Ecology, Policy, and Politics: Human Well-Being and the Natural World

By John O'Neill | Go to book overview

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HUMAN WELL-BEING AND THE NATURAL WORLD

What is it for us to live well? How should ‘human well-being’ be understood and characterized? Which social institutions best enable human beings to live a good life? How should we formulate policies to foster human well-being? What role do the sciences and arts have in its development? These are some of the central questions addressed in this book. Why? Should a book on environmental philosophy begin with questions about human well-being?

The place that considerations about human well-being should have in environmental concerns has been at the centre of recent debates. The literature on the environment is dominated by two broad approaches, each of which might be expected to respond very differently to my opening questions. This book argues that both are mistaken. The first position is that which holds that environmental problems can be accommodated within existing procedures of public decision-making and by the standard economic positions that found them. Thinkers who defend this view are likely to be quite happy to start from my initial set of questions about human well-being. Thus, for environmental economists who approach ecological problems from within the standard neoclassical paradigm that underpins the main tool of policy-making—cost-benefit analysis—the questions with which I begin are just those with which a book on environmental issues should begin. On this particular point the Austrian paradigm of Menger, von Mises and Hayek et al. would concur. Economics, for these thinkers, is concerned with human well-being, and that stance is not substantially changed when environmental issues are raised. Well-being is characterized in terms of the satisfaction of wants or preferences—the stronger the preference satisfied, the greater the well-being. The strength of a preference is captured in terms of the

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