The Harvard Review of Philosophy

Volume 29, 2022

Philosophy and the Environment

Bryan G. Norton
Pages 1-20

Environmental Philosophy at the Edges of Science

While environmental ethics has flourished and contributed to the discussion of environmental policy, other areas of philosophy (epistemology, for example), have been less in evidence in these discussions. In this paper, we explore a role for these neglected areas: they are best viewed as meta-level discussions of the conceptual and linguistic problems that arise as scientists develop models at the edges of scientific fields relevant to our understanding of environmental problems and possible solutions. The relevant fields, which might differ depending on the specific environmental problem being addressed, can be thought of as a collection of “philosophies of ____” where the blank stands for one of the relevant disciplines, such as biology, ecology, or economics. We eschew the typical arguments regarding which models are correct in favor of a pragmatic/pluralistic approach to understanding scientific models. This pragmatic approach softens interdisciplinary conflicts as Rudolf Carnap’s Principle of Tolerance (linguistic conventionalism) urges an experimental approach to developing linguistic frameworks for differing situations. This approach is illustrated by an examination of the models proposed by ecologists and economists.