Philosophy and Public Affairs 30 (4):387-416 (2001)

Stephen M. Gardiner
University of Washington
In two celebrated and widely-anthologized articles, as well as several books, the biologist Garrett Hardin claims (a) that the world population problem has a certain structure – it is a tragedy of the commons - and, (b) that, given this structure, the only tenable solutions involve either coercion or immense human suffering. In this paper, I shall argue for two claims. First, Hardin’s arguments are deeply flawed. The population problem as he conceives it does not have the structure of a commons; and even if it did, this would not necessitate the extreme responses he canvasses. Second, nevertheless, much of Hardin’s pessimism is justified. Some environmental problems associated with population do have tragic structures, though these are of a different form than Hardin envisions. For example, the problem of global climate change has an intergenerational aspect that makes it importantly worse than Hardin’s commons, and for this reason (as opposed to Hardin’s) extreme responses may be needed to avert environmental catastrophe.
Keywords Hardin  Population  Climate Change  Prisoner's dilemma
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/j.1088-4963.2001.00387.x
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 63,323
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Future Generations: Present Harms.John O'neill - 1993 - Philosophy 68 (263):35 - 51.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

On the Concept of Climate Debt: Its Moral and Political Value.Jonathan Pickering & Christian Barry - 2012 - Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 15 (5):667-685.
The Most Important Thing About Climate Change.John Broome - 2010 - In Jonathan Boston, Andrew Bradstock & David Eng (eds.), Public Policy: Why Ethics Matters. ANU E Press. pp. 101-16.

View all 21 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Tragedy of the Commons: The Meaning of the Metaphor.John Vandermeer - 1996 - Science and Society 60 (3):290 - 306.
Ethical Obligations in a Tragedy of the Commons.Baylor L. Johnson - 2003 - Environmental Values 12 (3):271-287.
The Tragedy of the Digital Commons.Gian Maria Greco & Luciano Floridi - 2004 - Ethics and Information Technology 6 (2):73-81.
Rethinking the Commons.Ronald J. Herring - 1990 - Agriculture and Human Values 7 (2):88-104.
The Tragedy of the Commons as an Essentially Aggregative Harm.Elizabeth Kahn - 2014 - Journal of Applied Philosophy 31 (3):223-236.
No Tragedy on the Commons.Susan Jane Buck Cox - 1985 - Environmental Ethics 7 (1):49-61.
Forget Ocean Front Property, We Want Ocean Real Estate!Amy Motichek, Walter Block & Jay Johnson - 2008 - Ethics, Place and Environment 11 (2):147 – 155.
Tragedies Without Commons.Christopher Knapp - 2011 - Public Affairs Quarterly 25 (1):81-94.
The Tragedy of the Commons as a Voting Game.Luc Bovens - 2015 - In Martin Peterson (ed.), The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Classic philosophical arguments. Cambridge University Press. pp. 156-176.
Two Theories of Environmental Regulation.John Hasnas - 2009 - Social Philosophy and Policy 26 (2):95-129.
The Tragedy of the Ethical Commons: Demoralizing Environmentalism.William Chaloupka - 2002 - In Jane Bennett & Michael J. Shapiro (eds.), The Politics of Moralizing. Routledge. pp. 113--140.


Added to PP index

Total views
338 ( #26,502 of 2,448,728 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
4 ( #178,140 of 2,448,728 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes