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Title: Philosophical foundations for the Practices of Ecology
Author(s): Michael J Conroy and John P Carroll
Date of Publication: 2009 Publisher: Cambridge
Pages:xiii + 212 ISBN: 978 0 521 13303 6
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Undergraduate







Content: 1 - Introduction; 2 – Conceptual confusion in ecology; 3 - Causes of ecology's conceptual confusion; 4 - Finding ourselves in philosophical terms; 5 - Ecological pragmatism and constrained perspectivism: an introduction; 6 - Ecological pragmatism and constrained perspectivism: ontology; 7 - Ecological pragmatism and constrained perspectivism:metaphysics; 8 - Ecological pragmatism and constrained perspectivism:epistemology; 10 The practice of constrained perspectivism in ecology; 11- What constrained perspectivism offers the teaching of ecology; 12 - The heroic handyman and the future of ecology.

Review: One of the least discussed issues in ecology is theoretical philosophy. Ecology is seen as a practical science with perhaps some passing reference to the scientific method. This might give excellent results and practical applications but it also opens up a number of weaknesses - assumptions that can fall apart unless given some rigour. This text is one of the rare attempts to construct a debate on these lines.

The opening chapter sets the scene by asking a few relevant questions concerning the nature of truth and the possibility of multiple ecologies. The first might be answered as a part of design rigour but the latter is more far-reaching. Is ecology singular or plural and what does it mean to the study of ecology? Chapter two takes this one stage further and seeks to highlight some of the difficulties in ecology. Two of these stand out - what ecologists believe 'ecology' is and how it is defined. The answers should help strengthen the science (look at physics, the reader is constantly told). If this doesn't seem important, consider the varied responses to fire management strategies in both Australia and the USA where responses (and there could only be really one) vary with whom one is discussing the issue. Chapter three extends this to discuss the philosophical issues and what it means to us. Chapter four takes a different turn by looking at what philosophical issues ecology needs to address. From this point, the authors have selected a methodology - constrained perspectivism, and start to outline its theoretical position. The next three chapters describe the main elements of any philosophy: ontology, epistemology and metaphysics. Chapter 9 takes the key issues and provides a straightforward summary of the preceding discussion. The final three chapters show how this new perspective could be used by practicing ecologists and by those teaching ecology.

This is an interesting text. It is not the deep theoretical discussions found in other subjects such as physics (the case the authors cite) or geography but it is a start to tackle a much-neglected topic and provide a solid foundation upon which to base our study of ecology. Contrary to popular opinion, this theoretical view is not a limiting straightjacket but an attempt to construct a sound framework from which practical ecology could be organised. Those interested in this debate would do well to read this text and the arguments it proposes.





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