Ecology is, at its most general level, the study of 'ecological phenomena'. This simple definition is more useful than it appears.
First, though it may initially seem vacuous, the definition acquires content when we specify what it is for a phenomenon to be 'ecological'. It is a useful exercise because it forces us to consider the 'object' of ecological theorizing rather than the specific techniques, theories, or methodologies that characterize particular forms of ecological science. We want to know what it is about a given subject matter that suggests to the investigator that ecological concepts may be appropriately or usefully applied to it in the first place.
Second, the definition allows us to distinguish ecological 'science' from other forms of ecological inquiry simply by defining ecological science as 'the scientific study of ecological phenomena'. It is important to keep the issue of the scientific status of different forms of ecological inquiry separate from the question of what it is about some phenomenon that motivates an ecological inquiry in the first place.
Third, we can now give a correspondingly straightforward definition of a 'philosophy of ecology'. If ecology is the study of ecological phenomena, then a philosophy of ecology is 'the ''philosophical'' study of ecological phenomena'. However, this definition fails to capture the second-order character of much philosophical theorizing (thinking about thinking about X); we will also want to talk about the philosophical study 'of the study' of ecological phenomena, that is, the philosophical study of 'ecology'.
For the remainder of this article we will interpret ecology as ecological science and the philosophy of ecology as the philosophy of ecological science.
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