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image of Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

As defined over time, biotic community has meant anything from superorganism to ecosystem. Some ecologists entirely reject any such holistic concept. This spectrum of positions—from holism to reductionism—reflects a divide among ecologists. Ordinarily, such battles pass with little notice beyond the confines of science. Ecology, however, has impact well outside its borders. In the popular arena the expression "biotic community" is widely, albeit sometimes uncritically, accepted. Even though both scientists and philosophers disagree about the validity of the concept, arguments for or against rely upon a common principle: novel properties signify a new reality. Conclusions divide based upon what may count as real. Must the new entity be a material object or is it merely conceptual? I review the evolution of meanings for biotic community and examine representative objections to either the reality or the utility of the concept. I argue that what is lacking in all discussions of biotic community is attention to the mode of existence of community, and conclude that biotic community is real, although its mode of existence is relational, not material.


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