"The first generation to end poverty and the last to save the planet?"-Western individualism, human rights and the value of nature in the ethics of global sustainable development

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Abstract

The UN Agenda 2030 lends itself to an interpretation in light of the human rights framework and related contractualist ethical theories. These frameworks have been developed in the context of Western individualism. This paper analyses the sustainable development goals in light of the debate between human rights on the one side and the rights of nature on the other side. It argues that human rights are often (though not exclusively) linked to social contract theories. The paper points out strengths and weaknesses of contractualist individualism. It discusses various challenges to the contractualist framework. How can contractualist individualism deal with the representation of future generations? What assumptions does the social contract make with regard to the nature of the individual? Should we conceive of them, e.g., as utility maximizers or as idealized rational agents? A final weakness of the framework is that contractualism seems to ignore other values, especially the value of nature. The paper therefore sketches recent developments in ethical theory that attempt to go beyond Western individualism.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1853
Number of pages16
JournalSustainability
Volume10
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2018

Keywords

  • Anthropocentrism
  • Environmental ethics
  • Human rights
  • Individualism
  • Social contract
  • Sustainability
  • Value of nature

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