Abstract: Neoclassical economists have been telling us for years that if we behave in egoistic, individualistic ways, the invisible hand of the market will guide us to efficient and sustainable futures. Many contemporary Greens also have been assuring us that if we behave in holistic ways, the invisible hand of ecology will guide us to health and sustainable futures. This essay argues that neither individualism nor holism will provide environmental sustainability. There is no invisible hand, either in economics or in ecology. Humans have no guaranteed tenure in the biosphere. Likewise there is no philosophical quick fix for environmental problems, either through the ethical individualism of Feinberg, Frankena, and Regan, or through the ecological holism of Callicott and Leopold. The correct path is more complex and tortuous than either of these ways. The essay argues that the best way to reach a sustainable environmental future probably is through a middle path best described as “hierarchical holism.”.
Comment: This text intervenes in the debate over holism and individualism in environmental ethics--specifically, as it concerns questions of environmental protection and conservation. It would fit well in a course on environmental ethics that discusses questions of either the metaphysics of nature or the nature of value.