Multifaceted Ecology Between Organicism, Emergentism and Reductionism

In A. Schwarz & K. Jax (eds.), Ecology Revisited. Reflecting on Concepts, Advancing Science. Springer. pp. 31-43 (2011)
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The classical holism-reductionism debate, which has been of major importance to the development of ecological theory and methodology, is an epistemological patchwork. At any moment, there is a risk of it slipping into an incoherent, chaotic Tower of Babel. Yet philosophy, like the sciences, requires that words and their correlative concepts be used rigorously and univocally. The prevalent use of everyday language in the holism-reductionism issue may give a false impression regarding its underlying clarity and coherence. In reality, the conceptual categories underlying the debate have yet to be accurately defined and consistently used. There is a need to map out a clear conceptual, logical and epistemological framework. To this end, we propose a minimalist epistemological foundation. The issue is easier to grasp if we keep in mind that holism generally represents the ontological background of emergentism, but does not necessarily coincide with it. We therefore speak in very loose terms of the “holism-reductionism” debate, although it would really be better characterised by the terms emergentism and reductionism. The confrontation between these antagonistic paradigms unfolds at various semantic and operational levels. In definitional terms, there is not just emergentism and reductionism, but various kinds of emergentisms and reductionisms.

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