Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 86, Issue 1, pp 63-74

First online:

Between Economics and Ecology: Some Historical and Philosophical Considerations for Modelers of Natural Capital

  • Jay FosterAffiliated withInstitute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto Email author 

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Natural capital models attempt to remediate the relationship between economics and ecology either by conjoining models and theories from each discipline or by finding a type of phenomena that can be meaningfully measured by both fields. The developmentof a widely accepted model which integrates economics and ecologyhas eluded researchers since the early 1970s. This paper offers an historical and philosophical perspective on some of the conceptual problems or obstacles that hinder the development ofnatural capital models. In particular, the disciplinary assumptions of economic science and ecological science are examined and it is argued that these assumptions are antithetical. Hence, the development of an effective and acceptednatural capital model will require that economics and ecology reconsider their self-conceptions as sciences. For the purposesof theoretical research and practical policy, the paper cautionsagainst confusing the issue of whether or not economic models accord with ecological models with the issue of whether or not economic activities accord with ecological realities.

ecology economics history human science natural capital natural science philosophy