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The Moral Authority of Nature$
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Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226136806

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226136820.001.0001

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Economics, Ecology, and the Value of Nature

Economics, Ecology, and the Value of Nature

(p.182) 7 Economics, Ecology, and the Value of Nature
The Moral Authority of Nature

Matt Price

University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores a specifically twentieth- (and now twenty-first) century conundrum: how to assess the value of nature and natural goods, and to weigh that value against other goods in a moral calculus. The contemporary obsession with nature's value reopens a question that John Locke thought he had solved in the seventeenth century. Indeed, modern economics begins with his all-but-categorical denial of the value of nature's works. The labor theory of value required it: Locke needed to show that human activity was the true source of all value, thereby grounding his theory of property, his liberal version of the social contract, and his arguments on political authority. If the lands untouched by human toil, and their value, had to be sacrificed on the altar of property, that was hardly controversial in an era when “wilderness” was a term of abuse. But ever since the hedonic theory of utilitarianism captured political economy from the dismal scientists, economists have rejected toil in favor of pleasure, and spaces once called wastelands are now more often named wetlands.

Keywords:   value of nature, natural goods, John Locke, theory of value, human activity, modern economics

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