Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 463–479 | Cite as

The “Balance of Nature” Metaphor and Equilibrium in Population Ecology

  • Kim Cuddington
Article

Abstract

I claim that the “balance of nature” metaphoris shorthand for a paradigmatic view of natureas a beneficent force. I trace the historicalorigins of this concept and demonstrate that itoperates today in the discipline of populationecology. Although it might be suspected thatthis metaphor is a pre-theoretic description ofthe more precisely defined notion ofequilibrium, I demonstrate that “balance ofnature” has constricted the meaning ofmathematical equilibrium in population ecology.As well as influencing the meaning ofequilibrium, the metaphor has also loaded themathematical term with values.Environmentalists and critics use thisconflation of meaning and value to theiradvantage. This interplay between the “balanceof nature” and equilibrium fits aninteractionist interpretation of the role ofmetaphor in science. However, it seems theinteraction is asymmetric, and the “balance ofnature” metaphor has had a larger influence onmathematical equilibrium than vice versa. Thisdisproportionate influence suggests that themetaphor was and continues to be a constitutivepart of ecological theories.

ecology equilibrium language metaphor science 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Allee, W.C.,Emerson, A.E.,Park, O.,Park, T. andSchmidt, K.P.: 1949, Principles of Animal Ecology, W. B. Saunders Company, Philadelphia and London.Google Scholar
  2. Andrewartha, H.G. andBirch, I.C.: 1954, The Distribution and Abundance of Animals, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  3. Begon, M.,Harper, J.L. andTownsend, C.R.: 1986, Ecology: Individuals, Populations, and Communities, Sinauer Associates, Inc., Sunderland, MA.Google Scholar
  4. Black, M.: 1962, Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.Google Scholar
  5. Botkin, D.B.: 1990, Discordant Harmonies: A New Ecology for the Twenty-First Century, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Boyd, R.: 1993, ‘Metaphor and Theory Change: What is “Metaphor” a Metaphor for?’ in A. Ortony (ed.), Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 381-532.Google Scholar
  7. Bradie, M.: 1999, ‘Science and Metaphor’, Biology and Philosophy 14, 159-166.Google Scholar
  8. Cicero: 1938, De Natura Deorum, Rackham, H., translator. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  9. Deutsch, K.: 1951, ‘Mechanism, Organism and Society', Philosophy of Science 18, 232-253.Google Scholar
  10. Egerton, F.N.: 1973, ‘Changing Concepts of Balance of Nature', Quarterly Review of Biology 48, 322-350.Google Scholar
  11. Elton, C.S.: 1930, Animal Ecology and Evolution, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Forbes, S.A.: 1887, ‘The Lake as a Microcosm', Bulletin of the Peoria Scientific Association, pp. 7-87. Reprinted in Bulletin of the Illinois State Natural History Survey 15, 537-550.Google Scholar
  13. Gasca, A.M.: 1996, ‘Mathematical Theories Versus Biological Facts: A Debate on Mathematical Population Dynamics in the 1930 s', Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences 26, 347-403.Google Scholar
  14. Gentner, D. andJeziorski, M.: 1993, ‘The Shift from Metaphor to Analogy in Western Science', in A. Ortony (ed.), Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 447-480.Google Scholar
  15. Hastings, A.,Hom, C.L.,Ellner, S.,Turchin, P. andGodfray, H.C.J.: 1993, ‘Chaos in Ecology: Is Mother Nature a Strange Attractor?’ Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 34, 1-35.Google Scholar
  16. Howard, L.O. andFisk, W.F.: 1911, The Importation into the United States of the Parasites of the Gypsy-Moth and the Brown-Tail Moth. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Entomology Bulletin 91.Google Scholar
  17. Kingsland, S.E.: 1985, Modelling Nature: Episodes in the History of Population Ecology, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  18. Klamer, A. andLeonard, T.: 1994, ‘So What& an Economic Metaphor?’ in P. Mirowski (ed.), Natural Images in Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  19. Krebs, C.J.: 1994, Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Kuhn, T.: 1979, ‘Metaphor in Science', in A. Octong (ed.), Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge University Press, pp. 409-419.Google Scholar
  21. Lakoff, G. andJohnson, M.: 1980, Metaphors We Live by, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  22. Leopold, A.: 1943, ‘Deer Irruptions', Wisconsin Conservation Department Publication 321, 3-11.Google Scholar
  23. Lewontin, R.C.: 1963, ‘Models, Mathematics and Metaphors', Synthese 15, 222-244.Google Scholar
  24. Lotka, A.J.: 1925, Elements of Physical Biology, Williams and Wilkins Company, Baltimore.Google Scholar
  25. McCann, K.,Hastings, A. andHuxel, G.R.: 1998, ‘Weak Trophic Interactions and the Balance of Nature', Nature 395, 794-798.Google Scholar
  26. Nicholson, A.J.: 1933, ‘The Balance of Animal Populations', Journal of Animal Ecology 2, 132-178.Google Scholar
  27. Nicholson, A.J. andBailey, V.A.: 1935, ‘The Balance of Animal Populations, Part I', Proceedings of the Zoological Society, London 3, 551-598.Google Scholar
  28. Packard, A.S.J.: 1874, ‘Nature& Means of Limiting the Numbers of Insects', American Naturalist 8, 270-282.Google Scholar
  29. Pimm, S.L.: 1991, The Balance of Nature? Ecological Issues in the Conservation of Species and Communities, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  30. Russett, C.E.: 1966, The Concept of Equilibrium in American Social Thought, Yale University press, New Haven and London.Google Scholar
  31. Scudo, F.M.: 1971, ‘Vito Volterra and Theoretical Ecolog y', Theoretical Population Biology 2, 1-23.Google Scholar
  32. Smith, H.S.: 1935, ‘The Role of Biotic Factors in the Determination of Population Densities', Journal of economic entomology 28, 873-898.Google Scholar
  33. Spencer, H.: 1882, First Principles, D. Appleton and Company, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Volterra, V.: 1926, ‘Fluctuations in the Abundance of a Species Considered Mathematically’, Nature 118, 558-560.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kim Cuddington
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

Personalised recommendations