Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 January 2022
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.
I am especially grateful to Thomas Nickles for encouragement and helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to Guy Hoelzer, Stephen Jenkins, and Jay Odenbaugh for comments on an earlier draft, Kim Sterelny for clarifications of the Tasmania example, Gregory Mikkelson for references, and the audience at PSA 2006 for discussions.