tiistai 20. maaliskuuta 2012

The importance of what is absent

Juha took part in the tenth annual seminar of the Arctic Doctoral Programme ARKTIS in Rovaniemi, Finland, on March 16. This year’s theme was “Science‐Policy Interface – Societal Impacts of Arctic Research”. Below is the abstract of his presentation.

Ecosystem services are everywhere. But there is something in their constitution that is absent. According to philosopher John Searle (Making the Social World, Oxford, 2010), true beliefs fit the world. In the strict sense of the word, desires, intentions, and prescriptions cannot be true. They are not intended to represent the world as it is now, but how we would like the world to be. Intentions and desires have a world-to-mind direction of fit. They require the world to change to match them. True beliefs have a mind-to-world direction of fit.

Disturbingly, then, what we consider worth having, doing or being is absent – it is still becoming. This characteristic of absence applies also to natural functions. According to anthropologist neuroscientist Terrence Deacon (Incomplete Nature, New York, 2012, 38–39), “we describe function a process that exists in order to produce an otherwise unlikely state of affairs.” Function may be a product of design, but since Darwin it has been possible to understand function as emerging spontaneously, having end-directed character emerging irrespective of any anticipated end.

The important epistemic question is how to fit our institutions with individual and collective purposes and natural functions. This is exactly why ecosystem services are important and environmental policy so hard. Over the past few years, environmental policy makers have begun to show a special interest in ecosystem functions and, especially, in ecosystem services: namely some of the unlikely states of affairs produce items and features that are directly and indirectly beneficial to people.

The future research on socioecological systems must bring these absentee features to the fore. The core methodological challenge is then to make sense how healthy socioecological functioning is maintained, i.e. how direct, indirect, enacted and undergone ecosystem services could fit with human purposes and how to make human purposes fit with ecosystem functions. The concept of ecosystem service is not a magic bullet. But it could help planners, decision-makers and citizens to have an anticipative focus on what is constitutive but still absent. This would help us all to understand why the customary environmental policy easily misfit the environmental problems and why policy does not match the existing institutional arrangements.

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