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Keywords:

  • biological analogy;
  • biomimicry;
  • epistemology;
  • Kant;
  • natural ecosystem metaphor;
  • philosophical anthropology

Summary

As an emerging discipline, industrial ecology represents a promising interdisciplinary field that studies industrial systems and their fundamental linkage with nature. At the root of its scientific profile lies a refreshingly different perspective on nature as a model in comparison with other disciplines' orthodox understanding nature in terms of a “sack of resources” the “biophysical limit”“something outside”“surrounding” or just “environment”. In contrast to these phrases, industrial ecology's perspective indicates an important change in the interpretation of nature, from the interest in intervening in or preserving nature toward an orientation by nature, from the comprehension of nature as an object toward understanding nature as a model, and from exploiting natural resources toward learning from nature as, in part, an ideal. This characteristic perspective of industrial ecology is typically stated with an appealing natural ecosystem metaphor and based on an analogy between industrial systems and natural ecosystems. On the basis of initial efforts to conceptualize industrial ecology's underlying assumptions concerning nature, a philosophically focused analysis of nature as a model is presented. Industrial ecology's implicit philosophy of nature is thus uncovered and clarified. Finally, a set of arguments drawing on the philosophy of science and on Kantian epistemology and philosophical anthropology is provided to gain greater conceptual clarity and to contribute to laying a solid foundation for industrial ecology's stimulating role in achieving sustainability at large.