Norton's conception of sustainability: Political, not metaphysical?

Environmental Ethics 29 (1):3-22 (2007)
In his new book, Sustainability: A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management, Bryan G. Norton proposes an account of sustainability grounded in the deliberation of local communities as part of an adaptive management process. One can distinguish two different ways of justifying his account—resulting in “political” and “metaphysical” conceptions of sustainability—in much the same way that John Rawls famously distinguishes between political and metaphysical conceptions of justice. Whereas the metaphysical conception of sustainability depends on principles that are specific to American pragmatist philosophical theory, the political conception draws on relatively uncontroversial elements of democratic political culture. Although Norton seems to lean toward a metaphysical conception of sustainability in his book, a political conception would actually be more compatible with the overarching aims of his project. Finally, the distinction between political and metaphysical conceptions could prove valuable as a model for thinking about how many of the current projects in environmental pragmatism relate to other strands of environmental philosophy. Thus, a potentially fruitful alteration to Norton’s recent work provides some conciliatory lessons for relating different projects in the field of environmental philosophy.
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DOI 10.5840/enviroethics200729126
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