The Eroding Artificial/Natural Distinction: Some Consequences for Ecology and Economics

In Michiru Nagatsu & Attilia Ruzzene (eds.), Contemporary Philosophy and Social Science: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. New York: pp. 39-57 (2019)
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Since Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), historians and philosophers of science have paid increasing attention to the implications of disciplinarity. In this chapter we consider restrictions posed to interdisciplinary exchange between ecology and economics that result from a particular kind of commitment to the ideal of disciplinary purity, that is, that each discipline is defined by an appropriate, unique set of objects, methods, theories, and aims. We argue that, when it comes to the objects of study in ecology and economics, ideas of disciplinary purity have been underwritten by the artificial-natural distinction. We then problematize this distinction, and thus disciplinary purity, both conceptually and empirically. Conceptually, the distinction is no longer tenable. Empirically, recent interdisciplinary research has shown the epistemological and policy-oriented benefits of dealing with models which explicitly link anthropogenic (i.e., “artificial”) and non-anthropogenic factors (i.e., “natural”). We conclude that, in the current age of the Anthropocene, it is to be expected that without interdisciplinary exchange, ecology and economics may relinquish global relevance because the distinct and separate systems to which each “pure” science was originally made to apply will only diminish over time.



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C. Tyler DesRoches
Arizona State University
Stephen Andrew Inkpen
Harvard University

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