Sustainability A Philosophy of Adaptive Ecosystem Management
by Bryan G. Norton
University of Chicago Press, 2005
Cloth: 978-0-226-59519-1 | Paper: 978-0-226-59521-4 | Electronic: 978-0-226-59522-1


While many disciplines contribute to environmental conservation, there is little successful integration of science and social values. Arguing that the central problem in conservation is a lack of effective communication, Bryan Norton shows in Sustainability how current linguistic resources discourage any shared, multidisciplinary public deliberation over environmental goals and policy. In response, Norton develops a new, interdisciplinary approach to defining sustainability—the cornerstone of environmental policy—using philosophical and linguistic analyses to create a nonideological vocabulary that can accommodate scientific and evaluative environmental discourse.

Emphasizing cooperation and adaptation through social learning, Norton provides a practical framework that encourages an experimental approach to language clarification and problem formulation, as well as an interdisciplinary approach to creating solutions. By moving beyond the scientific arena to acknowledge the importance of public discourse, Sustainability offers an entirely novel approach to environmentalism.


Bryan G. Norton is professor of philosophy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is the author of Linguistic Frameworks and Ontology, Why Preserve Natural Variety? and Toward Unity among Environmentalists, and the editor of The Preservation of Species.


"Measured in terms of direct impact on environmental thinking and policy, Norton is arguably one of the top two or three environmental philosophers in the world. His reputation and import are demonstrated perfectly in this book. . . . [He] has produced yet another piece of important environmental scholarship. Natural resource management, and students thereof, would be greatly served by carefully considering the view of regimes such as adaptive management throught the critical lens of philosophical analysis. I can think of few better prompts for critical thought than Norton's treatise."
— Michael P. Nelson, Environmental Conservation

"Sustainability is the great synthesis of Bryan Norton's environmental thought. It is a comprehensive philosophical treatment of adaptive management of ecosystems, that is, how humankind may continue its life on Earth in decent conditions for the indefinite future. Considering its length and the systematic coverage of issues, there is hardly any single work comparable to it in the field of academic environmental philosophy. It is also exceptional in the sense that there is something in it for most environmental experts, from philosophy and economics to environmental politics, risk analysis, natural resources management and conservation ecology. Norton does not speak merely to his colleagues in philosophy."
— Markku Oksanen, Environmental Values


Preface: Beyond Ideology

A Note to the Busy Reader: Some Shorter Paths

1.1 The Old EPA Building

1.2 Towers of Babel: The Structural Problems at EPA

1.3 The Costs of Not Being Able to Get There from Here (Conceptually)

1.4 Hijinks and Political Hijackings

Part I: Setting the Stage for Adaptive Management

2.1 Introduction: The Importance of Language

2.2 Of Hedgehogs and Foxes

2.3 Progressivism, Pragmatism, and the Method of Experience

2.4 Environmental Pragmatism and Action-Based Logic

3.1 Aldo Leopold and Adaptive Management

3.2 What Is Adaptive Management?

3.3 Uncertainty, Objectivity, and Sustainability

3.4 A Pragmatist Epistemology for Adaptive Management

3.5 Uncertainty, Pragmatism, and Mission-Oriented Science

3.6 How Adaptive Management Is Adaptive

4.1 Avoiding Ideology by Rethinking Environmental Problems

4.2 Overcoming the Serial Approach to Environmental Science and Policy

Part II: Value Pluralism and Cooperation

5.1 The Practical Problem about Theory

5.2 Four Problems of Environmental Values

5.3 Where We Are: A Beginning-of-the-Century Look at Environmental Ethics

5.4 Economism as an Ontological Theory

5.5 Breaking the Spell of Economism and IV Theory

5.6 Pluralism and Adaptive Management: What the Study of Environmental Values Could Be

6.1 Radical, but How New?

6.2 A Naturalistic Method and a Procedure

6.3 Re-modeling Nature: Learning to Think like a Mountain

6.4 Hierarchy Theory and Multiscalar Management

7.1 Public Goods and Communal Goods

7.2 The Advantages of Democratic Experimentalism

7.3 Environmental Problems as Problems of Cooperative Behavior

7.4 Discourse Ethics

7.5 Experimental Pluralism: Naturalism and Environmental Values

8.1 Intertemporal Ethics

8.2 Strong versus Weak Sustainability

8.3 Philosophers and the Grand Simplification

8.4 Grandly Oversimplified?

8.5 Passmore and Shared Moral Communities

8.6 What We Owe the Future

8.7 The Logic of Intergenerational Obligation

9.1 A Schematic Definition of Sustainability

9.2 A Catalog of Sustainability Values

9.3 Beyond the Fact-Value Divide

9.4 Choosing Indicators as Community Self-Definition

Part III: Integrated Environmental Action

10.1 Decision Analysis and Community-Based Decision Making

10.2 What Does Not Work: The Red Book

10.3 Heading in the Right Direction: The Changing Field of Decision Science

10.4 Getting It Mostly Right: Understanding Risk

10.5 The Two Phases Revisited: Putting Multicriteria Analysis to Work

11.1 Beyond Towering

11.2 Philosophical Analysis and Policy Choice

11.3 Scale and Value: The Key to It All

11.4 Disciplinary Stew: The Prospects for an Integrated Environmental Science

11.5 Environmental Evaluation: A Fresh Start in the World of What-If

12.1 Conservation: Moral Crusade or Environmental Public Philosophy?

12.2 An Alternative: The Dutch System

12.3 EPA and Environmental Policy Today: A Report Card

12.4 Constitutive Values and Constitutional Environmentalism

12.5 Problem-Solving Environmentalism

12.6 Seeking Convergence

12.7 Ecology and Opportunity

A.1 Philosophy’s Abdication

A.2 The Rise of Linguistic Philosophy: Its Inevitability and Meaning

A.3 The Rise and Transformation of Logical Empiricism, aka Positivism

A.4 Pragmatism: The New Way Forward

A.5 Pragmatism and Environmental Policy

A.6 Philosophy’s Role: An Epilogue