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Über dieses Buch

The book identifies the specific ethical aspects of sustainability and develops ethical tools to analyze them. It also provides a methodological framework to integrate ethical and scientific analyses of sustainability issues, and explores the notion of a new type of self-reflective inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability research. With this, the book aims to strengthen the overall ability of academics to contribute to the analysis and solution of sustainability issues in an inclusive and integrated way.



Chapter 1. Introduction

This chapter provides an introduction into the subject matter and approach of the book. I motivate the need for an ethical approach toward sustainability. I argue that an ethical analysis is crucial to fully understand sustainability issues and that there is a substantial lack of ethical analysis in the discussions so far. I outline my main theses and line of argumentation, and the methodical and philosophical background on which the book is based.
Christian U. Becker

Sustainability and Ethics


Chapter 2. The Meaning of Sustainability

In this chapter, I discuss the meaning of the modern concept of sustainability. I argue that sustainability means more than just the ability to maintain or continue something. Rather, the core meaning of the modern concept of sustainability encompasses three aspects: continuance, orientation, and relationships. First, sustainability literally is about the continuance of something. Secondly, sustainability is an orientational concept, i.e. it has a normative and evaluative meaning: Sustainability usually is considered to be something positive, something we should strive for. Third, sustainability is a relational concept as it essentially addresses fundamental relations of the human being: the relation with other contemporaries, future generations, and nature. In other words, sustainability addresses our ability to recognize and realize ourselves as fundamentally relational beings, as beings embedded in the threefold relationship with others, future generations, and nature. It addresses the human being as a timely, socially, and naturally contingent being and the implications of this threefold contingence for human self-identity, life, and actions.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 3. The Inherent Ethical Dimension of Sustainability – Toward a Relational Ethical Perspective

In this chapter, I identify the ethical dimension of sustainability as grounded within the meaning of the term itself. I argue that the normative meaning of sustainability is not based on the continuance-aspect, but on the relational meaning of the term. Continuance is not a value or norm in itself. In regard to sustainability we need to know what systems, processes, or entities we should continue, and for what reasons. I argue that a criterion for decision cannot be found within the continuance aspect itself, but through the relational meaning of sustainability. The sustainability relations are the only fruitful and appropriate basis for construing the inherent origin and determination of the ethical dimension of the modern sustainability concept. It is only in regard to its relevance for the sustainability relations that the continuance of certain systems, processes, or entities can become a meaningful and justifiable imperative. In regard to the relational meaning of sustainability, I define the basic ethical question in regard to sustainability as follows: How ought one to live in regard to one’s embedment in the threefold relationship with contemporaries, future generations, and nature? An encompassing sustainability ethics must be a relational ethics, which is able to simultaneously address all three relations in an integrated way.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 4. Limits and Potential of Traditional Moral Philosophy and Current Ethics – Some Arguments for the Need for a New Type of Sustainability Ethics

In this chapter, I discuss the relevance of traditional moral philosophy for the analysis of the ethical dimension of sustainability. I argue that we cannot simply apply traditional moral philosophy, such as utilitarianism or deontology, to the ethical questions of sustainability, but that we rather need a new type of sustainability ethics. I also distinguish environmental ethics from sustainability ethics: subject matter of environmental ethics is the ethical dimension of the human-nature relationship, whereas the subject matter of sustainability ethics is the ethical aspects of the threefold relationship of human beings with contemporaries, future generation, and nature. However, I also identify elements of established ethics which are relevant for the project of sustainability ethics. I particularly refer to virtue ethics and ethics of care, and the insights of these theories into ethical aspects of relationships and the ethical relevance of structural and institutional frameworks for individual action and life. I argue that these insights can be made fruitful for sustainability ethics.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 5. The Challenges of Sustainability Ethics

Chapter 5 provides a short summary of Chaps. 2–4, which together constitute Part I of the book. I emphasize that sustainability ethics must be a relational ethics that entails an individual and a systemic component, and I outline the challenges of the development of such an ethical approach.
Christian U. Becker

Meta-structures and Sustainability


Chapter 6. Sustainability, Institutions, and Patterns of Thought and Action

Chapter 6 introduces the discussion of the structural aspects of sustainability ethics that refers to questions of what structures are relevant in the context of sustainability, what characteristics do these structures have, how do they affect the sustainability relations and by what approach could we analyze these structures and their impact? I discuss what attempts have been made so far in academic and public discussions to capture the structural aspects relevant for sustainability issues. I refer to public discussions about the role of concrete institutions such as big corporations, or the World Bank, or abstract patterns such as globalization. I also refer to academic discussions about the crucial role of general patterns of thought, such as the modern subject-object division or gender patterns for environmental and sustainability issues. Although all these theoretical and practical structures may have some relevance to the analysis of sustainability issues, I argue that the discussions so far have been insufficient. They tend to reduce the structural dimension to one single aspect, which often remains either too specific or too general. I argue that we rather need an approach which can analyze the complex interplay and interconnection of general patterns of thought and action, and concrete institutions and organizations.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 7. Meta-structures

In this chapter, I develop my own approach to the structural dimension of sustainability. I argue that it is neither a single pattern of thought nor specific institutions which are crucial in regard to sustainability, but rather complex clusters composed by theoretical patterns of thought, practical patterns of action, and institutions. I introduce the conception of meta-structures to analyze these clusters in detail. I define a meta-structure as a historically evolved structure composed of four elements—(1) basic assumptions, (2) basic evaluations, (3) driving forces, and (4) institutionalizations—that substantially affect societal and individual thoughts, actions, and relationships. Crucial examples are science, technology, and the economy, which are at the center of my analysis. As individuals, we are already located with our thought and actions in these meta-structures. This has a crucial impact on individual thinking and acting, particularly on the way we are related to other contemporaries, future generations and nature. I provide a detailed analysis of the meta-structures science, technology, and the economy, and identify and discuss their basic elements in regard to their meaning for sustainability.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 8. The Impact of the Web of Meta-structures on the Sustainability Relations

Chapter 8 provides conclusions from the analyses in Chap. 6 and 7. I discuss the overall impact of the meta-structures on the sustainability relations, i.e. on our relationship with contemporaries, future generations, and nature. The meta-structures play a crucial role for the understanding and actualization of the sustainability relations. It is not only each individual meta-structure that has a distinguished impact on the sustainability relations, but the complex, interrelated web of meta-structures as a whole. By the mechanisms of the web of meta-structures we are already set in a certain way into the sustainability relations. The individual cannot realize these relations with absolute autonomy or in isolation. Rather, the realization and actualization of the sustainability relations is already determined to a large extent by the meta-structures.
Christian U. Becker

Toward a New Sustainability Ethics


Chapter 9. The Relational Dimension of Sustainability Ethics and the Role of Individual Morality

In this chapter, I develop the first part of my approach of sustainability ethics and focus on the individual within the sustainability relations. This approach is a relational ethical approach which refers to some elements of virtue ethics and ethics of care. I argue that one crucial fundamental of sustainability ethics is the identity and self-understanding of the individual as a relational, interdependent, and virtuous person in the context of the sustainability relations, i.e., as a sustainable person. To develop this approach, I go back to the sustainability relations and proceed with the analysis of their characteristics and ethical implications. I discuss each of the three relationships—the relation with nature, with future generations, and with nature—in detail, and develop a set of characteristics of the sustainable person.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 10. The Structural Dimension of Sustainability Ethics

This chapter provides an ethical analysis of the structural dimension of sustainability. I argue that sustainability ethics cannot just refer to the individual and her ethical role within the sustainability relations, but must be complemented by a structural dimension of sustainability ethics, which addresses the ethical role of social and global structures in regard to the sustainability relations. I provide a detailed ethical analysis of the meta-structures science, technology, and the economy. My ethical analysis refers to the conception of the sustainable person developed in Chap.​ 9. I argue that meta-structures must be compatible with the cultivation of the sustainable person and her sustainable relations. However, the existing meta-structures do not fulfill this criterion. I demonstrate in detail that the current meta-structures show inherent elements and assumptions which are fundamentally in conflict with the concept of the sustainable person and, with this, are in conflict whit the normative meaning of sustainability. I particularly refer to the specific concepts of rationality, the paradigms of independence, control, and growth, and the dynamics of increasing complexity, immanent to science, technology, and economics. I argue that we need to redevelop the meta-structures with particular regard to these ethically problematic elements in order to make them sustainable, and I provide suggestions and examples for such a redevelopment.
Christian U. Becker

Toward an Encompassing Sustainability Research


Chapter 11. The Need for a New Type of Sustainability Research

Chapter 11 provides a starting point for discussing the methodological implications from my ethical analysis for sustainability research. I shortly refer to the literature on the topic and recent methodological conceptions, such as sustainability science, post-normal science, transdisciplinarity, or mode2 science. I argue that these conceptions have mainly focused on four aspects: (1) the integration of several disciplines, (2) the integration of science and society, (3) the reference to localness, time, and uncertainty, and (4) action and problem orientation. All these aspects are without doubt of importance for the design of sustainability research. However, I argue that the ethical dimension of sustainability has been neglected, and important implications for sustainability research have not been recognized. In particular, the ethical meaning of science itself in regard to sustainability has rarely been considered so far. In contrast, I aim to draw conclusions from the specific characteristics of the inherent ethical dimension of sustainability for the adequate design of sustainability research.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 12. Inter- and Transdisciplinarity

In this chapter, I refer to the existing concepts of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity to discuss some main principles for the design of sustainability research. However, I will provide a specific interpretation and definition of the concepts of inter- and transdisciplinarity, which currently have a rather broad and sometimes vague meaning, to make them fruitful for the design of the new type of sustainability research. I argue for a type of interdisciplinary sustainability research, which integrates different academic disciplines and ethics, and discuss some methodological challenges of this integration. Further, for the purpose of designing a new type of sustainability research, I suggest to extend and redefine the concept of transdisciplinarity. As a characteristic of sustainability research, I define transdisciplinarity as a reorientation of the meta-structure science with regard to the context of all three sustainability relations. This is a broader understanding of transdisciplinarity, which means not just a new social contract (Lubchenco 1998) for science to reorient on society, but rather a new sustainability contract for science to reorient towards the three sustainability relations— i.e. towards society, future generations, and nature.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 13. Capabilities and Personal Identity of the Researcher

In this chapter, I argue that the new type of sustainability research which I suggest makes high demands on the individual researcher, her capabilities, and personal identity. The individual researcher is a key element for the development and actualization of sustainability research. The characteristics of the issue of sustainability and the specific inter- and transdisciplinary design of sustainability research result in specific requirements for the sustainability researcher in regard to her (1) cognitive capabilities, (2) communication skills, and (3) personal morality and ethical competencies. This goes far beyond the requirements of analytical and scientific excellence usually made on a traditional scientist, which are, of course, also requirements for the sustainability researcher.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 14. The Role of Philosophy for Sustainability Research

In this chapter, I discuss the role of philosophy for the analysis of sustainability issues. I argue that philosophy should play a crucial role in sustainability research. Philosophy can provide the abilities of critical reflection necessary to design and conduct this type of research and can play an important role in the training and education of sustainability researchers. Philosophy can contribute to interdisciplinary integration of sciences and ethics by analyses of the self-identity, concepts, methods, basic assumption, evaluations, and implicit normative aspects of particular sciences, the discussion of their relationships, and their integration. Philosophy can assist transdisciplinary integration by developing an understanding of the specifics of scientific perspectives, approaches, and knowledge on the one hand, and other forms of experience, recognition, and knowledge on the other. However, this also means a challenge for philosophy itself. Philosophers need to carefully reflect on the specifics of current issues and potentially modify traditional philosophical concepts and approaches, or even develop new concepts and approaches. Philosophy should actively involve itself in the task of developing a self-reflective inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability research and develop the appropriate philosophical tools for this project.
Christian U. Becker

Chapter 15. Conclusion

This chapter is provides a summary of the book. I outline the main results, and argue that sustainability remains a fruitful and important concept for public and academic discussions. The concept is well introduced in a broad range of discourses around the world and has the potential to support a broad, intercultural discussion about the future development of societies. This potential has not yet been fully acknowledged and realized. The discussion about sustainability still needs to be developed. The discussion needs to refer to and include the full meaning of the concept and the fundamental challenges it denotes. This particularly means to refer to the ethical dimension of sustainability and to adequately address and include this dimension in public and academic discourses.
Christian U. Becker


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