PHI 2174 Lecture Notes - Lecture 10: Garrett Hardin

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28 Jul 2016
(10) Garrett Hardin
He was a microbiologist. Biology adheres to the basic principles of biology which looks
at life as a mechanical operation.
The Tragedy of Freedom in the Commons
Rich, green pastures were a natural environment for sheep. Shepards and their animals
were sent to the common lands to graze, but after a while, the livestock ‘industry’ became
too efficient. There were too many animals let out into the commons and so the carrying
capacity of the land was overwhelmed. The ecosystem was being taxed too heavily by
The eighteenth-century commons (public lands) were de-grazed because it was in the
personal interest of every herdsman to maximize his gain.
oOne additional sheep in the commons would mean a net utility benefit of +1, I get
all the profits.
oOne additional sheep in the commons would mean a net utility negative of much
less than 1, I share the loss.
The ‘remorseless’ logic of the commons then locks in. Each social actor is required by
the law of self-interest to increasingly deplete the commons. If most people act in a way
that is not against their self-interest, then the social actor himself must do so as well or
else he or she will be taken advantage of.
oConsequently, exhausting resources and polluting is built into the game of
oMorality is ‘system sensitive’, meaning that reckless polluting does not harm the
public, when there is no public (commons is empty), it is unbearable in the city.
Scarcity is the activating mechanism for the ‘tragedy’, ‘war of all against
all’. (Hobbes) When there are not enough resources, aggression and
violence will ensue.
Accelerates the tragedy by committing us to a race to the bottom of the supply of
resources because more consumers mean less supplies (i.e. greater scarcity).
Conscience/Guilt as Naïve and Unfair
Self-restricting measures are doomed to fail. There are some people or groups that won’t
conform to the self-interested notions that are needed for survival, but those are just
exceptions. We are asked to fight our own self-preservation to achieve our self-interest.
oAn individual asked to volunteer will be fighting the innate compulsion to
preserve his own interests, creating inner conflict.
oVoluntary measure will always lose out in the extreme situations of survival.
When times are good, it is easy to be charitable, meaning that when there is no
cushion and people are just trying to survive, institutions that rely on others for
their continued operation will cease to exist.
oGiven the measures are voluntary, those that don’t participate stand to gain even
more – thus rewarding the selfish and punishing the generous. This incentive
system creates the opposite results of what we would like. It escalates inequality.
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