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Chapter 3: Making Ethical Decisions. Sustainability and ethics Sustainability means taking into account not just utility but also moral values and goals.

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Presentation on theme: "Chapter 3: Making Ethical Decisions. Sustainability and ethics Sustainability means taking into account not just utility but also moral values and goals."— Presentation transcript:

1 Chapter 3: Making Ethical Decisions

2 Sustainability and ethics Sustainability means taking into account not just utility but also moral values and goals. The ethical aspects of sustainability often remain implicit, however, as most analyses focus on economic, social, environmental, and technical issues.

3 What is ethics? Ethics is reflection on the nature and definition of the good. There are both philosophical and religious approaches to ethics.

4 Religious Ethics Probably the earliest, and still the most prevalent, way of thinking about values is religious. Religion involves ritual, symbol, community life, institutions, doctrines, and many other factors.

5 Human nature? Achieving sustainability challenges us to reflect on the assumptions about human nature that underlie moral, political, and economic claims. Many religions see people as intrinsically dependent upon and responsible to other people, in contrast to the individualism of the dominant culture.

6 Three legs, three kinds of ethics The traditional three legs of sustainability – economic, environmental, and social – correspond to different subfields of ethics.

7 Sustainability does not just cut and paste but tries to integrate social, economic and environmental ethics.

8 Environmental Ethics Environmental ethics addresses the value of non-human nature. It may be concerned about entire ecosystems or regions or with smaller units such as species, individual non-human animals or plants, or landscape features such as mountains or forests.

9 Stewardship ethics One of the most important approaches in environmental ethics is known as the stewardship model, which comes from the biblical injunction to be good stewards of the land and non-human animals.

10 The Integrity of Creation Another religious principle regarding nature is the integrity of creation, or the notion that because God created the natural world as well as humans, nature has its own intrinsic value and is not meant only to serve short-term human interests.

11 Social ethics Social ethics is primarily concerned with the ethical dimensions of group decisions, attitudes, and actions. Sustainability entails a social ethic because it involves goods that are collective in nature.

12 Social Justice Like the ethics of sustainability, Hebrew and Christian scriptures emphasize social justice. Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the biblical prophet Amos in his I have a dream speech (August 1963): … until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

13 Economic Ethics Economic ethics can be seen as a subfield of social ethics, one concerned in particular with the moral foundations, characteristics, and consequences of economic activities and institutions. Sustainability involves an economic ethic that seeks both stability and fairness.

14 Economic and social goals are intertwined. Decisions about economic processes and institutions inevitably favor one social good or another. Sustainability involves social and economic values that are not priorities in contemporary U.S. society, or many other societies.

15 Philosophical ethics Contemporary Western culture, including its efforts to become more sustainable, is strongly influenced by philosophical ethics. The secular tradition in Western ethics begins with the classical Greek thinkers, especially Plato and Aristotle.

16 Justice Like religious thinkers, classical philosophers were especially concerned with justice. Aristotle defined justice as giving to each his or her due.

17 Kant Immanuel Kant ( ) is the father of modern philosophical ethics.

18 Deontological Ethics Deontological ethics defines good practices as those that identify and follow the correct rules or uphold correct duties. The most famous rule is Kants categorical imperative: Always act according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can at the same time will (Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals).

19 Rights Rights are moral claims that certain categories of persons can make on other persons, who are, in turn, duty bound to respect those claims. Human rights theories are important for the social, economic, and also environmental dimensions of sustainability.

20 Human Rights On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Full text is available at

21 Consequentialist Ethics In consequentialist or teleological ethics, decisions about what to do and evaluations of the morality of an action, are based on the expected or actual consequences of a behavior.

22 Utilitarianism The most important consequentialist ethic is Utilitarianism, developed by English philosophers Jeremy Bentham ( ) and John Stuart Mill ( ). For Bentham, the ultimate goal of ethics should be to create the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Jeremy Bentham

23 Pragmatism Pragmatism originated with the work of American philosophers C. S. Peirce ( ), William James ( ), and John Dewey ( ). Pragmatists assert that knowledge comes from practical experience and that value must be judged by practical consequences rather than intentions or relations to abstract goods.

24 Postmodernism Postmodernism poses challenges to both religious and secular ethics by challenging both the use of reason and divine revelation as means to identify absolute values.

25 Ethical decision-making Ethics can help people identify the values that are most important to them and analyze possible actions or outcomes in relation to these values. Ethics is not just applying rules to clear-cut situations but often requires asking new questions, seeking out multiple answers, and weighing the consequences of different options.

26 Framing Ethics is about finding the right questions as well as the right answers. Better framing of ethical issues makes it possible to avoid obstacles that prevent people from arriving at solutions that maximize diverse goods.

27 False Dilemmas Sometimes people see decisions as dilemmas with only two, mutually exclusive and opposed solutions, either of which would us to sacrifice of important values.

28 Freezing Another common obstacle to ethical solutions is reactive thinking or freezing. In such cases, people try to cope with a problem after it has developed. Instead, we might think proactively and ask whether ethical problems can be changed, made less serious, or even eliminated.

29 Principles of an Ethic of Sustainability It should be theoretically coherent. It must be both clear and consistent with regard to its philosophical foundations It should address the question of rights or interests. It should be feasible or practical.

30 Social ethics of sustainability From social ethics, the most important principles for sustainability concern justice and obligations to future generations.

31 Economic ethics of sustainbility Sustainable economics considers the regulation of markets in order to address the true costs of pollution and other social and environmental harms. This is summarized as the Polluter Pays principle (also known as full cost accounting).

32 Environmental Ethics of Sustainability Sustainability highlights principles that integrate concern for both human welfare and natural systems. Specific environmental principles for sustainability is the Precautionary Principle and the Reversibility Principle.

33 Fair trade certification helps ensure social justice and economic stability for producers of food, crafts, and other goods, especially in the developing world.

34 Sustainability integrates diverse ethical principles in theory and practice. It is not just a patchwork of disparate values but an integrated system in which the parts work together to reinforce each other.


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