Hoisted from the comments: a philosophy of ecology bibliography (UPDATEDx2)

I said I was going to follow up my post on philosophy of science by doing a bibliography of philosophy of science that’s about ecology. But no need to reinvent the wheel: philosopher Christopher Eliot has already done it. Thanks to commenter Ryan Lamb for pointing this out.

Eliot’s bibliography isn’t complete, and he says he welcomes suggestions for additions (christopher.eliot@hofstra.edu).

Note that Eliot’s bibliography is for philosophy of science that’s specific to ecology, and doesn’t really cover broader philosophy of science topics that are relevant to ecology. Hard to do a bibliography on that, obviously, as it would quickly get unwieldy.

Note as well that Eliot’s bibliography doesn’t include philosophy by ecologists, unless that philosophy was published in a philosophical venue.

UPDATE: See the comments for suggestions on additional resources, including from Chris Eliot himself.

10 thoughts on “Hoisted from the comments: a philosophy of ecology bibliography (UPDATEDx2)

  1. Thanks for posting the Chris Eliot bibliography. Though, I notice it doesn’t seem to go past 2005. I also found these two. Less comprehensive, but perhaps helpful.

    1. Bibliography by philosopher Mark Colyvan focusing on ecological laws:

    2. A discussion on the relevance of philosophy for ecology (some good references at the end):


  2. Hi Jeremy, Thanks for your interest! I have just added the following note to that page, and you may even want to update your post:

    I stopped updating this list in 2007 as the Philosophy of Ecology literature began growing significantly. This page now represents the literature up through 2007. This page is limited in functionality.

    However, towards creating an enhanced, current, complete, replacement I’ve recently begun editing the Ecology and Conservation Biology, Misc category in the PhilPapers database. It includes including some downloadable papers and links to authors’ other work. It still needs work, but for the time being I think that is a better place to direct efforts.

    I would certainly welcome anyone’s suggestions on how to make it more useful to ecologists and philosophers. Chris

  3. With an apology for the head-fake in my last comment: Your post has produced expressions of interest which make me think it is worth updating the bibliography. So, I’ll do that.

    The Philosophy of Ecology Bibliography will continue to contain work by philosophers of science on scientific ecology, and works by non-philosophers that appear in philosophy venues. I acknowledge a lot of philosophically rich work by ecologists, like Pickett et al.’s Ecological Understanding, but this keeps the category from getting swamped.

    The Ecology and Conservation Biology category of PhilPapers will be a good place to look for the much larger set of papers at the intersection of philosophy more broadly and ecology broadly-construed, some of it by non-philosophers.

    I again welcome contributions to the Bibliography! Chris

    • Thanks for these! I am teaching a population/community ecology course next semester that has a strong focus on models. Could you possibly recommend a paper or two from the philosophy of science literature that discusses the role of theory/models/maths in ecology that would be accessible to 2nd or 3rd year undergraduates? Thank very much in advance!

      • Hi Benjamin,

        I’m a philosopher becoming interested in the use of models in ecology. Three philosophical papers that I’ve found most useful in understanding these issues are (in no particular order):

        Odenbaugh (2005) “Idealized, innacurate but successful: A pragmatic approach to evaluating models in theoretical ecology.” Biology and Philosophy, 20: 231-255.

        Weisberg, (2007) “Who is a modeler” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 58:207-33.

        Wimsatt, (1987) ‘False models as means to truer theories’, in M.H. Nitecki and A. Hoffman (eds.) Neutral Models in Biology. NY: Oxford University Press. pp.23-55.

        I also have a paper under review that attempts to synthesize and build upon some of this work, which I am happy to send if you email me.

        Within the ecology literature there is, as I’m sure you know, a wealth of interesting material. I am curious what people think of Charles Hall’s (1988) classic “An assessment of several of the historically most influential theoretical models used in ecology.” Ecological Modeling 43:5-31.

        Another nice companion set of papers, especially suitable for undergraduates I should think, are these two:

        Stephen Fretwell (1980) ‘On the Philosophical basis of orinthology” The Auk, 97:420-22.

        Simon Levin (1980) “Mathematics, ecology, and orinthology”. The Auk 97: 422-425.

        I have pdfs of the latter, if you have trouble locating them.


      • These took great! Thanks Stefan! Based on a recommendation from the comments I just recently picked up a copy of “Ecological Paradigms Lost:Routes of Theory Change”. For me the section on population ecology was really interesting. Alan Hastings gave an overview of unstructured population models and the de Roos and Perrson make the case for structured population models, with Odenbaugh providing a nice critique of both approaches.

        Before this my only exposure to philosophy of science was Kuhn, which was interesting, but didn’t seem so relevant for ecology. For me it has been much more interesting reading PhSc about my own discipline. I guess unknowingly I have always been struggling to develop my own justification for why I work on the questions I work on, and why I use the approach I use. I often find myself in situations where I use an argument (or hear one from another scientist) to justify why I/they did Y as opposed to Z, which at first may sound very reasonable, but then eventually leads to “well if that’s true why not use X instead of Y?”.

        It was incredibly interesting for me to see this same process unfold in the unstructured vs structured debate in the book where unstructured, structured, and even more “bottom-up”/”mechanistic” approaches were the Z,Y,and X respectively. Because we use these arguments all the time to justify what we do, it is so useful to have someone trained in the philosophy of science challenge your logic.

        Looking forward to reading the articles! Thanks again!

      • @Ben:

        “I often find myself in situations where I use an argument (or hear one from another scientist) to justify why I/they did Y as opposed to Z, which at first may sound very reasonable, but then eventually leads to “well if that’s true why not use X instead of Y?”. ”

        Yes, *exactly*! Personally, I think that kind of thing is the #1 reason why scientists need to read some philosophy of science. To better make that sort of argument, which comes up all the time in actual scientific practice.

  4. It’s great to see another trained philosopher posting here and offering ecologists a valuable resource – a philosophy of ecology bibliography. This would be especially useful for ecology faculty that teach graduate level “philosophy of science” courses or incorporate philosophical concepts into ecology courses/seminars (which seems quite common). Perhaps doing so combined with respect for would help resolve or further clarify some age-old debates in ecology (i.e., holism vs. reductionism, observation vs. theory).

    Also, Colyvan et al. 2009 (Philosophical Issues in Ecology: Recent Trends and Future Directions) is an easily readable and engaging synthesis paper: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art22/ES-2009-3020.pdf

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