If different methodologies follow from different understandings of reality, we must ask for the understanding of reality of ecological economists. At first, a specific view seems necessary, and following other authors, we can refer to Schumpeter’s concept of vision as a “pre-analytic cognitive act”.
Schumpeter’s considerations amount to an invitation to make ontological
presuppositions explicit in order to answer a series of questions: What do we understand by the reality we are dealing with?
What are their main characteristics and how do their different elements fit together? What are their characteristics and relationships?
As we proceed, we must begin with our conceptual understanding of the world. On this basis, empirical observation can then help to specify our knowledge. Schumpeter expresses this attitude as follows:
First of all, we have the task to put the vision into words and conceptualize them so clearly that their individual moments are designated and thus easier to recognize or to fit into a more or less closed picture or scheme. However, we almost automatically fulfill two other tasks: on the one hand, we add more facts to those already recorded and learn to mistrust others who appear in our original vision; On the other hand, the mere work of constructing the schema or image will add new relationships and concepts to the basic stock, and usually others will eliminate them.
Following this, Schumpeter notes that the “surviving elements of the original vision” are being subjected to stricter consistency and adequacy standards. Through such a process, he believes, scientific models could be developed and statements made more precise. This epistemology is astonishingly similar to Neurath’s metaphor of knowledge production as
a ship that is completely outdated on the open seas. In addition, the preanalytical approach proposes an ontological foundation and an empirical research-oriented epistemology, but Schumpeter left the details as indefinite as the role and form of the implied methodology.
Even where ecological economics appeals to the preanalytical vision, there is a clear gap between attempts to narrow down and clarify this epistemology and calls for methodological pluralism. Costanza e.g. claims simply, “By using their own tools and techniques, women scientists from different disciplines work side by side to develop new theories, tools and techniques needed to successfully address sustainability issues.” Any attempt, specific content or tooling to reject, it appears as a violation of transdisciplinary access. This form of pragmatism and instrumentalism leaves unanswered the question of how scientific progress is possible. It is therefore essential to overcome the current form of methodological pluralism. As I have shown elsewhere, it serves to speak the most incompatible views. For example, methodological decisions for the pluralist
appear to be a whimsical issue of preferences or politics rather than motivated by reasons for a better understanding.
Methodological pluralism weakens synthesis and unity in this way.
Tacconi rejects logical empiricism and proposes instead an ontology and epistemology oriented to post-normal science and strong social constructivism. However, due to its relativistic ontology, strong social constructivism has difficulty developing a position that would be compatible with the preanalytical vision of ecological economists. As Tacconi himself states, “in constructivist ontology, being is determined by knowledge. However, if we look at the earth without human beings, there is a reality that is not socially constructed. “For this reason, Tacconi accepts a reality that exists independently of human knowledge, which is incompatible with the epistemology he proposed. Another related problem is dealing with biophysical boundaries. In strong social constructivism, depending on who is asked, they depend on a multitude of interpretations
instead of imposing restrictions on our societies. Tacconi, however, is not ready to Obtaining independence between the observer and the observer completely, as strong social constructivists demand.
As Sayer points out, even if the need for a social construction of concepts is acknowledged, the sociological observer seldom has the power to truly change her subject of investigation. And even if that is the case, there is usually a clear dividing line between observation and impact. An investigation, for example, consists of several steps: first the research, then the publication and finally, if things go well, a certain external impact. Overall, in the natural sciences, the influence of the observer on her subject seems to be less problematic or at least easier to avoid by deliberate attempts to manipulate the research results in favor of particular interests. Thus, an important difference between natural and social sciences is that the latter involves two layers of interpretation, a double hermeneutic, both the actors in society and the biophysical reality.
In contrast to the other social sciences and most heterodox areas of economics, ecological economics has a fundamental interest in the biophysical reality. For this reason, the question of how the integration of natural and social science knowledge can be advanced is also of considerable epistemological importance to them. The idea that the whole of reality is merely a social construction contrasts with the status that ecological economics attributes to the laws of thermodynamics. As a scientific realization of biophysical reality, these laws play a central role in the diagnosis of what is wrong with economics. At the same time, however, there is also an awareness that we have no absolute certainty about reality, and therefore we need to take into account non-knowledge and social indeterminacy.
The fact that reality can be interpreted in different ways does not mean that people can arbitrarily construct their own reality or that all interpretations have the same validity. What we need is an approach that combines realism, our limited cognitive competence, and the inevitability of social conceptual constructions.
For this reason, post-normal science is likely to have some popularity among ecological economists, especially among those seeking epistemology. Post-normal science claims that understanding physical reality is possible under limited experimental conditions, but that the scope of such knowledge production is increasingly limited. As we move away from physics and controlled laboratory conditions to complex, inter-interacting global systems and environmental problems, we need another basis for knowledge production, which includes broad lay public participation as an extension of the research community.
The problem with this transdisciplinary approach, however, is that it does not have a clear scientific theory to offer, but rather attacks the practice and rhetoric of modern science. His criticism consists in part of a prescriptive epistemology, but leaves the question of the role of traditional science unanswered. The ontological assumptions of the post-normal approach are vague and seem to group around those complex system theories. Moreover, as Tacconi observes, methodology remains underdeveloped, constantly confronted with the task of putting abstract arguments into practice through scientific quality assurance. Thus, post-normal science struggles with the same definition problems as we have discussed here for ecological economics and therefore does not bring any substantial progress.