, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 231-260
Date: 07 Jul 2011

Species are Processes: A Solution to the ‘Species Problem’ via an Extension of Ulanowicz’s Ecological Metaphysics

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Abstract

The ‘species problem’ in the philosophy of biology concerns the nature of species. Various solutions have been proposed, including arguments that species are sets, classes, natural kinds, individuals, and homeostatic property clusters. These proposals parallel debates in ecology as to the ontology and metaphysics of populations, communities and ecosystems. A new solution—that species are processes—is proposed and defended, based on Robert Ulanowicz’s metaphysics of process ecology. As with ecological systems, species can be understood as emergent, autocatalytic systems with propensities for centripetality and mutuality in the course of dynamically balancing ascendency (order and persistence) and overhead (randomness and change). The species-as-processes perspective accords with the Ulanowicz’s postulates of process ecology and it can be accommodated by existing theories of species—particularly in a reframing of Richard Boyd’s metaphysics such that species are homeostatic process clusters. Rather than contending that process-based metaphysics is the only, best or true account of species, a pluralist-realist approach is advocated based on the pragmatic principles that are reflected in modern view of species and ecology. If species are understood to be comprised of processes and to be emergent processes themselves, there are important implications for the life sciences, including: animal models in medical and environmental studies, conservation biology, extinction, biodiversity, restoration ecology, and evolutionary biology.