Towards a Coherent Sustainability Ethics : A study on the meaning and moral underpinnings in Sustainability and their relation to consequential and deontological perspectives

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Teologiska institutionen

Abstract: The idea of writing this essay begun as an attempt to enter into the current discussion about the theory and ethics of sustainability. The essay aims to compare the meaning of sustainability with two ethical theories that are currently used in developmental and environmental issues, namely the theories of Martha Nussbaum and Peter Singer, and see how coherent these theories are with the concept of sustainability. In order to achieve the essays aims, the study will have to discuss first issues regarding the ‘meaning of sustainability’ and discuss the challenges in its conceptualisation to finally outline a reasonable framework meaning for sustainability. The paper contributes in this way in forming consistency between what the conceptualisation of sustainability represents and how ethical systems could be more coherent with these conceptualisation efforts. This essay aims to answer how deontological and utilitarian perspectives provide guidance regarding sustainability and if these perspectives are coherent with sustainability as a concept. The essay understands coherence as ideas or structures that are logically compatible and that logically support each other. This study concludes that there is a possibility to delineate a coherent meaning for sustainability as a two-level meaning structure; one formal meaning where we found the principle of sustainability and without which, we would not be talking about sustainability and a second level, called the substantive meaning, where four main ethical relations arise, and where obligations and responsibilities appear. The study also concludes that there are certainly fundamental moral ideals and moral ideas embedded in sustainability that have the potential to be agreed upon in a global consensus. The formal meaning of continuance (sustainability moral ideal) gives in turn some fundamental moral ideas (normative relations) at a second level of definition. Additionally, the study shows that it is not self-evident which ethical model is more or less coherent with sustainability but the results indicate that a strong, coherent and egalitarian idea about the value of life, whether as flourished and functional as opportunities and interests, on which many of today's ethical systems are based on, can help an ethical system to be more coherent with the meaning of sustainability.

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