CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 05. A Social Ecology of Value

Economy. ValueNature. Social ecologyCLARK, John P. (New Orleans, USA. 21/6/1945 - )



1. The Social and the Ecological

2. A Dialectical Holism

3. No Nature

4. The Ecological Self

A Social Ecology of Value

For a social ecology, our ecological responsibility as members of the earth community arises from both our relationship to the interrelated web of life on earth and also from our place as a unique form of nature’s and the earth’s self-expression. As we accept the responsibilities implied by our role in «nature becoming self-conscious,» we can begin to reverse our presently anti-evolutionary and ecocidal direction, and begin to contribute to the continuation of planetary natural and social evolution. We can also cooperate with natural evolution through our own self-development. The overriding ethical challenge to humanity is to determine how we can follow our own path of self-realization as a human community while at the same time allowing the entire earth community to continue its processes of self-manifestation and evolutionary unfolding. [1] A crucial link between these two goals is the understanding of how the flourishing of life on earth is constitutive of the human good, as we dialectically develop in relation to the planetary whole. As Thomas Berry has noted, a central aspect of the human good is to enjoy and indeed celebrate the goodness of the universe, a goodness that is most meaningfully manifested for us in the beauty, richness, diversity and complexity of life on earth (the social and ecological unity-in-diversity).

A dialectical and holistic theory of value attempts to transcend atomistic theories, without dissolving particular beings (including human beings) into the whole, whether the whole of nature or of the biosphere. Holmes Rolston’s holistic analysis, and especially his critique of the conventional division of value into intrinsic and instrumental varieties, can contribute much to the development of a social ecology of value. When value is generated in a system (or, as a social ecology would state it, within a whole that is not reducible to a mere sum of parts), we find that it is not generated in an «instrumental» form, for there is no specific entity or entities for the good of which the value is generated as a means. Nor do we find «intrinsic» value in the sense that it there is a single coherent, definable good or telos for the system. Therefore, we must posit something like what Rolston calls «systemic value.» According to this conception, the value that exists within the system

«is not just the sum of the part-values. No part values increase of kinds, but the system promotes such increase. Systemic value is the productive process; its products are intrinsic values woven into instrumental relationships.» [2]

Such a holistic analysis helps us to reach an authentically ecological understanding of value within ecosystems or eco-communities. For Rolston, the «species-environment complex ought to be preserved because it is the generative context of value.» [3] The ecosystem—that is, the eco-community which has shaped the species, is internally related to it, and is embodied in its very mode of being—is a value-generating whole. Ultimately, the earth must be comprehended as, for us, the most morally-significant value-generating whole. We must fully grasp the conception of a planetary good realizing itself through the greatest mutual attainment of good by all the beings that constitute that whole—in terms of both their own goods and their contribution to shared systemic goods of the various wholes in which they participate.


6. An Ecology of the Imagination

7. An Ecological Imaginary

8. Freedom and Domination

9. Eco-Communitarian Politics

10. Social Eco-nomics

11. The New Leviathan

12. The Future of Social Ecology

[1This is precisely the social ecological problematic first proposed by Lao Tzu two and a half millennia ago.

[2Holmes Rolston, III, Environmental Ethics : Duties to and Values in the Natural World (Philadelphia : Temple University. Press, 1988), p. 188

[3Ibid., p. 154