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Norton Overview


									                               Outline and Reading List
              Reframing the Land Ethic: Sustainability and the Humanities
                             Philosophy, July 11-13, 2011
                                    Bryan Norton

July 11: Leopold: Sustainable Thinking without the Word

         Aldo Leopold, while a daring thinker who speculated brilliantly about natural
value in a human world (and human value in natural world), was a hard-headed
pragmatist, both as a thinker and as a doer. The fulcrum argument in environmental
ethics today is not between anthropocentrists and nonanthropocentrists, but between
“monists” and “pluralists”. Monists attempt to construe all environmental values in a
single theory and means of expression so that all outcomes can be judged according to a
unifying rule. Pluralists expect actors to be affected by multiple, sometimes
incommensurable values and must seek a reasonable balance among competing goods.
         Interpretations of Aldo Leopold’s work split according to the monist/pluralist
dichotomy. Nonanthropocentrists such as J.B. Callicott posit a sharp distinction between
instrumental and intrinsic values and believe all values must be traced to a contribution to
the latter, and see Leopold as rejecting utilitarian reasoning in favor of a radical departure
in Western ethics—intrinsic values of nature trump instrumental values to humans. I will
propose and defend a more pluralistic interpretation of Leopold’s work on which he
recognizes multiple values that emerge at different scales of natural systems. This latter
view, it will be argued, places Leopold within the Progressive Tradition, but as part of
what can be called “The Third Way” (Norton, 2005; Minteer, 2006) The Third Way
eschews both the rampant economism and Social Darwinism associated with the gilded
age and also plays down the mysticism of Muir in favor of a pervasive application of the
“method of experience.” The Third Way offers a pragmatic method which applies the
scientific method to questions of both fact and value. Leopold, on my interpretation,
embraced an “adaptive” approach to conservation of both natural and social value and he
was pluralistic in the sense that he learned from multiple ethical viewpoints and saw
resource use problems as a question of balancing multiple values across multiple scales
of time and space.
         This interpretation will be drawn out of a careful reading of Leopold’s first
attempt at a conservation ethic (“Some Fundamentals”), linked to Leopold’s interest in
pragmatism (in the work of Hadley, President of Yale when Leopold studied there), and
culminating in an experimental, experience-based approach that incorporated multiple
ethics and a commitment to judge the resource use of cultures by the results of their
practices, not by their ideologies. We will see that, at the end of “Some Fundamentals,”
Leopold endorses a comprehensive ethic of practice, and states (in every way other than
using the word) a broad and durable sustainability ethic.

Thought Questions:

1. Is Leopold best seen as having begun as a Pinchotist and ended as a Muirian? Or, did
Leopold find a “Third Way,” a way that combined a pluralistic attitude and an application
of the scientific method as a guide to progressive policies?
2. What role did analogies and metaphors play in Leopold’s philosophy of management?

3. Did Leopold see policies to protect interests of humans and interests of nature as
divergent or as convergent?


         Aldo Leopold, “Some Fundamentals of Conservation in the

         A.T. Hadley, “The Influence of Charles Darwin on Historical and Political
         Science,” pp. 121-142 of Influences of Modern Thought. Originally published in
         Psychological Review, 1909.

         Aldo Leopold, “Marshland Elegy,” “Thinking Like a Mountain,” A Sand County
         Almanac. (1949)

         Norton, Sustainability: A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management,
         (2005) Especially Sections 2.3, 2.4; Ch. 3, Ch.6; Section 12.7.

         Ben Minteer, The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental
         Thought In America. (2006) (Passim)

Note: Readers are directed to p. xvii-xviii of Sustainability for several shortened routes through this rather
long book. By following one of these guides, you may be able to get what you want/need from the book in a
lot fewer pages.

July 12: Sustainability: Economics, Ecology, Ethics; An Interdisciplinary Tour

         Sustainability is perhaps best thought of as a political concept, at least in the sense
that it began to carry weight in international and in domestic policy discourse and actions
before it was given a clear meaning in either academic or socio-economic discourse. As
such, it appears to academics and disciplinarians as a “bucket” into which one might wish
to pour substance, substance in the form of theory and technical elaboration that would
interpret sustainability as a concept whose analysis should be carried out in the discourse
of one’s discipline of choice. Not surprisingly, this situation has resulted in disciplinary
turf wars and in contestation over which discipline will dominate the discourse of
choosing and pursuing sustainable development.
We will explore some characteristic disciplinary readings, including one by an
economist, one by an ecologist, and some of my consideration of what sustainability
“should” mean. I see ethics and evaluation studies as essential to enlightening our search
for sustainability by considering what we can and must know in order to determine what
would be a “fair bequest” to future generations.
In practice, defining a “fair bequest” to future generations has become a multidisciplinary
point of controversy, as economists insist that sustainability is a matter of growth theory
and of maintaining capital stocks over generations, while ecologists reject economists’
equilibrium theories because they do not take into account the importance ecologists
place on the “resilience” of ecological systems and on the possibility that systems can
reorganize and enter alternative, less beneficial regimes. In an attempt to weigh these
various disciplinary claims, I outline my own conception of sustainability, one that owes
much to Leopold’s Thinking Like a Mountain, but places responsibility upon
communities to determine what they value enough to sacrifice in order to save. I call my
approach “Normative Sustainability”.

Thought Questions:
1. What is sustainability?
2. What discipline should be the fulcrum point from which we move our culture onto a
sustainable path?
3. Can there be a “science” of sustainability?

Robert Solow, “Sustainability: An Economists’ Perspective,”
       Brian Walker and David Salt, Resilience Thinking “Forward”, “Preface,” Ch.
       1,2,3,6; peruse case studies.
       Norton, Sustainability, Esp. Ch. 3, 8-9.

July 13: Adaptive Management, Sustainability, and the Evaluation of Change

         Strong sustainability thinking has formed a partnership with a “movement” in
resource and environmental management, Adaptive Management. The approach to be
proposed places more emphasis on processes of decision making and public involvement
in setting sustainability goals than on articulating fixed sustainability objectives. This
emphasis, in turn, requires a realistic understanding of environmental problems and their
moral and political complexity, which is matched by the complexity of the systems that
increasingly must be managed as the human footprint expands across the globe.
         Central to a rational approach to achieving sustainability must be an emphasis on
processes that allow contemporary societies to learn their way toward sustainability,
modifying and reconsidering goals as well as appropriate means by which to decide what
policies and what interventions will construct a path toward sustainable development for
a given community.
         We will contrast two approaches to pursuing sustainable policies: on one
approach, the first step is to propose and agree upon a set of objectives which, once met,
would constitute sustainability. This approach, once the objectives are set in advance,
can relegate discussion of achieving sustainability to be one of developing means to
achieve a well-defined goal; and it lends itself to a resource management tradition in
which scientific experts are dominant. We will consider an alternative approach on
which it is admitted that both sustainability goals and sustainability means are obscure at
the outset and pursues an adaptive, learn-by-doing approach to specifying, at a
community level, both the goals and means of sustainable living.
Thought Questions:

1. Can sustainability objectives/goals be set in advance? Is it possible to act to move
toward sustainability without having defined goals?

2. How can communities articulate, through deliberative processes, the values that are
important to protect?

3. Are sustainability goals necessarily generated locally? Are there general aspects of
sustainability that will be a part of any local sustainability process?

4. Does designating a given problem a “wicked problem” mean that we cannot pursue
solutions to it in a rational manner?


       Norton, “The Ways of Wickedness,” ms or Sustainability, Ch. 5

       Suggested: H. Rittel and M. Webber, Dilemmas in the General Theory of
       Planning,” Policy Sciences, 4(1993), 155-169.

       H. Simon, “From Substantive to Procedural Rationality” in F. Hahn and M. Hollis
       (eds), Philosophy and Economic Theory, Oxford U. Press, 1979.

       S. Funtowicz and J. Ravetz, “Science for the Post-Normal Age,” in L. Westra and
       J. Lemons, Eds.,Perspectives on Ecological Integrity. Kluwer, 1995.

       Norton, “Ethics and Sustainable Development: An Adaptive Approach to
       Environmental Choice.” From: Atkinson, Dietz, and Neumayer, Handbook of
       Sustainable Development, pp. 27-44.

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