•  1727
    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 …Read more
  •  1439
    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.
  •  1411
    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 go…Read more
  •  1352
    Message in the Bottle: The Constraints of Experimentation on Model Building
    Philosophy of Science 73 (5): 720-729. 2006.
    Some ecologists have argued that theoretical model building in population and community ecology has gone evidentially unconstrained. In the essay, I argue that "bottle experiments" offer ecological model building evidential constraints and illustrate this by considering work on chaotic models tested by the dynamics of flour beetles. Critics reply that these experiments are importantly unlike nonmanipulated natural systems and thus do not constitute genuine tests of the models. I conclude by cons…Read more
  •  1326
    Models in biology
    Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2009.
    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 theorie…Read more
  •  1283
    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 scie…Read more
  •  1212
    A field guide to the philosophy of ecology
    with Mark Colyvan, William Grey, and Stefan Linquist
    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 dis…Read more
  •  1182
    Ecology and the inescapability of values
    Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (4): 593-596. 2008.
    Science and Engineering Ethics, to appear.
  •  1175
    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 …Read more
  •  1145
    Philosophy of the environmental sciences
    In P. D. Magnus & Jacob Busch (eds.), New Waves in Philosophy of Science, Palgrave-macmillan. pp. 155--171. 2010.
    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 …Read more
  •  951
    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…Read more
  •  881
    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 …Read more
  •  873
    The strategy of “the strategy of model building in population biology”
    Biology and Philosophy 21 (5): 607-621. 2006.
    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 h…Read more
  •  872
    Struggling with the science of ecology
    Biology and Philosophy 21 (3): 395-409. 2006.
    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 a…Read more
  •  790
    Philosophy of biology
    with Andrew Hamilton and Samir Okasha
    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…Read more
  •  714
    Philosophical issues in ecology: Recent trends and future directions
    with Mark Colyvan, William Grey, Paul E. Griffiths, Stefan Linquist, and Hugh P. Possingham
    Ecology and Society 14 (2). 2009.
    Philosophy of ecology has been slow to become established as an area of philosophical interest, but it is now receiving considerable attention. This area holds great promise for the advancement of both ecology and the philosophy of science. Insights from the philosophy of science can advance ecology in a number of ways. For example, philosophy can assist with the development of improved models of ecological hypothesis testing and theory choice. Philosophy can also help ecologists understand the …Read more
  •  707
    Values, Advocacy and Conservation Biology
    Environmental Values 12 (1). 2003.
    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 conservat…Read more
  •  466
    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 co…Read more
  •  349
    Philosophy of biology
    with Matt Haber, Andrew Hamilton, and and Samir Okasha
    Philosophy of the Special Sciences, edited by Fritz Allhof, Blackwell Press.
  •  189
    Functional diversity: An epistemic roadmap
    with Christophe Malaterre, Antoine C. Dussault, Sophia Rousseau-Mermans, Gillian Barker, Beatrix E. Beisner, Frédéric Bouchard, Eric Desjardins, Tanya I. Handa, Steven W. Kembel, Geneviève Lajoie, Virginie Maris, Alison D. Munson, Timothée Poisot, B. Jesse Shapiro, and Curtis A. Suttle
    BioScience 10 (69): 800-811. 2019.
    Functional diversity holds the promise of understanding ecosystems in ways unattainable by taxonomic diversity studies. Underlying this promise is the intuition that investigating the diversity of what organisms actually do—i.e. their functional traits—within ecosystems will generate more reliable insights into the ways these ecosystems behave, compared to considering only species diversity. But this promise also rests on several conceptual and methodological—i.e. epistemic—assumptions that cut …Read more
  •  129
    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 …Read more
  •  112
    Seeing the forest and the trees: Realism about communities and ecosystems
    Philosophy of Science 74 (5): 628-641. 2007.
    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 …Read more
  •  75
    Becoming Human by Jennifer Greenwood is one of the most thought-provoking books on emotion and its expression I have read. At its core, it attempts to provide an account of the development of full human emotionality and in so doing argues the emotions are “transcranial.” Emotions are radically realized outside our nervous systems and beyond our skin. As children, we are functionally integrated affectively with our mothers; so much so that in a sense our emotions are not ours alone. Regardless of…Read more
  •  65
    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
  •  53
    Subsistence versus Sustainable Emissions? Equity and Climate Change
    Environmental Philosophy 7 (1): 1-15. 2010.
    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
  •  51
    This American Life
    Ethics, Policy and Environment 14 (1): 27-29. 2011.
  •  32
    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 i…Read more