Biological Theory

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 85–98 | Cite as

On the Definition of Ecology

  • Mark SagoffEmail author
Original Article


In this article I discuss the proposition that ecologists may place restrictions on the kinds of plants and animals and on the kinds of systems they consider relevant to assessing the resiliency of ecological generalizations. I argue that to restrict the extension of ecological science and its concepts in order to exclude cultivated plants, captive animals, and domesticated environments ecologists must appeal either (1) to the boundaries of their discipline; (2) to the idea that the effects of human activity are rare and unusual enough to count as ceteris paribus conditions; or (3) to the nature/culture divide. The boundaries of their discipline, however, are practical, not epistemological. The effects of human activity are ubiquitous and profound. And the nature/culture divide, as far as I know, has been infra dignitatem in the natural sciences at least since Charles Darwin and John Stuart Mill. Ecologists may reason, moreover, that organisms and systems that have the kind of history that interests them must as a result possess a kind of organization or some other general biological property that distinguishes them from those that do not. This is to commit a genetic fallacy.


Definition of ecology Ecological generalizations Genetic fallacy Habitat Invasive species Philosophy of ecology 



I thank Andrew Inkpen for many helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Philosophy and Public PolicyGeorge Mason UniversityFairfaxUSA

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