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The Values of Nature

Clive Spash and Tone Smith

No 03/2021, SRE-Discussion Papers from WU Vienna University of Economics and Business

Abstract: The values of Nature are today ever more contested in attempts to reduce them to a narroweconomics calculus and financial metrics. The crisis of modernity is evident is that the concept ofNature itself has been subject to post-modern deconstruction as archaic Romanticism whilesimultaneously being made into a modernist capital form by economists, bankers and financiers. Inthis paper we start by defining the meaning of Nature before moving to its values, the two beinginseparable. Nature is seen as combining three aspect: (i) being ‘other’ than human, (ii) abiophysical structure and (iii) a quality which humans commonly and intuitively reference butstruggle to specify. When turning to the values of Nature we describe the three major meta-ethicalsystems of Western philosophy—utilitarianism, deontology and virtue ethics. The contestationespecially between utilitarian and rights-based approaches is explored. The role of intrinsic value inthese systems is outlined. Modern mainstream economic valuation is then placed in context of theforgoing discussion and critically reviewed as a misguided but hegemonic approach to valuingNature. The terrain of debate is laid out, briefly covering recent developments of rights to Natureand Nature’s contribution to people. That Nature cannot be dismissed as a concept (somethingattempted by some post-modernists and strong constructionists), but remains importantly contestedin terms of its values, is central to understanding the on-going social-ecological conflicts created by.

Keywords: environmental values, Nature, ethics, utilitarianism, rights, virtue, incommensurability,intrinsic value, economic valuation, moral considerability; standing, plural values (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-env, nep-hme, nep-hpe and nep-upt
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