Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 May 2010
Most foundational controversies involve, sooner or later, questions of disciplinary identity. It must be part of the philosophical project, therefore, to say something about what ecology is. The strategy I have chosen is to defend a particular definition of ecology – the Haeckelian definition of ecology as the science that studies what Darwin calls the struggle for existence. I am interested in defending the definition, but, at the same time, the defense of the definition serves as the occasion for a larger, and ultimately more important, project – the examination of two fundamental foundational controversies that have featured prominently throughout the history of ecology. The two issues are (1) the interminable debates over competition, density dependence, the role of biotic versus abiotic factors, and the idea of a balance of nature, and (2) the controversies over theoretical modeling.
This first chapter sets up the issues and outlines the central course for the remainder of the book. Specifically, it describes Haeckel's original definition (sections 1.2 and 1.3), defends the idea of worrying about a definition (section 1.4), describes four basic ways in which Haeckel's definition can be seen as inadequate (section 1.5), and outlines four foundational controversies that underlie these objections, together with a brief description of how the controversies can be handled so as to pose no problems for Haeckel's definition (section 1.6). Following a deeper look into the controversies in Chapter Two, subsequent chapters will examine the two foundational issues described in the previous paragraph.