I like to mix things up pretty much all the time (none of this every once in a while nonsense) so I thought I would do a book review. I spied the Philosophy of Ecology when I was browsing the web curious to see what other individuals may have pre-emptively stolen and published my great ideas! (Or becoming aware of existing literature in the field as it is sometimes known)As soon as I saw this title knew at once this was a great idea for a book.
Essentially, the editors have gathered together a group of ecologists and philosophers all in one place, locked them in a room and didn’t let them out until they had assembled a tome of synthesized knowledge. The book is rigorously broken down by philosophical topic in true reductionist style, but also consciously ties parts from different sections together with some success in a lovely holistic way.
The various philosophical principles that relate to ecology are each approached in the same way. The section is introduced and the major trends of thought are examined by one of the editors in the form of a philosophical essay. Then several noteworthy and often historically significant ecology papers are presented, these are edited to keep the principles in focus and to downplay the experiments and data except when they relate directly to the philosophy. Finally each chapter is wrapped up by another philosophical essay often merging the ideas of stubborn scientists into one (semi) unified whole.
I very much enjoyed the idea of the book and I agree with the vast number of its conclusions. Indeed I even think it is one of the best possible approaches to the task. The book reads as a philosophy and science sandwich. Including the real papers of eminent scientists was a strong move, something I think that was close to the editor’s heart. An early complaint and I believe a legitimate reason for this book was that many people don’t know what they mean when they say ecological. Indeed most ecologists say things or do things that many in the ‘Green’ movement would not consider ecological!
The transition from scientist to philosopher feels a little bit jarring at times but I think the approach was well considered and by the end the reader is immersed not only in the philosophical but also the scientific questions that built up the new field of ecology, a field that is still growing and spreading its wings.
If I were to find one serious flaw with the book it would be with the complete domination of analytic philosophy as the method of approach. The book mentions in one line that Eastern philosophical systems possess well developed notions of direct relevance to the holism and reductionism debate and then summarily ignores all of these concepts. The scientific community is well represented with fluffy holists like Eugene Odum, mathematical powerhouses like Robert May and fence menders like Stephen Jay Gould. Yet the philosophical approach is uniquely one sided, there is barely a whiff of the idealist school of philosophy, even Deep Ecology or Ecofeminism which are directly relevant to the topic in hand. The exclusion of other philosophical approaches even in synthetic statements is the one glaring weakness in an otherwise well executed introduction to the area.
So in my final assessment I would say brilliant but incomplete. I would recommend it to anyone with a background in either ecology or philosophy that would like to step boldly into new territory. If you have an interest in both, this is an engaging read that will leave you with all sorts of new thoughts and questions.