Wrongness, Wisdom, and Wilderness

Toward a Libertarian Theory of Ethics and the Environment

By Tal Scriven

Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy, Environmental Studies
Series: SUNY series in Social and Political Thought
Paperback : 9780791433720, 218 pages, June 1997
Hardcover : 9780791433713, 218 pages, June 1997

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Table of contents



Part 1 Wrongness

Chapter 1 Self and State: A Historical Perspective

Chapter 2 Self and State: A Theoretical Perspective

Chapter 3 Utility and Social Ethics

Chapter 4 Utility and Individual Ethics

Chapter 5 Utility, Harm, and Liberty

Chapter 6 Refinements

Chapter 7 Applications

Part 2 Wisdom

Chapter 8 Political Consent, Individual Choice, and Moral Justification

Chapter 9 Egoism, Altruism, and Virtue

Chapter 10 Individualism

Chapter 11 Sublimation

Chapter 12 Friendship, Love, Marriage, and Gender

Part 3 Wilderness

Chapter 13 Anthropocentrism and Ecocentrism

Chapter 14 Modernist Biocentrism and Ecocentrism

Chapter 15 Postmodern Ecocentrism and Ecofeminism

Chapter 16 Wrongness and Wilderness

Chapter 17 Wisdom and Wilderness




Defends a libertarian social ethic that can support government action in pursuit of social goals and offers a new perspective on the relationship between social ethics, personal ethics, and environmental ethics.


This surprising work may well change our ideas about what libertarianism is and what it can be. Tal Scriven elaborates and defends a libertarian theory of social ethics that can support welfare, reverse discrimination, and environmental preservationism; biocentrism, Nietzschean perspectivism, and laws requiring good Samaritanism; and utilitarianism, the social contract theory, and legal moralism—all at the same time. In the process, he offers strikingly original analyses of figures as varied as Plato, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Dewey.

The first part of the book articulates a libertarian approach to the ethics of social policy, arguing that the principle of utility should be understood, in judging social policy, through application of the principle of harm, or wrongness. Part II draws on Plato, Nietzsche, and Mill to give an account of ideas relevant to moral reflection on individual lives, analyzing various theories of prudential wisdom that apply to the private realm of purely personal action. Part III deals with our relationship, as individuals and societies, to nature. Scriven argues that nothing logically prevents a well-constructed libertarianism from supporting environmental-ethics positions at least as radical as biocentrism, although he finds deep problems with going as far as ecocentrism and its postmodern variants.

Tal Scriven is Professor of Philosophy at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.


"This is a provocative new perspective on the relationship of social ethics and the 'good life' of individuals. What is most significant is the defense of a plausible libertarian social ethic, an ethic that can support government action in pursuit of social goods. One of the best features of the book is the combination and juxtaposition of major figures in the history of philosophy, current social policy, and common moral beliefs." -- Eric Katz, author of Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community

"Interesting and intelligent, insightful and provocative...[this] book promises to be the beginning of worthwhile discussions on a number of the subjects on which it touches." -- Edward Johnson, University of New Orleans