41210 - Philosophy of Ecological Sciences Modulübersicht

Module Number: 41210 - Phase-out Module
Module Title:Philosophy of Ecological Sciences
  Ethische und wissenschaftstheoretische Aspekte der Ökologie
Department: Faculty 2 - Environment and Natural Sciences
Responsible Staff Member:
  • PD Dr.rer.nat. habil. Bröring, Udo
Language of Teaching / Examination:English
Duration:1 semester
Frequency of Offer: Every summer semester
Credits: 6
Learning Outcome:Rationale
Orientation in a postmodern world requires a comprehensive overview of the philosophical background and the ethical relevance of ecological concepts and their applications. In contrast to standard philosophical approaches, emphasis is laid on the analysis of examples and cases studies taken from the field of biological sciences, in particular ecology and biodiversity.

Part "Epistemological Problems of Ecology"
The objective is to enable students to overview the basic concepts of and approaches to normative philosophy of science. Additionally, systems theories relevant in the ecological context are analysed. Students will be able to
  • tell the difference between basic and applied ecology and name the interfaces between theoretical ecology and philosophy of science,
  • analyse the influence of the social and political background on the development of ecological concepts,
  • discuss verification, falsification, deduction, induction, and the hypothetical-deductive approach in ecological research,
  • give judgments about the validity of ecological facts and theories, and about description, explanation, prediction, and understanding in ecology,
  • distinguish between different types of biological concepts and classification approaches, and to consider the role of language in biological concept formation,
  • consider concepts like causality, teleology, purpose, goal directedness, function, stochasticity, chance, necessity, ad truth with respect to their influence on world views relevant for nature conservation,
  • consider the dynamic nature of ecological systems in the context of management and control approaches to ecosystems.
Part "Biodiversity Ethics"
Objectives are to give an overview of general ethical approaches, to apply ethical theories to relevant fields of environmental ethics, and to analyze topical case studies of biodiversity ethics in detail. Students will be able to
  • advance relevant arguments consisting of general premises, specific premises and conclusions (practical syllogism), and recognize validity and soundness of statements,
  • distinguish between factual and normative statements, and avoid the is-ought fallacy in environmental reasoning,
  • apply the three grand ethical theories to selected case studies referring to topical biodiversity examples,
  • analyze benchmark papers in nature ethics from the viewpoint of modern bioethics.
Contents:Part "Epistemological Problems of Ecology"
  • Limits and subdivision of ecology, nature conservation and environmental sciences
  • Historical account of the development of paradigms and research programmes in ecology
  • Fundamentals of normative epistemology: knowledge and ignorance, theories and hypotheses, concepts and classification, explanation and prediction in ecology, causality, chance and necessity, teleology and purposiveness
  • Fundamentals of systems theory: evolution and ecology, evolutionary epistemology, hierarchical systems theory, complexity, emergent properties and theory reduction in ecology
Part "Biodiversity Ethics"
  • What is ethics? A classification of ethical approaches, the grand ethical systems: Deontology, Utilitarianism, Social Contract Theory
  • Logical reasoning, factual and normative statements, values, preferences and ideologies
  • The Tragedy of the Commons, the individual and the social good
  • Animal welfare or animal rights, moderate anthropocentrism vs. bio- and ecocentrism
  • Restoration ecology; the ethics of environmentalism vs. ethics of nature conservation
  • Case studies in wildlife management, in-situ and ex-situ conservation of biodiversity and related topics
Recommended Prerequisites:For the part "Biodiversity Ethics", the book by Rachels (or any equivalent book on moral philosophy) has to be read in advance. Tests are made at the beginning of the class.
Mandatory Prerequisites:None
Forms of Teaching and Proportion:
  • Seminar / 4 Hours per Week per Semester
  • Self organised studies / 120 Hours
Teaching Materials and Literature:Part "Epistemological Problems of Ecology"
The class is organized in form of a combined lecture and seminar. The students contribute to the class with their own oral presentations. Lecture notes are provided under myBTU. The class is also recommended for Master and PhD students who are not familiar with basic approaches to scientific work.

Suggested readings:
  • Sattler, R. 1986. Biophilosophy. Analytic and Holistic perspectives. Springer, Berlin
  • Golley, F.B. 1993. A History of the Ecosystem Concept in Ecology. More than the Sum of the Parts. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven
  • Curd, M. & Cover, J.A. 1998. Philosophy of Science. The Central Issues. Norton, New York
Part "Biodiversity Ethics"
The class is organized as a seminar with plenum discussion and additional e-learning assignments (blended learning). Self-organized work is required to prepare the plenum discussions, working on the exercises, and active participation in group discussion. The class is open to Bachelor, Master and PhD students.

Basic literature:
  • Rachels, J. 1999. The elements of moral philosophy. 3rd ed. New York: McGrawHill.
Further semester literature:
  • Comstock, G.L. ed. 2002. Life science ethics. Iowa Univ. Pres, Ames. (in particular chapters 5, 7, and 8)
  • Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243-1248. Also found in: Van de Veer, D. & Pierce, C. eds. 1994. The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA: 422-430
  • Regan, T. 1984. The case of animal rights. In P. Singer (ed.) 1985, Defence of Animals, p., 13-26, Oxford: Blackwell. Also to be found in: Van de Veer, D. & Pierce, C. eds. 1994. The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book. Wadsworth, Belmont, CA: 77-84
  • Elliot, R. 1986. Faking nature. Inquiry 23: 81-93. Also found in: Van de Veer, D. & C. Pierce, eds. 1986. People, Penguins, and Plastic Trees, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA: 33-41
Module Examination:Continuous Assessment (MCA)
Assessment Mode for Module Examination:Part "Epistemological Problems of Ecology"
  • 4 class minutes (8 points - 2 points each)
  • Oral presentation, 10 min presentation + 5 min discussion + 2 pages abstract or handout (22 points)
Part "Biodiversity Ethics"
  • 10 assignments (10 points - 1 point each)
  • Case study in form of a short essay (20 points)
The module is passed with 30 points.
Evaluation of Module Examination:Performance Verification – graded
Limited Number of Participants:32
Part of the Study Programme:
  • Abschluss im Ausland / Architektur / keine Prüfungsordnung
  • Abschluss im Ausland / Bauingenieurwesen / keine Prüfungsordnung
  • Abschluss im Ausland / Environmental and Resource Management / keine Prüfungsordnung
  • B.Sc. / Environmental and Resource Management (research-oriented profile) / Prüfungsordnung 2005
  • B.Sc. / Environmental and Resource Management (research-oriented profile) / Prüfungsordnung 2015
  • M.Sc. / Environmental and Resource Management (research-oriented profile) / Prüfungsordnung 2011
  • M.Sc. / Environmental and Resource Management (research-oriented profile) / Prüfungsordnung 2021
  • M.Sc. / Environmental and Resource Management (research-oriented profile) / Prüfungsordnung 2021
  • Abschluss im Ausland / Kultur und Technik / keine Prüfungsordnung
  • Abschluss im Ausland / Umweltingenieurwesen / keine Prüfungsordnung
 This module has been approved for the general studies.
Module Components:
  • 240738 Lecture Epistemological Problems of Ecology
  • 240739 Seminar Biodiversity Ethics and Politics 
Components to be offered in the Current Semester:
  • no assignment
Follow-up Module/s: Phase-out module since: 25.04.2018
  • without Follow-up Module/s

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