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Environmental Ethics

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 1997

Robert Kirkman
Pages 375-390

Why Ecology Cannot Be All Things to All People
The “Adaptive Radiation” of Scientific Concepts

On the basis of a model of the development of scientific concepts as analogous to the “adaptive radiation” of organisms, I raise questions concerning the speculative project of many environmental philosophers, especially insofar as that project reflects on the relationship between ecology (the science) and ecologism (the worldview or ideology). This relationship is often understood in terms of an opposition to the “modern” worldview, which leads to the identification of ecology as an ally or as a foe of environmental philosophy even as ecological concepts are freely appropriated to inform speculation. I argue that ecology does not fit into the intellectual framework of such an opposition and that its concepts cannot readily be made to serve purposes outside of their specialized context without a loss of meaning. Finally, I suggest that environmental thought might do well to divest itself of its ecologistic commitments, adopting instead a skeptical approach to human-environment relations.