Environmental sustainability as the first principle of distributive justice: Towards an ecological communitarian normative foundation for ecological economics
The ecological economic concern with environmental sustainability embodies the normative orientations of the field. This concern is foremost a matter of distributive justice, the definition of which determines the relevance of the appropriate scale and efficient allocation criteria. Yet it would appear that the discipline lacks a shared, internally consistent set of ethical premises by which this concern might be legitimized. Various authors have embraced a Rawlsian conception of liberal justice as the appropriate banner for ecological economics in place of the consequentialist-libertarian foundations of neoclassical economics (including environmental economics). It is argued here that this is insufficient in so far as it is premised on a vision of a discrete, self-sufficient economic actor. Instead, it is posited that an ecological economic ethic must proceed from an understanding of the economic actor as community member -- a recognition implicit in recent ecological economic contributions focused on discourse ethics and deliberative democracy. An ecological communitarian conception of distributive justice, which views the well-being of the individual as inseparable from the integrity of its implicate, mutually constituting human and non-human natural communities, is advanced as the appropriate basis for the ecological economic world-view. In this light, the thermodynamic foundations of ecological economics are seen to provide the necessary departure point for normative decision-making oriented towards ensuring sustainability in economic organization.
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