Thomas Potthast

Biodiversity, Community, Ecosystem – Epistemic and moral dimensions of ecological concepts

The term “ecosystem” has gained much public significance well beyond the science of ecology, referring to societal and cultural constellations. The same holds, even more, for “community”. Also “biodiversity” does not only signify a scientific concept referring to biological units with more than one kind but to political questions of how to deal with endangered species and sustainable development. The flow of concepts and content between science and society always runs both ways.

The talk will briefly reconstruct the historical roots of the three concepts, starting with “community” in late 19th century, then addressing “ecosystems” from early-mid and “biodiversity” in the late 20th century. The multiple dimensions of biological/ecological theory as well as their embeddedness in societal and thus moral affairs will be discussed, and a notion of epistemic-moral hybrids shall be explained in this context. It will be shown that epistemology and ethics of science, and philosophy of nature, are connected much closer as usually conceived of – not least in the life sciences.



Thomas Potthast ist Professor für Ethik, Theorie und Geschichte der Biowissenschaften sowie Sprecher des Internationalen Zentrums für Ethik in den Wissenschaften (IZEW) der Universität Tübingen; zudem leitet er dort den Beirat für Nachhaltige Entwicklung. Er studierte Biologe und Philosophie in Freiburg i.Br. und promovierte in Tübingen (publ. 1999: „Die Evolution und der Naturschutz“, Frankfurt am Main); danach war er PostDoc am Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte Berlin und Humboldt-Stipendiat an der University of Wisconsin-Madison; die Habilitation erfolgte in Tübingen. Thomas Potthast forscht und lehrt zu Fragen im Schnittfeld von Philosophie und Lebenswissenschaften, zu Inter- und Transdisziplinarität, zu Fragen des Umwelt- und des Naturschutzes sowie der Nachhaltigen Entwicklung und der Bildung für Nachhaltige Entwicklung.