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The Economics of Nature and the Nature of Economics

Edited by Cutler J. Cleveland, David I. Stern and Robert Costanza

This book discusses important recent developments in the theory, concepts and empirical applications of ecological economics and sustainable development. The editors have assembled a fascinating collection of papers from some of the leading scholars in the field of ecological economics.
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Chapter 2: Theories and methods in ecological economics: a tentative classification

Joan Martinez-Alier, Giuseppe Munda and John O’Neill


Joan Martinez-Alier, Giuseppe Munda and John O’Neill ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS: THE STUDY AND ASSESSMENT OF (UN)SUSTAINABILITY Ecological economics has been defined as ‘the science and management of sustainability’ (Costanza, 1991). More modestly, we define ecological economics as ‘the study and assessment of (un)sustainability’. Ecological economics does not resort to a unique type of value expressed in a single numeraire. On the contrary, in our view, ecological economics encompasses neoclassical environmental and resource economics, but it also goes beyond it, by including the physical appraisal of the environmental impacts of the human economy. Ecological economists have often argued in favour of ‘methodological pluralism’ (Norgaard, 1989). In the tradition of analytical philosophy, Otto Neurath may be seen as an ecological economist both for his part in the discussion in the 1920s on the economics of socialism, where he pointed to uncertain future externalities as one reason for his defence of physical indicators, against commensurability of economic values, and also for his work on the unity of the sciences (O’Neill, 1995). Neurath, though a logical positivist, already advocated a pluralism of methods (Neurath, 1946, p. 232). True, Neurath mistakenly thought that all sciences would advance towards a physicalist language, and this we oppose. We concur with him, however, in his vision of the ‘orchestration of the sciences’, an encyclopaedia in which the findings of the different sciences would be coordinated, and the contradictions and incompatibilities would be addressed, instead of being dismembered into the departments of the universities and the journals of...

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