Week 7 Technology and the Environment

Week 7 Technology and the Environment - Technology and the...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Technology and the Environment The Tragedy of the Commons Globalization Charting a New Future The Tragedy of the Commons “If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the result will be to worsen the situation” ( Scientific American , 1964) Garrett Hardin begins his seminal article on overpopulation and the world’s natural resources with that intriguing quote. As stated, it referred to the nuclear arms race of the 1960s. But Hardin uses it to posit that the same argument could be applied today to overpopulation and our depletion of the world’s natural resources. A finite world can only support a finite population. Now if everyone demands approximately 1600 calories per day to survive, then there will be a continued demand on the earth’s resources to provide that amount of nourishment. In our previous lecture, we saw how Jeremy Bentham advocated “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” But what if the sheer number of people overwhelms the world’s ability to feed them? Is Bentham’s maxim even useful at that point? Hardin then gives an interesting analogy. Suppose there were a number of herdsmen on a limited amount of land (“the commons”). But suppose one day one herdsman applies Bentham’s maxim to his own happiness and decides that he is going to add one animal to his herd. His happiness increases by plus one. But then each herdsman decides that it is to their benefit to do the same. And so forth. The overall effect of overherding would ruin all the herdsmen as there wouldn’t be enough grazing land left to support everyone. The English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called this a tragedy in the sense that “the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness [but] resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.” The writings of Joseph Fletcher (1905-1991) are useful in this regard. Fletcher, an Episcopalian priest, argued that in real life situations, we have to take normative ethical principles ( sic natural law, Kant’s categorical imperative, etc.) and put them into the actual context in which they occur. Fletcher does not want to do away with norms, but realizes that each ethical decision has to be judged on its own merit . Whereas deontological and natural law ethics require that ethical principles be absolute, situational ethics do not. Fletcher notes that “the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.” Take for example the case of environmental pollution. Using “the commons” for waste disposal may not have been morally wrong in the 1800s, since the environment then was able to absorb it. But using the land for industrial runoff today severely harms the land as well as the resources needed by humans to sustain themselves. As Hardin notes, “the commons, if justifiable at all, is justifiable only under conditions of low-population density.” The march towards this “tragedy” began when man began to enclose the land and restrict access to common hunting
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Page1 / 4

Week 7 Technology and the Environment - Technology and the...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online