Ecologythe Science and Ecologythe Worldview

In the introduction we noted two senses of the term 'ecology', one associated with ecology as a natural biological science and the other associated with ecology as a philosophical worldview concerned with humanenvironment relations in the broadest sense. The dominant tradition in the philosophy of ecology tries to separate these senses as much as possible, restricting the philosophy of ecology to the investigation of foundational issues in ecological science and relegating the ethical, political, and more speculative metaphysical dimensions of the broader ecological worldview to other branches ofphilosophy. This approach has its merits; it is consistent with the way most professional ecologists understand ecology and it makes more efficient use of the professional division of labor among philosophers.

We also noted, however, that there has been disagreement among ecologists over how to understand the domain of ecology. Some argue for a more restrictive conception of ecology that identifies it with the traditional ecological disciplines taught in natural science departments. Others argue for a more expansive conception that includes the study of human-environment relations. We saw how this expansive conception of ecology draws support from two sources: first, a consideration of the distinctive character of systems ecology; and second, the existence of a variety of human ecological sciences.

If we accept an expansive conception of ecology, do we lose the sharp distinction between ecology-the-science and ecology-the-worldview that was such an attractive feature of the restrictive conception.? Yes and no. On the one hand, the philosophy of ecology in its expansive mode will inevitably include questions that address metaphysical, epistemological, and normative issues that are also addressed in more speculative ecological and environmental philosophies. The domains of the philosophy of ecology and environmental philosophy will necessarily overlap.

On the other hand, in demanding that ecology operates as a science that is beholden to the epistemological standards of the scientific disciplines that it encompasses, and not to the presuppositions of any particular philosophical worldview, then ecological science will retain its autonomy and identity as a science. Though their domains may overlap, the methods of empirical science distinguish ecology-the-science from ecology-the-worldview.

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