Economics and the value-free ideal

Philosophy 2070- 2019 Third Reflection Essay Assignment. The article titled, “The business of biodiversity: can we put a value on nature?” describes the ESMERELDA project, a recent attempt to assign economic value to natural areas in Europe.

At one point the author quotes Dr Burkhard, a lead researcher on the ESMERELDA project, who was asked to justify this economic approach to evaluating nature. To quote the article: On the thorny issue of attaching economic values to nature, he says this approach can help raise awareness among policymakers and businesses. “I think it’s at least a good tool to convince many people,” he said. “I’m an ecologist and would be happier if people were convinced just by having nice nature and lots of species – but this is not the way the world works at the moment and usually the most convincing argument is money.” There are two issues raised by this comment. One of them concerns the objectivity of economic science. The other concerns the potential problems with an economic approach to valuing nature. You are to choose one of these topics, as outlined below. Make sure to strictly follow the guidelines for writing papers in this course (available on Courselink). Your papers should be between 3-4 pages long. They are to be submitted by Courselink by midnight on April 3rd.

Topic 1) Economics and the value-free ideal

We have discussed arguments for and against the claim that science ought to strive for a “value free” ideal. Heather Douglas argues that when it comes to scientific decisions which bear on ethical or policy relevant issues, the value free ideal is ethically dubious.

Gregor Betz argues, to the contrary, that the value-free ideal is something that scientists should strive for in policy relevant science. In your essay, first briefly explain whether you think that Dr. Burkhard’s statement suggests that he is violating the value free ideal, and why. Then develop your own argument (in premise and conclusion form) either defending or criticizing Burkhard’s position. For example, if you think that he is violating the value free ideal, then either present an argument for the conclusion that this approach is justified or that it is not justified. Your analysis of the argument can draw on the materials covered in class and in the Douglas and Betz readings.

Topic 2) Does economics provide a sound basis for decision making? In his comment, Burkhard suggests that the economic approach to decision making is more convincing than the alternative of just expecting people to value nature. First, reconstruct a version of Burkhard’s argument in premise-conclusion form. In particular, what assumptions do you think he is relying on (or could be relying on) when drawing the conclusion that an economic approach is more convincing than the alternative? Then analyze this argument by drawing on our discussion of environmental economics in class and in the readings. The full article is available here: