While resilience is a major concept in development, climate adaptation, and related domains, many doubts remain about how to interpret this term, its relationship with closely overlapping terms, or its normativity. One major view is that, while resilience originally was a descriptive concept denoting some adaptive property of ecosystems, subsequent applications to social contexts distorted its meaning and purpose by framing it as a transformative and normative quality. This article advances an alternative philosophical account based on the scrutiny of C.S. Holling’s original work on resilience. We show that resilience had a central role among Holling’s proposals for reforming environmental science and management, and that Holling framed resilience as an ecosystem’s capacity of absorbing change and exploiting it for adapting or evolving, but also as the social ability of maintaining and opportunistically exploiting that natural capacity. Resilience therefore appears as a transformative social-ecological property that is normative in three ways: as an intrinsic ecological value, as a virtue of organizations or management styles, and as a virtuous understanding of human–nature relations. This interpretation accounts for the practical relevance of resilience, clarifies the relations between resilience and related terms, and is a firm ground for further normative work on resilience.
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