Advances in Ecological Economics series
Chapter 9: Incorporating values in a bottom-line ecological economy
Values are different from tastes. Tastes are personal and subjective. They belong to the private sphere of our life. Values, in contrast, are impersonal and objective. They belong to the public sphere. We all have a right to our own individual tastes, but not to our own individual values or our own individual facts. Of course, relativists will deny this, claiming that we all have the right to determine values for ourselves. Some postmodernists would even allow us to construct and deconstruct our own facts. Such license in choosing our own values and facts eliminates the basis for affirming the objective truth of anything, including relativism, and is therefore self-contradictory. Ecological economics has inherited the same value presupposition from both of its parents, making it quite a strong legacy. This is the idea that individual selfishness and competitive struggle lead to the greater collective good. From economics, beginning with Adam Smith, comes the ‘invisible hand’. From biology, via ecology, comes Darwin’s natural selection of the best adapted individuals in the face of competition for the limited means of subsistence forced by Malthusian population pressure. In part, these are two factual insights into how the world works, rather than the affirmation of a value. Competition is a fact. But in both cases the lamentable fact is blessed by its valued consequences – market efficiency and evolutionary progress. There are other traditions both in economics and biology that are contrary to the selfishness emphasis.
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