Sagoff on Ecosystems as Self-Organizing Systems

Ethics, Policy and Environment 16 (3):258-261 (2013)
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In “What Does Environmental Protection Protect?” Mark Sagoff argues that there is no ecological way to test the claim that natural ecosystems are complex adaptive systems. In this critical commentary, I recreate that argument, object to it, and attempt to clarify its normative upshot. I show that Sagoff relies on substantive assumptions about (1) the tools and methods of ecological science, (2) what can be done with those tools and methods, and (3) ecology’s being separable from other disciplines, all of which are controversial and in need of defense. I also identify five different ways that one might interpret the action-guiding recommendation that Sagoff wants to make on the basis of that argument, and I explain why all five are somewhat problematic.
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