Patterns, Models, and Predictions: Robert MacArthur’s Approach to Ecology
Robert MacArthur’s mathematical ecology is often regarded as ahistorical and has been criticized by historically oriented ecologists and philosophers for ignoring the importance of history. I clarify and defend his approach, especially his use of simple mathematical models to explain patterns in data and to generate predictions that stimulate empirical research. First I argue that it is misleading to call his approach ahistorical because it is not against historical explanation. Next I distinguish three kinds of criticism of his approach and argue that his approach is compatible with the first two of them. Finally, I argue that the third kind of criticism, advanced by Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths, is largely irrelevant to MacArthur’s approach.