The Nature of Theory
and the Theory of Nature
This pdf brochure describes the following book which is available from Elsevier:
Ecological Understanding - The Nature of Theory and the Theory of Nature
Pickett, S.T.A.; Kolasa, J.; Jones, C.G.
2007, 233 p. 41 illus., Hardcover
The Nature of Theory
and the Theory of Nature
Pickett, Jurek Kolasa, and Clive
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pickett, Steward T., 1950-
S.T.A. Pickett, Jurek Kolasa, and Clive
1. Ecology-Philosophy. 2. Ecology-Methodology. I. Kolasa, Jurek.
11. Jones, Clive
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I: ADVANCING THE DISCIPLINE AND ENHANCING APPLICATIONS
Integration in Ecology
Understanding in Ecology
The Anatomy of Theory
Chapter 4 The Ontogeny of Theory
The Taxonomy of Theory
FROM THEORY TO INTEGRATION
Fundamental Questions: Changes in Understanding
Integration and Synthesis
IV: THEORY AND
Constraint and Objectivity in Ecological Integration
Ecological Understanding and the Public
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
We wrote this book to share with other ecologists what we have learned about the structure and
use of theory and its relationship to the myriad activities that constitute modern science. Our
own quest was motivated by the sometimes unclear way in which the term "theory" is used in
both scientific publications and informal discussions. We needed to find out what theory was
and how it was built. We also wanted to evaluate the varied and often contradictory claims made
about what constitutes proper scientific practice. Is prediction really the highest or only goal of
science? How might it relate to other activities in which scientists engage?
We began with a series of readings and discussions that fortuitously included works describing
the tumult in the modern philosophy of science. This process was tough going for us ordinary
scientists, and the concepts took a long time to fathom, but eventually a picture began to emerge
that we thought would be valuable for the discipline of ecology. We do not pretend to have
become philosophers in the process. In fact, what we have learned and can present here is only
a sampling of the wide, deep, and swift stream of the philosophy of science. However, we do
attempt to draw our insights together into a coherent picture relevant to ecology. This book is
a system of ideas about the philosophy of science by practicing ecologists for practicing ecolo-
gists. We beg the forbearance of any philosophers who may encounter it.
We have taken advantage of the current spirit of ecological integration. Ecology deals in novel
discoveries, establishing new contexts for existing information, and integrating both into estab-
lished knowledge. These various endeavors are usually practiced within a suite of disparate
specialties, and yet more and more ecologists seem to be willing to cross disciplinary boundaries
and levels of organization. The syntheses and unification that might ultimately result from such
migration and cross-fertilization have the possibility to revolutionize ecology. The new philo-
sophical understanding of theory and its use may help provide a framework in which integration
can be nurtured. Thus, integration is a central theme of this book.
In order to think about how integration can be accomplished, we begin with an overview of
understanding, relate that to the structure and dynamics of theory, and indicate how changes in
understanding relate to integration in ecology. We also examine the nature of large paradigms
that affect ecological integration and the social constraints and contexts of ecological under-
standing and integration. We end with a discussion of some of the important ways in which
ecological understanding intersects with the larger society. In a sense, the book has a symrnetri-
cal structure motivated by the need for integration. We begin with a look at the nature of under-
standing and the tools and methods used to construct it. We then examine the generation of new
Preface to the First Edition
understanding and proceed outward again to the growth and connections of the new understand-
ing that can result from enhanced integration.
In particular the book examines these questions:
1. Why be concerned with integration in ecology?
2. What is understanding and how does it relate to integration?
3. What is theory and what are its parts? How is theory classified and how does it change?
4. What drives change in theory and hence change in understanding?
5. How, exactly, does change in understanding promote integration?
What scientific and social factors limit integration?
7. How does ecological understanding relate to the larger society?
In our discussion, several themes emerge. First, a broad view of theory is supported by modern
philosophy and the history of science. This broad view links the empirical and conceptual
approaches that are often considered to be separate. Second, an objective view of scientific
understanding emerges that can accommodate the variety of seemingly disparate activities that
scientists practice. Finally, we identify some large targets for integration in ecology.
This book is intended for anyone who has some background in ecology, beginning with
advanced undergraduates. We do refer briefly to some ecological examples but must depend on
other sources for the detail. To supply a large number of ecological examples here would obscure
the broad picture of understanding and the use and structure of theory we wish to present. We
hope the book will be useful and interesting to ecologists of all kinds. Of course, we hope it
stimulates application of the general approach in a variety of ecological realms. Using the frame-
work we present, ecologists should be able to assess the status of theory and understanding in
their own topic areas.
We have received the good advice of a number of people on early essays and in discussions
that advanced our progress on this book and clarified our thinking. We thank James H. Brown,
Richard T. T. Forrnan, Marjorie Grene, Elizabeth A. Lloyd, Robert H. Peters, Peter W. Price,
and Richard Waring for help along the way. We thank our colleagues at the Institute of Eco-
system Studies (IES) for providing a stimulating and open intellectual environment that made
these explorations possible. We thank IES librarian Annette Frank for help in obtaining refer-
ences and Sharon Okada for redrafting and improving some of our problem artwork. The
financial support of the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, of the U.S. National Science Foun-
dation for essentially "empirical" work (BSR 8918551; BSR 9107243) and for Research Experi-
ences for Undergraduates (BBS-9101094), and of the Canadian Natural Sciences and
Engineering Research Council has contributed to the instigation and completion of this book.
S. T. A. P. and C. G. J., Millbrook, New York
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION
We have often wondered why the second edition of a book needs a new preface and why the
preface for the first edition remains intact. It always seemed like a quaint, librarian-like tradition.
In case you are wondering the same thing, the goals, motivation, and organization of the book
laid out in the preface of the first edition remain. If you are new to the book, be sure to read the
original preface to the first edition. We are still trying to introduce the wider field of ecology to
a philosophical view that can be helpful in integration and synthesis. In fact, we think that this
need has only grown. As ecology embraces new areas, such as biocomplexity, guidance in the
strategies and tactics for integration are, if anything, even more needed than they were a dozen
years ago. Similarly, growth in the desire to link ecology with other disciplines has been shown
to be increasingly important. So the perspectives and tools we bring together in this second
edition are all the more important today than when we began the first edition.
The second edition is substantially revised and updated. While we retain many of the classic
ecological examples we used in the first edition, we have updated the references underpinning
these and have added many new examples. We have also reported on progress and new contro-
versies that have arisen in the philosophical literature relevant to the topics we cover.
One major goal of this second edition is an attempt to increase the accessibility of the text.
Some readers found the density of ideas per line made reading rather slow going. We have tried
to reduce the idea density and to intersperse more examples to make reading and comprehension
easier. We have also clarified passages that startled us with their stylistic complexity. The fact
that they escaped our notice in the first edition was an unfortunate oversight. We have also taken
this opportunity to add a number of illustrative diagrams and figures that reinforce or extend
the message of the text. The use of text boxes has increased as well, while retaining the flow of
the central text arguments, to permif their consideration and discussion as issues worth focusing
on. Some of the boxes are intended to help readers recall key points.
This preface gives us the opportunity to add new acknowledgments beyond those in the
first edition. S. T. A.
Cadenasso and a graduate discussion group of Dr.
Carpenter at the University of Wisconsin for comments that improved the quality of the
text. Dr. Cadenasso also helped put the bibliography together, which is much appreciated, and
beyond that, her addition to our understanding of ecological frameworks has been profound.
S. T. A.
also thanks the owners and staff of the Armadillo Bar and Grill in Kingston, New
York, for providing a welcoming venue for many productive Saturday afternoons of work on
Preface to the Second Edition
thanks Dr. Martin Mahner and Greg Mikkelson for illuminating e-mail comments and
Drs. B. Beisner and
Cuddington for sharing earlier drafts of their book.
thanks the Institute of Ecosystem Studies for continuing support that has generated
the opportunity for conceptual reflection.
This book is a contribution to the program of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, with partial
support from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust. Research supported by the National
Science Foundation through the LTER program (DEB
and by the Andrew
Foundation to the Mosaics Program at IES and the RiverISavanna Boundaries Programme in
South Africa generated examples used in this second edition.
S. T. A.
and C. G.
Millbrook, New York