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A Sketch of a Geographic Theory of Morality

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A realist geographic theory of morality, based on the assumption that the real exists and that the good also exists and is part of the real, broadens and deepens geography's contribution to moral concerns. The theory focuses on the moral qualities of place. Places are essential to our projects because they allow some things to take place and disallow or displace other things. Because place is engaged in including and excluding, it raises moral issues from the start. Geography provides two approaches to evaluating these issues. Thefirst is based on instrumental geographic judgments, which relativize the virtues of truth, justice, and the natural that are mixed within each place. What is good (true, just, and natural) is shaped by the projects or goals of the place. The second issue is based on intrinsic geographic judgments. These draw upon qualities of the good that are not dependent on any particular placeor project, but that can be used to judge them. Intrinsic geographic judgments show how truth, justice, and the natural are contextual, but not relative. Moral progress occurs when instrumental geographic judgments become more like intrinsic geographic ones. Intrinsic geographic judgments demonstrate that moral issues of truth and the natural are as important as issues of justice: the judgments help derive particular principles of justice and their formulation in rights.

Keywords: Instrumental and intrinsic geographicjudgments; Morality; justice; place; the good; the real; thenatural; truth

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Wisconsin-Madison

Publication date: March 1, 1999


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