PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Symposium: Causality and Interdependence in Ecology

Friday, 4 November 2016
13:30 - 15:30

Piedmont 1 (12th Floor)

Chair: Michael Goldsby, Washington State University

The disciplines of community ecology and ecosystem ecology are notorious for the number and variety of causal relations that they seek to characterize and explain – relations between organisms and their abiotic environments – including, e.g., predation, parasitism, resource competition, mutualism, dispersal, and niche construction. We (three philosophers and one practicing biologist) seek to examine the implications of this complexity and causal heterogeneity from a variety of different perspectives, with the motivation that this area has been given insufficient philosophical attention – and yet has important lessons to deliver, both in understanding the disciplines themselves and in pushing the boundaries of causal reasoning more generally. Elliott-Graves tackles the longstanding problem of generality in the face of complexity, showing how we can use the concept of “interdependence” to yield modest generalizations in spite of complexity and causal heterogeneity. Millstein delves further into understanding interdependence itself – which relations should count as interdependent and why? – in order to shed light on its implications for environmental ethics. Peck shows how agent-based models can be used to grapple with ecological complexity to yield theoretical insights. And Eliot argues that understanding constraints as causes can yield generalized theory in ecology.

Generalizability and Interdependence in Ecological Research
Alkistis Elliott-Graves, Rotman Institute, University of Western Ontario,
Understanding ‘Interdependence’ in Ecology: Implications for Environmental Ethics
Roberta L. Millstein, University of California, Davis,
Complex Experiments: Using agent-based models to provide causal insight into ecological community structure.
Steven L Peck, Brigham Young University,
Constraints as Causes
Christopher Eliot, Hofstra University,


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