Against Lawton’s Contingency Thesis; or, Why the Reported Demise of Community Ecology Is Greatly Exaggerated

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Philosophy of Science, ISSN: 0031-8248, Vol: 82, Issue: 5, Page: 1104-1115

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Stefan Linquist
University of Chicago Press
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Lawton’s contingency thesis (CT) states that there are no useful generalizations (“laws”) at the level of ecological communities because these systems are especially prone to contingent historical events. I argue that this influential thesis has been grounded on the wrong kind of evidence. CT is best understood in Woodward’s (2010) terms as a claim about the instability of certain causal dependencies across different background conditions. A recent distinction between evolution and ecology reveals what an adequate test of Lawton’s thesis would look like. To date, CT remains untested. But developments in genome and molecular ecology point in a promising direction.

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