Geomorphologists and overlooking the philosophy of science in geomorphology

Document Type : Review Article



Abstract extended

Geomorphologists and Overlooking of Philosophy of Science in Geomorphology

It is natural that a thoughtful man will attempt to understand the world and himself as part of it. Knowing about the subject under study is a prelude to each science. In numerous books, geomorphology is considered to be composed of three words of Greek origin, Geo (earth), Morphe (form) and Logos (identification) (Gutidrrez, 2005: 3; Thorn, 1988: 24; Chorley et al, 1996: 9). In the definition of the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG), it is the interdisciplinary and systematic study of landforms, their perspectives, and surface processes that create and modify complications (, 2013).
Men has always raised questions for understanding and explaining how these reliefs are shaped and how these reliefs can be effective in their lives. Examples of commonly asked questions in geomorphology are:
- Why are alluvial fans formed on the foothills?
- Why are most caves formed in limestone?
- Why are coastal cliffs retreating?
To explain the why of landforms, how they are formed should be explained. For Newton(1643-1727), the scientist should look at how, not why. Why questions can be answered with complex and irresponsible speculation and how questions can be answered with experiment (Capaldi, 2011: 232).
Although Whalley (1987: 86), believes that what questions, and the how of function and development of landscapes and landforms are dealt with in new geomorphological research, from the point of view of Yatsu, geomorphologists have tried to find answers to what, where and when questions and rarely seek answers to how questions (Gregory, 2010: 32). The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of scientific explanation in geomorphology and review and discuss the causes of insufficient attention of geomorphologists to philosophical issues in geomorphology and its implications.

.2-Material and Methods
Considering the theoretical nature of the discussion regarding the ontology and philosophy of geomorphology, the research method in this article is analytical-descriptive. Therefore, several sources in this field, mainly in English, were developed and reviewed over a long period of time. Because the lack of proper explanation of the philosophy of a science, after a while, leads to the mass production of largely repeated fruitless works and tendency to adjacent sciences, the importance of explanation in geomorphology was first discussed and then the reasons for the neglect or insufficient attention of geomorphologists to different philosophical attitudes and theoretical frameworks in geomorphology have been criticized. In the end, due to the importance of addressing philosophical issues, the necessity of more attention of geomorphologists to the philosophy of geomorphology was analyzed and solutions were presented.

3-Results and Discussions
3-1. Is geomorphology a science?
The definition of science can also be different depending on which school or philosophical perspective is to be considered. Baker considers science as a deliberate and observational process for understanding and knowledge that helps man understand the truth (Baker, 1996: 59).
Finally, the answer to the question of whether geomorphology is a science or not is a personal choice. In a scientific approach, geomorphic systems are considered to be physical systems that have had historical changes. This view shows the importance of general physical theories and geo-historical theories about the evolution of a particular perspective (Rhoads and Thorn, 1993). Apart from the philosophical views or personal divisions, the reasons for geomorphology to be science are:
1. Geomorphology seeks to explain landforms and processes.(e.g. the explanation of the events leading to the formation of alluvial cones).
2. Geomorphology, based on causality, tries to place landforms and processes under general rules (generalization).(e.g. the explanation of the formation of alluvial terraces in relation to the slope law).
3. Geomorphologists, like other experts in the field of empirical sciences, are always outside the scope of their research in the study of the subject.
4. The geomorphologist's main tool for gaining knowledge is observation, measurement and experiment.
5. With advances in science, including geomorphology, more knowledge will be obtained about complex problems in geomorphology in the future.

3-2. Is there a connection between geomorphology and philosophy?
Investigating landscapes is the main subject of geomorphology science (Harrison, 1999), and the necessary condition for this task is to collect data on ground forms and operating processes in accordance with ideas and hypotheses (Gregory, 2010: 29). Although the subject examined in geomorphology, i.e. the study of the evolution of landforms over time, fully reflects the philosophy and philosophical foundations of the field of geosciences (Rhoads and Thorn, 1994), and time was even one of the tripartite components of relief in the Davies paradigm, but "traditionally, geomorphologists refrain from discussing the philosophical foundations of geomorphology" (Harrison and Dunham, 1998).
There are three reasons why geomorphologists are suspect of the role of theory in geomorphology:
A. Differences in scientific viewpoints, goals and methodology of those who call themselves geomorphologists (Rhoads and Thorn, 1993).
.B. Many geomorphologists consider their main task as field work and observation (Rhoads and Thorn, 1993) and agree with this view that the fieldwork and the relationships established between landforms during fieldwork are the geomorphologist's final work (Slaymaker, 2009).
C. Extensive misinterpretation of the theory (a construction) against computing (communication device). Geomorphologists should not deceive themselves that the theory is not related to geomorphology, it is restricted to certain sciences, and has a computational aspect (Rhoads and Thorn, 1993).

If geomorphology aims to find a solid and supreme position among other sciences, geomorphologists must focus more on the philosophy and methodology of their discipline. The emphasis on explaining or recognizing how landforms and processes put geomorphology among empirical sciences. According to Rhoads (1999), physical geographers, and in particular geomorphologists, have begun to address philosophical issues. The interconnection between philosophers of science and geomorphologists can be the beginning of this work.
With the attraction of geomorphology among geosciences (geology and geography), environmental sciences and engineering and that people with different backgrounds want to introduce themselves as geomorphologists, a geomorphologist should have a "geomorphologic" view: i.e. a mixture of intuition, impudence in theorizing, and liberation from everyday life, but dependent on the experience and the physical reality that is created through theories. The first step in this way is to focus on the basic sciences, in particular, physics and its combination with the spatial analysis of landforms
Keywords: Ontology/epistemology of geomorphology, Landforms, Scientific Explanation.


Main Subjects

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Volume 53, Issue 1
April 2021
Pages 1-19
  • Receive Date: 18 February 2021
  • Revise Date: 19 April 2021
  • Accept Date: 19 April 2021
  • First Publish Date: 19 April 2021