Justin Donhauser 2017-09-08T15:04:01+00:00

Project Description


  • Applied Environmental Philosophy

  • Epistemology of Science

  • Metaphysics



Postdoctoral Fellow;
Department of Philosophy, Western University

Justin Donhauser’s primary research clarifies how environmental sciences can aid in public policy and resource management decision-making.  In recent articles, he examines inferential processes used in model-based ecological and climate science research to elucidate how such research can (and cannot) usefully inform urgent political, ethical, and management strategy decisions.  Justin’s work is guided by the belief that engaging philosophical issues as they arise in scientific practice and in practical problem-solving processes can provide new insights into general philosophical issues while at once making philosophical analysis matter outside of academic philosophy.  As an alum of the National Science Foundation endowed Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE-IGERT) program, he draws on training in ecological engineering as well as experience doing fieldwork and implementation planning working with multidisciplinary teams on mitigation and restoration projects.  He has also worked on various community outreach projects, served as a Service-Learning Faculty Fellow, and taught numerous community-engaged-learning courses.

Though I work on projects that contribute to historied debates in metaphysics and epistemology (see, for instance, my recent article in Philosophical Studies), I specialize in socially relevant applied philosophy of science.  My recent works have concentrated on understanding model-based ecological and climate-science research methods and their limitations—with the overarching aim of fleshing out ways such methods can usefully inform political, ethical, and resource management strategy decisions despite their limitations.

In much of my work, I pursue a three-pronged approach that is:

analytic (employs systematic methods of inference and analysis used in metaphysics and epistemology);

ethnographic (seeks insights into the conceptual foundations, underlying logic, and practical exports of specific scientific practices through participation in those practices); and

practical (has clear implications for political, ethical, and strategy decision-making).

This multi‐pronged approach is borne out of my background in analytic metaphysics, my training as a research fellow in the National Science Foundation (NSF) endowed Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange (ERIE‐IGERT) program, and many experiences working as a member of multidisciplinary teams on “ecological restoration” and community-outreach projects.

My dissertation, A Philosophy of Theoretical Ecology for Environmental Policy (2015), addresses two questions at the center of ongoing debate about ecology’s ability to provide scientific guidance in efforts to address mounting environmental problems.  The first concerns whether and how research with theoretical ecological models can usefully inform environmental policy and resource management decision‐making.  The second concerns whether and in what manner the entities such models characterize (i.e. ecological populations, communities, and systems) exist in nature.  Throughout the work, I clarify how these questions are related and infer answers to each via analyzing the arguments of notable critics of theoretical ecology and analyzing ecologist’s practices of using theoretical ecological models in landmark research studies.  My analyses illuminate ways in which model‐based ecological research methods can be fruitfully applied for policy and resource management decision‐making, and show that modern ecologists apparently embrace an ontology‐neutral metaphysics and an instrumentalist epistemology.  Establishing these things, also serves to undermine popular criticisms of theoretical ecology and clear up enduring confusions about ecology’s foundations and the basic workings of inferential processes used in ecology.  The work pushes forward the active crossdisciplinary dialogue concerning ecology’s conceptual foundations and practical value, while showing by example how philosophical analyses of scientific practices can aid in addressing concerns of theoretical, ethical, and practical significance.

My recent works include articles that further develop sub‐projects of my dissertation.  For instance, in a recent article in Ethics & the Environment, I rebuff certain enduring criticisms of theoretical ecology by outlining general ways in which math‐based community models can aid in policy and resource management decision‐making processes.  In another recent paper, “Making Ecological Value Make Sense,” I spell out the background theory of ecosystems embraced by modern ecologists and examine how existing advisory directives and pieces of national and international legislation calling to protect “natural ecosystems” and “ecosystem properties” can be usefully interpreted and operationalized in accordance with that background theory.

In other recent “applied” works, I examine climate-science research methods and potential responses to emerging climate change issues.  For example, in an article forthcoming in Ethics, Policy, & Environment, I assess the implications of new research using super‐ensemble climate models for imminent decisions about how the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreement can be operationalized.  And in a related project, more focused on the social aspects of climate change responses, I am attempting to flesh out the idea of, what have been called, “facilitative” institutional responses by investigating how existing relief organizations in North America have dealt with the growing influx of refugees due to various negative impacts of climate change (e.g. losses of water and agricultural resources).

Finally, my in progress works that address more highly abstract issues in metaphysics and epistemology fall into two categories.  On the one hand, I have a set of companion pieces that contribute to the epistemology of scientific representation and examine general roles that models play in problem‐solving processes.  On the other, I have several papers that extend ideas from systems theory to advance general theories of emergence, individuality, and natural kinds.


Donhauser, J. The value of weather event science for pending UN climate policy decisions. Ethics, Policy, & Environment (forthcoming).

Donhauser, J. Differentiating and Defusing Theoretical Ecology’s Criticisms: a Rejoinder to Sagoff’s Reply to Donhauser (2016) in Studies in History & Philosophy of Biological & Biomedical Sciences (forthcoming / ‘First Online’ 04-17).

Donhauser, J. Invisible Disagreement: an Inverted Qualia Argument for Realism Philosophical Studies 174(3), 593-606 (2017).

Donhauser, J. Theoretical Ecology as Etiological from the Start in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 60: 67-76 (2016).

Donhauser, J. “Making Ecological Values Make Sense: toward more operationalizable ecological legislation” in Ethics & the Environment 21 (2):1-25 (2016).

Donhauser, J. How Theoretical Analyses in Ecology Can Enable Environmental Problem-solving. Ethics & the Environment 2014; 19.2: 91-116.

Donhauser J, Corcoran J. Implications of implication with John Corcoran. Bulletin of Symbolic Logic 2012; 18: 147-148.

Book Chapters

Donhauser J, Taylor AP. Grey Matters: Personal Identity in the Fringe Universe(s). In: The Philosophy of J. J. Abrams, Brace and Arp (eds.). Kentucky University Press, 2014: 14-42.

Donhauser J. If Walter White is breaking bad, maybe we are too. In: ‘Breaking Bad’ and Philosophy, D. Koepsell and R. Arp (eds.). Open Court, 2012: 113-123.

Donhauser J, Blessing K. Fade to Black: Absurdity, Suicide, and the Downward Spiral. In: Metallica and Philosophy: A Crash Course in Brain Surgery, W. Irwin (ed.). Blackwell, 2007: 148-159.

Doctoral Thesis

A Philosophy of Theoretical Ecology for Environmental Policy. University at Buffalo, 2015.

Select Conference Presentations

Informative Ecological Models without General Ecological Forces. Canadian Society for History & Philosophy of Science: Congress 2017 (Ryerson University) (May 2017)

What Theoretical Ecology Reveals about Knowledge TransferScientific Knowledge Under Pluralism: Center for Philosophy of Science (Univ. of Pittsburgh) (April 2017)

Facilitating Adaptations to Climate ChangeGreat Lakes Philosophy Conference (Siena Heights University) (Mar. 2017)

Adapting to Climate Change in the City: On Building Facilitative Institutions. American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting (Baltimore). (Jan. 2017).

Making Ecological Value Make Sense. Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) Biennial Conference: Rowan University (June 2016).

The value of weather event attribution for adaptation decision-making and the shape of the UNFCCC Policy Framework going forward. American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting (Washington, DC) (Jan. 2016).

General Ecosystems Theory is Not Too General and Theoretical to Inform Decision Making for Public Policy and Natural Resource Management. American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting (Baltimore)(Dec. 2013).

2013 Conference for Sustainability IGERTs 3 (C4SI3): Portland State University. (*accepted with full funding—unable to attend due to severe flooding).

One Way to Use an Ecosystem Theory for Environmental Policy Decision-making. Society for Philosophy of Science in Practice (SPSP) Biennial Conference. Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science (IHPST): University of Toronto (June 2013).

Ecosystems Overlapping on the Landscape. Representations of Space and Place in Antiquity. Graduate Conference. University of Toronto. (April 2013).

Getting Real about Ecosystem Restoration w/ Robert Earle & Kenneth Shockley. Military-to-Wildlife Refuges Ecological Restoration Workshop. Colorado College. (June 2012).

Connecting the Abstract and the Actual: Lessons from Modeling DNA and Endangered Owls. The Wise Scientist: Inst. for History & Philosophy of Science. University of Toronto. (June 2012).

Whales are(n’t) Fish. University of Waterloo Graduate Student Association 18th Annual Conference in Philosophy. (April 2011).

Constraining Too Promiscuous Realism. Instruments: Mental and Material: 6th Graduate Student Conference at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (HAPSAT). University of Toronto. (April 2010).

Spacetime Dimensionality and Real Presentism. University of Waterloo Graduate Student Association 17th Annual Conference in Philosophy. (March 2010).

From Dualism to Triism. Mind, World, and the Space in Between: 3rd Annual University of South Florida Graduate Conference. (March 2010).

Dimensional and Adimensional-presentism. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: Themes from the work of Lynne Rudder Baker. University at Buffalo. (April 2009).

Select Invited and Other Talks

A New Inverted Spectrum Argument for Scientific Realism. Philosophy & Humanities Faculty Colloquia: Buffalo State College. (Nov. 2015).

Philosophical ‘Navigating,’ ‘Cartographing,’ and ‘Pathfinding’: Three ways of doing applied philosophy. Philosophy & Humanities Faculty Colloquia: Buffalo State College. (Nov. 2014).

Defusing Popular Criticisms of Ecology for Public Policy. ERIE-IGERT Colloquium: University at Buffalo (Feb. 2014).

How Aristotle’s Metaphysics Can Help Us Avoid Ecological Catastrophes. Philosophy & Humanities Faculty Colloquia: Buffalo State College. (Oct. 2013).

An Uninteresting Theory of ‘Emergence’ with Bad Examples from Chem. 101. Philosophy Faculty and Graduate Student Lunchtime Talks: University at Buffalo. (Dec. 2011).

‘Emergence’ is Innocent: an Uninteresting Unifying Theory. Philosophy & Humanities Faculty Colloquia at Buffalo State College. (Nov. 2011).

Evolution of the Machias Gravel Mine Phytoremediation Barrier Plan with C. Bronner, S. Macintosh, and D. Stewart. ERIE-IGERT Colloquium: University at Buffalo. (Sept. 2011).

Reduction Failure and the Demands of Dispositional Explanation. Philosophy Department Faculty and Graduate Student Lunchtime Talks: University at Buffalo. (April 2011).

What are ‘ecosystems’?  Why don’t ecologists know? Debates in Ecosystem Restoration: lecture series: Buffalo State College. (March 2011).

Are all ecosystems reducible? Annual ERIE-IGERT Symposium: University at Buffalo. (Aug. 2010).

Adaptive Ecosystems Management: on Pluralism and the Dimensions of Integration. ERIE-IGERT Colloquium: University at Buffalo. (Feb. 2010).

Project Title: The Geofunctions Project

Full Responsibility (total: 43 classes)

Social Justice and Sustainability: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2016

Sustainability Practicum (community-engaged service-learning): SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2016

Logic:  SUNY Buffalo State: Summer 2016; Winter 2016; Summer 2015; Winter 2015

Introduction to Philosophy: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2016 (2 sections); Fall 2015 (2 sections); Fall 2014 (2 sections); Summer 2014; Spring 2014 (2 sections); Fall 2013 (2 sections); Summer 2013; Spring 2013 (2 sections); Summer 2012; Spring 2012; Fall 2011; Summer 2009

Niagara University: Spring 2009 (2 sections)

Students for Sustainability (community engaged service learning): SUNY Buffalo State: Fall 2015; Spring 2015; Fall 2014

Philosophy of Natural Science: SUNY Buffalo State: Fall 2015; Fall 2014

Ethics (survey): SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2015 (2 sections); Fall 2013; Fall 2012 (2 sections)

Niagara University: Fall 2008 (2 sections)

Philosophy of Social Science: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2015; Spring 2014

Meaning of Life: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2013; Fall 2012

Debates in Ecological Restoration: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2011 (co-taught w/ R. Earle)

Thesis/project Supervision

Fall 2015. “Karma Project” (Yoga in Jail/Rehab). Sara Panzica (Arts & Letters Undergrad.).

Spring 2015. Promoting Sustainability Awareness. Ashley Coleman (Hospitality Undergrad.).

Spring 2015. Urban Youth Educational Outreach. Anthony Maldonado (Business/ Philosophy Undergrad.).

Spring 2015. Campus ‘Clean-up’ Assess. Jessica Lauer (Education Undergrad.) and Jocelyn Richter (Education Grad.).

Fall 2013. Refugee Relocation in EPA “impact zones”. Sophie Herman (Human Geog. Undergrad.).

Assistant Teaching (total: 10 classes)

Assistant Instructor: World Civilizations II: University at Buffalo: Spring 2012 (2 sections)

Assistant Instructor: World Civilizations I: University at Buffalo: Fall 2011 (3 sections)

Tutor: Philosophy/Composition: University at Buffalo (Center for Academic Development): Summer 2008

TA: English Composition: University at Buffalo (Center for Academic Development): Summer 2008 (2 sections)

TA: Introduction to Philosophy: SUNY Buffalo State: Spring 2006 (double section); Fall 2005 (double section)