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Philosophical Topics

Volume 47, Issue 1, Spring 2019

The Philosophy of Ecology

Christopher Hunter Lean
Pages 125-142

General Unificatory Theories in Community Ecology

The question of whether there are laws of nature in ecology has developed substantially in the last 20 years. Many have attempted to rehabilitate ecology’s lawlike status through establishing that ecology possesses laws that robustly appear across many different ecological systems. I argue that there is still something missing, which explains why so many have been skeptical of ecology’s lawlike status. Community ecology has struggled to establish what I call a General Unificatory Theory (GUT). The lack of a GUT causes problems for explanation as there are no guidelines for how to integrate the lower-level mathematical and causal models into a larger theory of how ecological assemblages are formed. I turn to a promising modern attempt to provide a unified higher-level explanation in ecology, presented by ecologist Mark Vellend, and advocate for philosophical engagement with its prospects for aiding ecological explanation.

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