrink)
In this paper, I offer a new defense of scientific realism, tailored for the Akaikean paradigm of statistical hypothesis testing. After proposing definitions of verisimilitude and predictive success, I use computer simulations to show how the latter depends on the former, even in the kind of case featured in a recent argument for instrumentalism. *Received May 2005; revised July 2006. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy and School of Environment, McGill University, 855 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, (...) QC H3A 2T7, Canada; e‐mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . (shrink)
In this paper, I offer a new defense of scientific realism, tailored for the Akaikean paradigm of statistical hypothesis testing. After proposing definitions of verisimilitude and predictive success, I use computer simulations to show how the latter depends on the former, even in the kind of case featured in a recent argument for instrumentalism.
Ecologists typically invoke "law-like" generalizations, ranging over "structural" and/or "functional" kinds, in order to explain generalizations about "historical" kinds (such as biological taxa)rather than vice versa. This practice is justified, since structural and functional kinds tend to correlate better with important ecological phenomena than do historical kinds. I support these contentions with three recent case studies. In one sense, therefore, ecology is, and should be, more nomothetic, or law-oriented, than idiographic, or historically oriented. This conclusion challenges several recent philosophical claims (...) about the nature of ecological science. (shrink)
When data are limited, simple models of complex ecological systems tend to wind up closer to the truth than more complex models of the same systems. This greater proximity to the truth, or verisimilitude, leads to greater predictive success. When more data are available, the advantage of simplicity decreases, and more complex models may gain the upper hand. In ecology, holistic models are usually simpler than reductionistic models. Thus, when data are limited, holistic models have an advantage over reductionistic models, (...) with respect to verisimilitude and predictive success. I illustrate these points with models designed to explain and predict the numbers of species on islands. (shrink)
Lewis' argument against the Limit Assumption and Pollock's Generalized Consequence Principle together suggest that "minimal-change" theories of counterfactuals are wrong. The "small-change" theories presented by Nute do not say enough. While these theories rely on closeness between possible worlds, I base an alternative on the ceteris paribus concept. My theory solves a problem that the above cannot, and is more relevant to the philosophy of science. Ceteris paribus conditions should normally include the causes, but exclude the effects, of the negated (...) antecedent. An example from community ecology, the debate over null models in island-biogeographical studies of competition, supports these arguments. (shrink)