Deconstructing Jefferson's candle: Towards a critical realist approach to cultural environmentalism and information policy

In this essay, I hope to move information policy towards firmer normative ground by introducing the resources of critical realism and environmental virtue ethics to intellectual property scholarship. Culture, like the natural environment, will flourish if well-tended and collapse if polluted and despoiled. The cultural environmentalist movement is right to compare human culture to the natural environment, but it strips the environmental metaphor of any normative force when it depicts culture as an infinitely malleable social construction. Critical realism (as distinguished from critical legal studies) is a broad philosophical and epistemological approach that avoids the extremes of modern positivism and postmodern skepticism. A critical realist perspective suggests that culture, like the natural environment, can be shaped by human activity only within the limits established by the external reality in which we find ourselves. Those limits can be embodied in virtues and practices similar to those that the field of environmental virtue ethics has found helpful in reference to the natural environment. The essay concludes with an application of these ideas to the network neutrality debate.
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