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The Aim and Structure of Ecological Theory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Marcel Weber*
Zentrale Einrichtung für Wissenschaftstheorie und Wissenschaftsethik, Universität Hannover


I present an attempt at an explication of the ecological theory of interspecific competition, including its explanatory role in community ecology and evolutionary biology. The account given is based on the idea that law-like statements play an important role in scientific theories of this kind. I suggest that the principle of competitive exclusion is such a law, and that it is evolutionary invariant. The principle's empirical status is defended and implications for the ongoing debates on the existence of biological laws are discussed.

Research Article
Copyright © 1999 by the Philosophy of Science Association

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Send requests for reprints to the author, Universität Hannover, ZEWW, Oeltzenstraße 9, 30169 Hannover, Germany.

Most of this research was done at the Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science and the University of Minnesota Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, both of which kindly provided a pleasant and stimulating environment. I especially wish to thank John Beatty, Ronald Giere, Sara Tjossem, and Kenneth Waters for exciting discussions and for critically reading drafts of this paper. I am also indebted to Eric Oberheim and the unknown referees for helpful suggestions. This study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


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