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Internalizing economics: sustainability between matter and meaning

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Despite its now widespread use, the concept of sustainability remains ambiguous. Its varying definitions carry the marks of the disciplines defining it. Sustainability as defined in economics is commonly conceptualized as economic development constrained by considerations of environmental sustainability. This concept follows familiar notions of internalizing the externalities of economic activity into the framework of economics. In contrast to this common notion, this paper argues that sustainability cannot be achieved unless economics is internalized into the social and environmental context within which all economic activity takes place. Internalizing economics into contextual, material reality can also be described as the need to preserve three types of services: technological services; relational services; and ecosystem services. Much attention has been given to sustaining and expanding the first to the neglect and destruction of the latter two. This makes evident the fact that internalizing economics requires more than an awareness of physical context. It requires also an awareness of the ethical context which supports or undermines the sustaining of essential caring and ecosystems services. To illustrate this point the implications of utilitarian ethics for sustainability are contrasted with those of the ethics of care.

Keywords: Economic Systems; Ethics; Sustainable Development

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1998-02-01

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