CONFERENCE – “Resilience and Functions: Lessons from Ecology,” Concordia (Canada)

“Resilience and Functions: Lessons from Ecology”,
Friday, October 18, 2013
4pm to 6pm
Concordia University
Hall Building – Room 1220
1455 De Maisonneuve W., Montreal, QC

Gillian Barker, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, Western University

The systems view of functions seems well-suited for understanding ecological functions: It makes sense of several of the distinctive and puzzling features of ecological functions. But applying the systems view to ecosystem functions also presents distinctive problems that may cast useful light on the notion of function more generally. The systems view understands functions as linked to stability: to the maintenance over time or reproduction over generations of a particular system structure. If ecosystems are understood as stable systems characterized by negative feedback relationships that maintain equilibrium values for key variables, the systems view seems easy to apply. But the development of a more complex view of ecosystem s, that recognizes that ecosystems are not simple equilibrium systems but are subject to chaotic change at various levels of organization, presents challenges for the systems view. Replacing the notion of stability (simple maintenance and reproduction) with that of resilience suggests a modified version of the systems view that can be applied to ecosystem functions. The picture that results raises new questions on broader issues concerning functions, including the connection between functional explanation and normativity, the relationship between functions at different level s or organization, the relationship between “natural” and “artificial” functions, and the role of functions in driving organic change.