Class Blog for “The Good Society”

Hello, Good Society class and other readers! This blog is for discussion of the readings and ideas of the class “The Good Society” at the University of Iowa, Fall 2015. Please see the “About” section for the ground rules.

I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say and to an engaging discussion!


12 thoughts on “Class Blog for “The Good Society”

  1. After reading the article “Ecosystem” I noticed one part of the article that I didn’t quite agree with. When Erle Ellis comments “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” (First coined by Aristotle) I have a hard time agreeing with this quote. I say this because I believe, as does Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin, that each individual organism or gene is selfish – Survival of the fittest. As I read Richard Dawkins book “The Selfish Gene” I realized that maybe deep down we our programmed to be selfish. To ensure that our kind makes it further down the path of life than any other organism. Ever since the first molecule was miraculously formed in some chemically filled puddle of atoms it started multiplying which then lead to a number of molecules that evolved and evolved until many many years later the evolution of man became real. But which molecules were able to survive and make it out of that puddle of chemicals? Now thats what I want to leave up in the air for discussion. Was it those who believed that each individual of an ecosystem is living to benefit the whole or was it the molecule that believed in living to benefit himself?


    • 5 points. I haven’t read Dawkins’ book, but I do think we need to be careful with Darwin. Darwin was mostly talking about species, not so much individual organisms. Also, “survival of the fittest” was not coined by Darwin but rather Herbert Spencer, who originated the idea of “social Darwinism.” There is a lot of research showing there are also “cooperative genes” and certainly plenty of examples throughout history of people choosing cooperation and community action rather than mere self-interest. I think the upshot is that humanity–and nature–are complicated. It can’t just be one or the other–we all have varying impulses, both self-oriented and collectively oriented.


  2. Rachel Henkle: In this article it often refers to the ecosystem as a functional community of living or non living organisms that make up a whole to benefit from one another while interacting in their community. I agree with some of the statements given, while others seem to pose more debate whether they hold some truth or not. When Erle Ellis goes on to say that an ecosystem is built upon the concept of living organisms living together to interact and produce more complex systems, this seems very plausible. Then when he goes to say that a great ecosystem is solely based upon “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” I disagree. I feel as though what makes up a great ecosystem are the individual parts and the significance they give to the environment and more. I do however agree with the idea of everything being connected. I’m not necessarily saying that physically everything is connected, but all that goes on in each individual environment of an ecosystem connects in a way where whatever interactions happen will go on to affect those it surrounds. According to Aurthur Tansley an ecosystem is relatively “The whole system, including not only the organism complex, but also the whole complex of physical factors forming what we call the environment.” Overall I like how he states what a ecosystem really is and the affect it has on those around him. We are individuals that make up a whole to form something great.


    • 5 points. I believe if we think in terms of life and survival, the whole is greater than the parts in the sense that no one entity or even species could survive without the others. Life cannot be instigated or sustained without the whole, so life itself is the thing that is greater than the whole.


  3. When reading the article I was also confused when I came across Erle Ellis comment ” The whole is greater than the sum of its parts(originally said by Aristotle). I thought that the whole would equal the sum of its parts if anything ( a simple equation). But when looking closer at pictures/structures provided I noticed you can not deduce a whole system by simply looking at each part. You must look at the whole process in order to fully understand what is going on. Eco”systems” are made up of many different systems in which greatly affect the whole. For instance, when considering the food chain it is not entirely about which living things are considered but how they communicate and react with each other. When considering the systems some could argue that you are falling away from the whole and even its parts. That is why I strongly believe in Kurt Koffka comment in the New York: Harcourt-Brace. His belief was that, “It has been said: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is more correct to say that the whole is something else than the sum of its parts, because summing up is a meaningless procedure, whereas the whole-part relationship is meaningful.” I believe this is just a more detailed and updated comment than Aristotles which was made around 325 BC. His short and to the point comment seems fittingly and simple enough to those back then.


  4. Overall this article seemed to sum up the basics of what an ecosystem is and how it operates in our world today. The one line that I did not totally agree with was when the author said, “As always, energy doesn’t cycle.” Maybe it is the way that it is worded, but wouldn’t you consider energy to be cycled, as the plant uses energy to grow, and then we can consume the plant for energy, etc? To me you could really break this process down into very small yet powerful ways that energy actually is cycled around in an ecosystem. Yes, new energy is always needed to keep an ecosystem thriving, I do agree with that part of the paragraph. To me though, this article wasn’t discussing how to keep an ecosystem thriving, but more along the lines of what an ecosystem is and how it works, and that’s what makes me question if saying energy never cycles in an article like this is very plausible.


    • 5 points. Good observations, but what I think Bardal is saying is that energy is *used* in an ecosystem–it comes from an outside source (the sun). Energy is not recycled in the same way matter is in an ecosystem. Decomposition of matter leads to new matter (and life), but the energy just powers this process and works *through* the recycling process. An ecosystem does not create new energy or even recycle that energy. Think of it this way–if the source of energy (the sun) suddenly blinked out, the ecosystem would die–it would not be able to generate new source energy by recycling its matter.


  5. As I was reading the article we were assigned to read for Wednesday, I sat there the whole time I was reading it thinking to myself, “okay so what does all of this intensely descriptive ecosystem stuff have to do with our class?” Soon after contemplating the importance of the reading assignment we were given for awhile, I had an “aha” moment. To understand how an ecosystem works in its entirety is essential to understand the basis of this class. As Professor Dean described in today’s discussion, we all need to understand that there are many factors that are essential in order for an ecosystem to function and thrive properly. Ecosystems, as we know them, are made up of a variety of living and non-living organisms. If we are talking about literal ecosystems, factors like sunlight and soil are important. Although, as we referred in class today, we are not talking about a literal ecosystem, we are more-so discussing the idea of an ecosystem. Within this idea of an ecosystem and how it works, we focus on the interaction of the parts within the system, the interdependence of the parts, and how each part is responsible for the renewal of each other. Although the article we read was very specific and technical, from my point of view, what we need to learn from this reading assignment is the main principles that are necessary to make ecosystems work and function the way they do.


  6. Ecosystems: In the article that was assigned to us to read, it talked all about ecosystems. They gave us different definitions for the word “ecosystem”. They also talked about the history of the concept ecosystem. The article also talks about the future of our ecosystems, with all of our new technology and inventions being created and updated. The definition of the word “ecosystem” that I liked the most from the article and that I thought was the best definition of an ecosystem, was the very first sentence that started it off. The definition was “An ecosystem is a community of organisms interacting with each other and with their environment such that energy is exchanged and system-level processes, such as the cycling of elements, emerge.” It was tough to find, but the biggest thing that I got out of this article, is the fact that an ecosystem is like the word “home”, like what we talked about in our discussion. Just like how all of us students thought of many different definitions in what home means to us, many people have different meanings of what an ecosystem means to them. There is no wrong definition, there are just a lot of different ones.


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