Beyond positivist ecology: Toward an integrated ecological ethics

Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (4):581-592 (2008)
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Abstract

A post-positivist understanding of ecological science and the call for an “ecological ethic” indicate the need for a radically new approach to evaluating environmental change. The positivist view of science cannot capture the essence of environmental sciences because the recent work of “reflexive” ecological modelers shows that this requires a reconceptualization of the way in which values and ecological models interact in scientific process. Reflexive modelers are ecological modelers who believe it is appropriate for ecologists to examine the motives for their choices in developing models; this self-reflexive approach opens the door to a new way of integrating values into public discourse and to a more comprehensive approach to evaluating ecological change. This reflexive building of ecological models is introduced through the transformative simile of Aldo Leopold, which shows that learning to “think like a mountain” involves a shift in both ecological modeling and in values and responsibility. An adequate, interdisciplinary approach to ecological valuation, requires a re-framing of the evaluation questions in entirely new ways, i.e., a review of the current status of interdisciplinary value theory with respect to ecological values reveals that neither of the widely accepted theories of environmental value—neither economic utilitarianism nor intrinsic value theory (environmental ethics)—provides a foundation for an ecologically sensitive evaluation process. Thus, a new, ecologically sensitive, and more comprehensive approach to evaluating ecological change would include an examination of the metaphors that motivate the models used to describe environmental change.

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Bryan Norton
University of Cologne

References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
Sustainability.Bryan Norton - 2007 - Environmental Values 16 (2):272-277.

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