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)
Edit this record
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Mark as duplicate
Request removal from index
Revision history
Download options
Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 29,848
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
The Theory of Island Biogeography.Robert H. Macarthur & Edward O. Wilson - 2002 - Journal of the History of Biology 35 (1):178-179.
Ecological Kinds and Ecological Laws.Gregory M. Mikkelson - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1390-1400.

View all 6 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
The Mechanistic Approach of The Theory of Island Biogeography and its Current Relevance.Viorel Pâslaru - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45 (1):22-33.
What’s so Special About Empirical Adequacy?Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam & Nancy Cartwright - 2017 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 7 (3):445-465.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Added to PP index

Total downloads
22 ( #249,187 of 2,210,536 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #389,893 of 2,210,536 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads
My notes
Sign in to use this feature