Theoretical biology and economics are remarkably similar in their reliance on mathematical models, which attempt to represent real world systems using many idealized assumptions. They are also similar in placing a great emphasis on derivational robustness of modeling results. Recently philosophers of biology and economics have argued that robustness analysis can be a method for confirmation of claims about causal mechanisms, despite the significant reliance of these models on patently false assumptions. We argue that the power of robustness analysis has (...) been greatly exaggerated. It is best regarded as a method of discovery rather than confirmation. (shrink)
Ecologists attempt to understand the diversity of life with mathematical models. Often, mathematical models contain simplifying idealizations designed to cope with the blooming, buzzing confusion of the natural world. This strategy frequently issues in models whose predictions are inaccurate. Critics of theoretical ecology argue that only predictively accurate models are successful and contribute to the applied work of conservation biologists. Hence, they think that much of the mathematical work of ecologists is poor science. Against this view, I argue that model (...) building is successful even when models are predictively inaccurate for at least three reasons: models allow scientists to explore the possible behaviors of ecological systems; models give scientists simplified means by which they can investigate more complex systems by determining how the more complex system deviates from the simpler model; and models give scientists conceptual frameworks through which they can conduct experiments and fieldwork. Critics often mistake the purposes of model building, and once we recognize this, we can see their complaints are unjustified. Even though models in ecology are not always accurate in their assumptions and predictions, they still contribute to successful science. (shrink)
Philosophers of the life sciences have devoted considerably more attention to evolutionary theory and genetics than to the various sub-disciplines of ecology, but recent work in the philosophy of ecology suggests reflects a growing interest in this area (Cooper 2003; Ginzburg and Colyvan 2004). However, philosophers of biology and ecology have focused almost entirely on conceptual and methodological issues in population and community ecology; conspicuously absent are foundational investigations in ecosystem ecology. This situation is regrettable. Ecosystem concepts play a central (...) role in many branches of theoretical and applied ecology, and in environmental literature generally. Indeed, for some historians, the division of ecological theory into population-community and ecosystem research traditions, and the methodological and conceptual debates that have arisen between workers in these respective camps, is the distinguishing feature of 20th century ecological science (Hagen 1992). These include debates over, among others: reductionistic vs. holistic research methodologies; the existence and metaphysics of ecological “kinds”; the relationship between evolutionary mechanisms and ecosystem phenomena; and the nature and scope of ecological science and its relationship to other branches of natural and social science. Philosophers of ecology have written on all these topics, but almost exclusively from the theoretical perspective of population, community or evolutionary ecology. Philosophical attention to these issues from the perspective of ecosystem ecology is long overdue. It would be misleading to assert that philosophers in general have ignored ecosystem ecology. Environmental philosophers, including environmental ethicists so-called “radical” environmental philosophers (deep ecologists, social ecologists, ecofeminists, etc.), and policy theorists, have had a long-standing interest in ecosystem ecology (e.g. Callicott 1986; Cahen 1988; Warren and Cheney 1993; Westra 1994; Sagoff 1997; Fitzsimmons 1999).. (shrink)
Ecologist Richard Levins argues population biologists must trade‐off the generality, realism, and precision of their models since biological systems are complex and our limitations are severe. Steven Orzack and Elliott Sober argue that there are cases where these model properties cannot be varied independently of one another. If this is correct, then Levins's thesis that there is a necessary trade‐off between generality, precision, and realism in mathematical models in biology is false. I argue that Orzack and Sober's arguments fail since (...) Levins's thesis concerns the pragmatic features of model building not just the formal properties of models. (shrink)
In 1974, John Maynard Smith wrote in his little book Models in Ecology, A theory of ecology must make statements about ecosystems as a whole, as well as about particular species at particular times, and it must make statements that are true for many species and not just for one… For the discovery of general ideas in ecology, therefore, different kinds of mathematical description, which may be called models, are called for. Whereas a good simulation should include as much detail (...) as possible, a good model should include as little as possible. (1974. (shrink)
In recent years, there has much attention given by philosophers to the ubiquitous role of models and modeling in the biological sciences. Philosophical debates has focused on several areas of discussion. First, what are models in the biological sciences? The term ‘model’ is applied to mathematical structures, graphical displays, computer simulations, and even concrete organisms. Is there an account which unifies these disparate structures? Second, scientists routinely distinguish between theories and models; however, this distinction is more difficult to draw in (...) the biological sciences since biologists often only have a variety of models and rarely have something like a fundamental theory. What then is a theory in biology? Third, how are models related to empirical or “target” systems? (shrink)
In this essay, I consider three philosophical issues that arise in the environmental sciences. First, these sciences depend on mathematical models and simulations which are highly idealized and are coupled with very uncertain data. Why should we trust these models and simulations? Second, in standard hypothesis testing, the burden of proof is in favor of the null hypothesis which claims some causal factor has no effect. The alternative hypothesis is accepted only when the likelihood of the null hypothesis is very (...) low. Recently, some have argued that we should minimize Type II errors (not rejecting a false null) rather than Type I errors (rejecting a true null) given the environmental risks involved. I consider arguments for shifting this burden of proof when possible environmental harms are significant. Finally, in debates over global climate change, much is made of the apparent consensus concerning the effects of human induced greenhouse gas emissions on average surface temperatures. However, scientific methods are structured around dissent and criticism. Is consensus-based science orthogonal are even harmful to science? (shrink)
Philosophical interest in ecology is relatively new. Standard texts in the philosophy of biology pay little or no attention to ecology (though Sterelny and Griffiths 1999 is an exception). This is in part because the science of ecology itself is relatively new, but whatever the reasons for the neglect in the past, the situation must change. A good philosophical understanding of ecology is important for a number of reasons. First, ecology is an important and fascinating branch of biology with distinctive (...) philosophical issues that arise from its study. Second, ecology is only one small step away from urgent political, ethical, and management decisions about how best to live in an apparently increasingly-fragile environment. Third, philosophy of ecology, properly conceived, can contribute directly to both our understanding of ecology and help with its advancement. Philosophy of ecology can thus be seen as part of the emerging discipline of “biohumanities”, where biology and humanities disciplines together advance our understanding and knowledge of biology (Stotz and Griffiths forthcoming). In this paper, we focus primarily on this third role of the philosophy of ecology and consider a number of places where philosophy can play an important role in ecology. In the process, we.. (shrink)
Abstract. In this essay I first provide an analysis of various community concepts. Second, I evaluate the two of the most serious challenges to the existence of communities – gradient and paleoecological analysis respectively – arguing that properly understood neither threatens the existence of communities construed interactively. Finally, I apply the same interactive approach to ecosystem ecology arguing that ecosystems may exist robustly as well.
Sahotra Sarkar’s Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy is a welcome addition to the fields of environmental philosophy and the philosophy of science. First, his book has a rigorous and careful discussion of why we should preserve biodiversity. This is all the more important since much of environmental ethics has rested on normative claims which are unclear in meaning, appear unjustified at best and unjustifiable at worst, and are politically ineffective. Second, Sarkar is at home in the science of conservation biology and (...) offers important analyses of methodological issues in both ecology and conservation biology. Third, his book does not sustain what might be thought of as a “North American bias” but takes seriously environmental issues and perspectives from many different places like Australia and India. In this commentary, I raise worries and open questions that can be divided into four sections: (a) those concerning moral philosophy, (b) those concerning ecology and in particular whether we are in an extinction crisis, (c) how biodiversity is defined as a concept, and (d) what the aim and structure of conservation biology is. Ultimately, though my analysis is critical at some junctures, its purpose is to repay and hopefully improve on Sarkar’s rewarding analysis. Let me now turn from praise to criticism. (shrink)
I. Introduction. Philosophical discussions of models and modeling in the biological sciences have exploded in the last few decades. Given that there are three-dimensional models of DNA in molecular genetics, individual-based computer simulations in population ecology, statistical models in paleontology, diffusion models in population genetics, and remnant models in taxonomy, we clearly should have a philosophical account of such models and their relation to the world. In this essay, I provide a critical survey of the accounts of models provided by (...) philosophers of science and philosophers of biology including models as analogies, relational structures, partially independent representations, and material objects. However, there is much, much more work to be done. (shrink)
In this essay, I argue for four related claims. First, Richard Levins’ classic “The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology” was a statement and defense of theoretical population biology growing out of collaborations between Robert MacArthur, Richard Lewontin, E. O. Wilson, and others. Second, I argue that the essay served as a response to the rise of systems ecology especially as pioneered by Kenneth Watt. Third, the arguments offered by Levins against systems ecology and in favor of his own (...) methodological program are best construed as “pragmatic”. Fourth, I consider limitations of Levins’ arguments given contemporary population biology. (shrink)
A good philosophical understanding of ecology is important for a number of reasons. First, ecology is an important and fascinating branch of biology, with distinctive philosophical issues. Second, ecology is only one small step away from urgent political, ethical, and management decisions about how best to live in an apparently fragile and increasingly-degraded environment. Third, philosophy of ecology, properly conceived, can contribute directly to both our understanding of ecology and help with its advancement. Philosophy of ecology can thus be seen (...) as part of the emerging discipline of “biohumanities”, where biology and humanities disciplines together advance our understanding and knowledge of biology (Stotz and Griffiths 2008). In this paper, we focus primarily on this third role of the philosophy of ecology and consider a number of places where philosophy can play an important role in ecology. In the process, we survey some of the current research being done in philosophy of ecology, as well as make suggestions about the agenda for future research in this area. We also hope to help clarify what philosophy of ecology is and what it should aspire to be. In what follows, we discuss several topics in the philosophy of ecology and conservation biology, starting with the role and understanding of mathematical models. This is followed by a discussion of a couple of practical problems involving the standard model of hypothesis testing and the use of decision-theoretic methods in environmental science. We then move on to discuss the issue of how we should understand biodiversity, and why this matters for conservation management. Finally, we look at environmental ethics and its relationship with ecology and conservation biology. These four topics were chosen because they are all of contemporary interest in philosophy of ecology circles and are ones where there is much fruitful work still to be done. The topics in question are also useful vehicles for highlighting the variety of issues in ecology and conservation biology where philosophy might prove useful.. (shrink)
Greg Cooper’s The Science of the Struggle for Existence is a must read for those interested in the history and philosophy of ecology and in topics like laws of nature, scientific explanation, and mathematical modeling. If you want to explore some of the metaphysical and methodological challenges that face ecology, there is no better place to go. Thus, this book marks an important moment in the philosophy of ecology. Folks like myself will be responding to it for quite a while. (...) What I find most appealing about the book is just how much there is to argue with. On every page there are interesting ideas presented but which are excitingly controversial. Some will argue with Cooper’s interpretation of the history of ecology. There are parts of the book that empiricists will balk at. You will not be left unstirred. Having said this, Cooper can be longwinded and while you read you should remember patience is a virtue. (shrink)
In this essay, I examine the controversy concerning the advocacy of ethical values in conservation biology. First, I argue, as others have, that conservation biology is a science laden with values both ethical and non-ethical. Second, after clarifying the notion of advocacy at work, I contend that conservation biologists should advocate the preservation of biological diversity. Third, I explore what ethical grounds should be used for advocating the preservation of ecological systems by conservation biologists. I argue that conservation biologists should (...) defend their preservationist positions on instrumentalist grounds alone if the context of discussion and debate is a scientific one. (shrink)
Philosophy of biology is a vibrant and growing field. From initial roots in the metaphysics of species (Ghiselin, Hull), questions about whether biology has laws of nature akin to those of physics (Ruse, Hull), and discussions of teleology and function (Grene 1974, Brandon 1981), the field has grown since the 1970s to include a vast range of topics. Over the last few decades, philosophy has had an important impact on biology, partly through following the model of engagement with science that (...) was set by first-wave philosophers of biology like Marjorie Grene, Morton Beckner, David Hull, William Wimsatt and others. Today some parts of philosophy of biology are indistinguishable from theoretical biology. This is due in part to the impetus provided by second-wave philosophers of biology like James Griesemer, John Beatty, William Bechtel, Robert Brandon, Elisabeth Lloyd, and Elliott Sober. Indeed, philosophers have been instrumental in establishing theoretical biology as a field by collaborating with scientists, publishing in science journals, and by taking up conceptual questions at the heart of the biological enterprise. (shrink)
In this essay I first provide an analysis of various community concepts. Second, I evaluate two of the most serious challenges to the existence of communities—gradient and paleoecological analysis respectively—arguing that, properly understood, neither threatens the existence of communities construed interactively. Finally, I apply the same interactive approach to ecosystem ecology, arguing that ecosystems may exist robustly as well. ‡I would like to thank to the participants at the Ecology and Environmental Ethics Conference at the University of Utah, the Philosophy (...) of Ecology Conference hosted by the University of Brisbane, and those participants in a session at the Philosophy of Science Association Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia for helpful discussions of this essay. Specific thanks go to Mark Colyvan, Greg Cooper, Steve Downes, Chris Elliott, Marc Ereshefsky, Paul Griffiths, Jesse Hendrikse, Greg Mikkelson, Anya Plutynski, Kate Ritchie, Sahotra Sarkar, Kim Sterelny, and Rob Wilson. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Lewis and Clark College, 0615 SW Palatine Hill Road, Portland, OR 97219; e-mail: email@example.com. (shrink)
In this essay, I critically evaluate components of Michael Weisberg’s approach to models and modeling in his book Simulation and Similarity. First, I criticize his account of the ontology of models and mathematics. Second, I respond to his objections to fictionalism regarding models arguing that they fail. Third, I sketch a deflationary approach to models that retains many elements of his account but avoids the inflationary commitments.
Recently, there has been a rise in pessimism concerning what theoretical ecology can offer conservation biologists in the formation of reasonable environmental policies. In this paper, I look at one of the pessimistic arguments offered by Kristin Shrader-Frechette and E. D. McCoy (1993, 1994)--the argument from conceptual imprecision. I suggest that their argument rests on an inadequate account of the concepts of ecological stability and that there has been conceptual progress with respect to complexity-stability hypotheses. Such progress, I maintain, can (...) supply important resources for conservation biologists in determining environmental policies. (shrink)
Foot , Hursthouse , and Thompson , along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral judgments are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of (...) approach is inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are incorrect. Third, I contend that combining the natural goodness account of natural-historical judgments with our best account of natural normativity, the selected effects theory of function, leads to implausible moral judgments. This is so if selected effects function are understood in terms of evolution by natural selection, but also if they are characterized in terms of cultural evolution. Thus, I conclude that proponents of the natural goodness approach must either embrace non-naturalistic vitalism or troubling moral revisionism. (shrink)
According to population biologist Richard Levins, every discipline has a “strategy of model building,” which involves implicit assumptions about epistemic goals and the types of abstractions and modeling approaches used. We will offer suggestions about how to model complex systems based upon a strategy focusing on independence in modeling. While there are many possible and desirable modeling strategies, we will contrast a model-independence-focused strategy with the more common modeling strategy of adding increasing levels of detail to a model. Levins calls (...) the latter approach a ‘brute force’ strategy of modeling, which can encounter problems as it attempts to add increasing details and predictive precision. In contrast, a model-independence-focused strategy, which we call a ‘pluralistic strategy,’ draws off of Levins’s use of an assemblage of multiple, simple and—critically—independent models of ecological systems in order to do predictive and explanatory analysis. We use the example of model analysis of levee failure during Hurricane Katrina to show what a pluralistic strategy looks like in engineering. Depending on one’s strategy, one can deliberately engineer the set of available models in order to have more independent and complementary models that will be more likely to be accurate. We offer advice on ways of making models independent as well as a set of epistemic goals for model development that different models can emphasize. (shrink)
In this essay, I first consider a popular view of models and modeling, the similarity view. Second, I contend that arguments for it fail and it suffers from what I call “Hughes’ worry.” Third, I offer a deflationary approach to models and modeling that avoids Hughes’ worry and shows how scientific representations are of apiece with other types of representations. Finally, I consider an objection that the similarity view can deal with approximations better than the deflationary view and show that (...) this is not so. (shrink)
Recently, there has been a rise in pessimism concerning what theoretical ecology can offer conservation biologists in the formation of reasonable environmental policies. In this paper, I look at one of the pessimistic arguments offered by Kristin Shrader-Frechette and E. D. McCoy -the argument from conceptual imprecision. I suggest that their argument rests on an inadequate account of the concepts of ecological stability and that there has been conceptual progress with respect to complexity-stability hypotheses. Such progress, I maintain, can supply (...) important resources for conservation biologists in determining environmental policies. (shrink)
In this essay, I first consider what the implications of global climate change will be regarding issues of equity. Secondly, I consider two types of proposals which focus on sustainable emissions and subsistence rights respectively. Thirdly, I consider where these proposal types conflict. Lastly, I argue under plausible assumptions, these two proposals actually imply similar policies regarding global climate change.
In this essay, I begin with an overview of a traditional account of natural kinds, and then consider David Hull's critique of species as natural kinds and the associated notion of human nature. Second, I explore recent "liberal" accounts of human nature provided by Edouard Machery and Grant Ramsey and criticized by Tim Lewens. They attempt to avoid the criticisms of- fered by Hull. After examining those views, I turn to Richard Boyd's Homeostatic Property Cluster account of natural kinds which (...) is flexible but detailed enough to avoid Hull's criticisms but also those affecting the more recent views. We then consider what I call the "problem of variation." Fourth, I consider two case studies -- the basic emotions and facial expressions and inbreeding avoidance and incest taboos. I argue that the former is a component of a Boydian human nature but the latter is not. The conclusion is that if there is a human nature, it must be argued for on a case-by-case basis. And, one of most discussed cases thought to be part of our nature is simply not. (shrink)
Philippa Foot and Rosalind Hursthouse, along with other philosophers, have argued for a metaethical position, the natural goodness approach, that claims moral evaluations are, or are on a par with, teleological claims made in the biological sciences. Specifically, an organism’s flourishing is characterized by how well they function as specified by the species to which they belong. In this essay, I first sketch the Neo-Aristotelian natural goodness approach. Second, I argue that critics who claim that this sort of approach is (...) inconsistent with evolutionary biology due to its species essentialism are in- correct. Third, I consider the prospects of understanding ethical normativity as a species of biological teleology claiming that this would be incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Fourth, after presenting gene-culture coevolution theory, I argue that the only way of reconciling naturalism and normativity in accordance with the natural goodness approach requires amending the selected effects function account to include cultural evolution. However, this approach, though not biologically reductionistic, still generates claims incompatible with our considered moral judgments. Finally, I end with a discussion of methodology and revisionistic moral theories. (shrink)
Dr. Jay Odenbaugh discusses different types of climate skepticism and the evidence for anthropogenic climate change along with some common arguments against it. He considers the role of consensus and dissent in science and recent discussion of the book Merchants of Doubt and Climategate.
In this essay, I critically engage Sahotra Sarkar’s Environmental Philosophy. The several topics include the conceptual foundations of conservation biology and traditional philosophy of science, naturalism and its implications, and ethical theory and specifically the status of human welfare.
Dr. Jay Odenbaugh discusses psychological issues concerning American opinion on the topic of climate control, the relevance or irrelevance of scientific literacy to climate skepticism, and the role of affect and cognitive biases in environmental decision-making. He considers climate communication and how we might most effectively motivate pro-environmental behavior and beliefs. The discussion ends with a case study for persuading individuals on both sides of the political aisle for taking global climate change seriously.