Updated 1 December, 2003
Garrett James Hardin: Ecologist, Educator, Ethicist and Environmentalist
Tribute to Garrett Hardin
by Carl Jay Bajerna, Grand Valley State University
Originally published in Festschrift in Honor of Dr. Garrett Hardin
Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies Volume
12, Number 3, Spring 1991
Copyright 1991 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
"The population problem has no technical solution: It requires a
fundamental extension in morality”-Garrett Hardin
This is the conclusion that Professor Hardin reached in his now classic
1968 "Tragedy of the Commons" presidential address at the meeting
of the Pacific Division of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science. What led Dr. Hardin to reject the traditional scientific belief
that the population problem, like all problems, has a strictly technical
What is it about political systems for distributing the benefits and
costs of using resources that can and frequently has led to ecological
and thus human tragedy? What extension in morality does Garrett Hardin
consider to be necessary if we are to minimize such tragic outcomes in
It is appropriate that we honor Garrett James Hardin on his 75th birthday
by reviewing the ecological problems with which he has grappled over so
much of his lifetime. We will spend some time analyzing the important
intellectual journey that led him to develop and advocate the logic he
used in his 1968 paper, "Tragedy of the Commons," continuing
unto his subsequent efforts to more completely develop the logic for the
ecological ethics that we human beings need if we are to "survive
GROWING UP IN THE MIDWEST
Garrett James Hardin was born April 21, 1915 in Dallas, TX. Looking back,
Garrett viewed frequent family moves within the midwest and summers on
his grandfather's Missouri farm as an advantage, as he "grew up an
unconscious and natural anthropologist in my own culture" (Hardin,
Garrett contracted polio at age four, which left him a shortened and
weakened right leg and ruled out three occupations he seriously considered
entering while growing up--those of salesman, actor, and field geologist.
Through reading Popular Science he developed an interest in science which
withstood a close-to-disastrous experience with classroom science (Hardin,
1982b). During high school he enjoyed public speaking, drama and math.
STUDYING AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
Garrett Hardin was a bright student, earning three college scholarships.
In the fall of 1932 he began attending two colleges-the University of
Chicago in the daytime and the drama program at Chicago Musical College
during the evening. The demands of being a good student at the University
of Chicago soon led him to give up the night classes and his ambition
of becoming a drama director.
Following his older brother's advice, "If you hear a good teacher,
take his course or sit in on it, no matter what the subject," Garrett
took a course from J. Harland Bretz, a geology professor who taught by
the Socratic method. Garrett Hardin would have become a geologist if it
had not required so much hiking. Fortunately, his freshman biology also
was well taught and by the end of his sophomore year he decided to major
in biology (Hardin, 1982a, p. 2-9).
The ecologist W. C. Allee became Hardin's faculty advisor and introduced
him to concepts of population growth and its ecological limits. A course
in evolution taught by Sewall Wright emphasized the interaction of chance
effects and selection. Population growth experiments involving protozoa
and especially Raymond Pearl's studies of the effect of culture medium
on population growth led, after graduation in 1936, to a research assistantship
at Stanford University for graduate work on the microbial ecology of single-celled
LIFE AT STANFORD AND THE CARNEGIE INSTITUTION
Two individuals played an important role in Garrett Hardin's graduate
education at Stanford University. Garrett took George Beadle's course
in genetics, becoming his teaching assistant, and C. V. Van Niels' course
at the marine biology station. Van Niel used the Socratic method, which
influenced Garrett's own later teaching style.
Garrett Hardin received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1942. He
then accepted a position at the Carnegie Institution where his knowledge
of microbial ecology was applied to culturing algae for food. Garrett
worked at the Carnegie Institution for four years but his heart was not
in the business of trying to just temporarily solve population problems
by increasing supplies. Garrett had learned Malthusian population theory
from W. C. Allee: the ultimate solution has to involve decreasing the
demand on supplies (Hardin, 19821)).
LIFE AS AN EDUCATOR
Dr. Hardin joined the biology department at the new University of California
at Santa Barbara in 1946. There, he abandoned his research with protozoan
cultures in the face of the heavy teaching load and lack of any research
space, writing instead an introductory college biology textbook for W.
H. Freeman & Co.
The first edition of Hardin's classic text, Biology: Its Principles and
Implication (1952; 1961; 1966) was published in 1949 under the original
title, Biology: It's Human Implication. The text broke new ground by presenting
biology through the teaching of the scientific method, i.e. the process
by which theories are constructed, scientifically tested and evaluated.
In Philosophy of Teaching, John Passmore (1980, p. 99, 106) referred to
this textbook as exemplifying the ideal of teaching science as a process
rather than an encyclopedic collection of facts.
The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) was organized in 1960
to improve science education in biology at the secondary level, and Dr.
Hardin became a member of its Board of Directors. In 1989 Joseph McInerney,
then President of the National Association of Biology Teachers and current
Executive Director of the BSCS, in accepting the Association's award for
distinguished service, acknowledged Garrett Hardin as one of those scientists
who greatly influenced him.
Soon after coming to Santa Barbara, Hardin happened on the works of linguist
Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf's work on the ambiguity of language played a
decisive role in Garrett's intellectual journey to becoming a critical
thinker and a writer whose goal was "to make the ideas of others
clear, both to students and to the general public" (Hardin, 1973,
Dr. Hardin has become one of the leading popularizers of the modern scientific
understanding of biology and its scientific and moral implications for
human beings. Through his lectures and writings, Garrett has forced more
people to think about taboo subjects in biology than any other living
biologist. Professor Garrett Hardin deserves to be honored if for no other
reason than accomplishing this difficult task.
Filters Against Folly, Dr. Hardin's most recent book, contains his proposals
for developing critical thinking skills that will enable us to survive
"despite economists, ecologists and the merely eloquent." Professor
Hardin identifies three major filters against folly that can be used to
guard against the blindness, short-sightedness, or sheer idiocy that so
often comes disguised as eloquence or expertise.
The literacy filter, "the ability to understand what words really
mean," can be used to understand how language is used not only to
promote thought but to prevent it. While his discussion of the "verbal
diarrhea" or the merely eloquent and the misuse of poetic license
is fascinating, it is Hardin's discussion of the use of such discussion-stoppers
as "infinite," "inexhaustible," "non-negotiable,"
"self-evident," "must" and "imperative"
to preempt analysis that is most revealing. Hardin also asks why talk
is always about shortages of supply rather than longages of demand or
of people. He concludes that it is in large part due to the fact that
virtually no one individually profits from supplying less.
In a moment of frustration Mark Twain is reported to have shouted, "There
are lies, damned lies and statistics!" In a world where people are
very numerous and where many people use numbers to convince others to
behave in certain ways, a responsible citizen has no choice but to become
numerate as well as literate. The numeracy filter involves the ability
to measure and interpret quantities, proportions and rates. Hardin points
out that human beings have all too often learned how to use the resources
of literacy to hide numbers and the need for numerate analyses. He draws
attention to the problems created by always thinking solely in terms of
dichotomies (safe vs. unsafe, pure vs. unpure) rather than in terms of
relative risks and benefits. Quantities, ratios, rates and duration of
time all matter. Professor Hardin also discusses the limitations of numeracy:
an accurate mathematical analysis does not compensate for flawed premises.
Professor Hardin is at his best discussing the ecolacy filter because
he has spent the last forty years studying ecology and evolution and their
bioethical dimensions. A more comprehensive development of "ecolacy"
- the ability to pursue the question AND THEN WHAT? so that the effects
of interactions of systems over time can be taken into account-is necessary
if we are not to fall victim to the forces we unleash and are unwilling
or unable to control. Engineering mentality which too often thinks in
terms of a single cause and a single effect needs to be replaced by the
ecolacy filter, which takes into account real interactions including effects
that affect their causes (feedback loops).
In this age of increasing concern over how to better develop critical
thinking skills, one must go beyond the three R's. We need the skills
to use effectively the three intellectual filters of literacy, numeracy
and ecolacy. There is no better place to start than the paperback edition
of Professor Hardin's book Filters Against Folly.
POPULARIZING ADAPTIVE EVOLUTION BY SELECTION THEORY
Professor Hardin's major contribution to human ecology has been application
of the Darwinian theory of selection to ongoing human genetic and cultural
evolution. Hardin has worked hard at persuading fellow humans that evolution
by selection is unavoidable, and that the implications for human interactions
with each other and with the rest of the environment should be explored.
Nature and Man's Fate. Dr. Hardin's first major attempt to bring the
reading public abreast of current thought in evolutionary theory and to
show them its implications for the future was published as Nature and
Man's Fate (Hardin, 1959). Here he wrestled with Malthusian population
theory and Darwinian selection theory, expanding on ideas initially learned
from the ecologist W. C. Allee and the evolutionary biologist Sewall Wright.
Professor Hardin wrote in the Prologue to Nature and Man's Fate that:
It doesn't much matter whether you think man was created out of the dust
six thousand years ago or came from the apes a million years earlier;
whether the story of Noah's Ark is true, or dinosaurs once lived. Believe
what you will of evolution in the past; but you had jolly well better
believe it will take place in the future if you hope to make political
decisions that will give your descendants a reasonable chance to exist.
The principles of evolution are inescapably relevant to the analysis of
man's predicament (pp, vii-viii).
To understand the present we must know the past. With John Maynard Keynes
I believe that a "study of the history of opinion is a necessary
preliminary to the emancipation of the mind" (p. ix).
Nature and Man's Fate draws attention to the important fact that progress
in science is in large part a process of error and detection of error.
The book focuses on the inescapability of competition-driven selection
- the foundation of the modern evolutionary synthesis and of Hardin's
analysis of evolution and its implications for human beings.
Essays such as "In Praise of Waste," "Liberalism and the
Spectre of Competition," and "Eugenics: Is Man Part of Nature?"
carefully address numerous taboo subjects within the framework of the
impotence principles of evolutionary science; that is, the psychological
need, or wish, for the world to be unbounded is challenged by:
-the impotence of Lamarckian beliefs in the face of Mendelian genetics;
-the impotence of Liberal beliefs in egalitarian results in the face of
the inescapableness of biological competition in a world with limited
resources and mates;
-the impotence of those who seek to eliminate all waste in the face of
the success of Darwinian selection operating on genetic/cultural wastewhat
is usually called variation (pp. 306-310).
The discussion of competition is classic in that it is uncompromisingly
grounded in science yet Hardin points out how one can make competition
more humane: competition "cannot be escaped; it can only be altered
in the form it takes" (p. 252). He does not commit the "naturalistic
fallacy" of arguing from "is" to "ought." While
"we can never eliminate competition," Garrett states that we
can change the rules somewhat and the pay-off:
Competition is to be found in the subdued and pious Quaker meeting just
as surely as it is on the bloodiest of battlefields. The device of love
may be found in its arsenal side by side with weapons of steel. Our problem
is not to avoid the unavoidable-competition-but to choose our weapons.
In seeking the means that are most commensurate with human comfort, pleasure
and dignity we cannot necessarily trust first impressions or traditional
moral standards. We will need the deepest insights of psychology and anthropology
to enable us to choose well (p. 255).
Competition for resources can take many forms. Consequently Professor
Hardin pointed out:
The elimination of warfare by military means is tolerable only in a world
that has outlawed reproductive warfare. The competitive use of human gonads
in a pacificistic world is every bit as vicious and productive of suffering
as is the militaristic use of atomic bombs (p. 322).
The generation and testing of new variations is important with respect
to both genes and ideas. Hardin stresses the importance of free speech
within a community and the freedom to err (p. 323) as they are the ultimate
source of new ideas and combinations of ideas upon which selection can
operate to produce progress. Progress in science and technology can be
used to improve the human condition.
Hardin concludes with asking, "How is man to control his own evolution?"
The difficulty is the greater because too many individuals deny the reality
of human evolution occurring through natural, or Darwinian, selection.
Hardin points out that the reality and importance of selection "is
temporarily obscured by the increasing of the size of the feast world
fisheries and agricultural yield through technological advances, but the
increase is only a passing phase which must soon come to an end"
While many of us appreciated the critical scientific thinking that is
the hallmark of Nature and Man's Fate, the book was not that well received
by the academic community. Garrett Hardin has always been guilty of the
crime of being a critical thinker who can express ideas far more clearly
than most. But he was also guilty of another, emotionally more important,
error: discussion of too many socially taboo subjects at one time-all
in one book!! Fortunately Nature and Man's Fate was liked well enough
that it was republished in a paperback edition.
Garrett now became an active stalker of those taboos he had discussed
in Nature and Man's Fate. One strategy that he employed was to locate
and reprint numerous important writings in Population, Evolution and Birth
Control: A Collage of Controversial Readings, which first appeared in
1964. Many of the writings that were to play so important a role in the
intellectual development of Hardin's 1968 essay "The Tragedy of the
Commons" were collected here.
For example, Garrett gave new life to Kenneth Boulding's summary of the
dismal and utterly dismal theorems of economics, which point out that
technology cannot provide more than just a temporary solution for population/resources/environment
. . . the famous dismal theorem of economics . . . if the only check
on the growth of population is starvation and misery, then no matter how
favorable the environment or how advanced the technology the population
will grow until it is miserable and starves. The theorem, indeed, has
a worse corollary which has been described as the utterly dismal theorem.
This is the proposition that if the only check on the growth of population
is starvation and misery, then any technological improvement will have
the ultimate effect of increasing the sum of human misery, as it permits
a larger population to live in precisely the same state of misery and
starvation as before the change . . . (Boulding, 1956 in Hardin, 1969,
The passages from William Lloyd's discussion of the problems of resource
management on the English commons and from Charles Galton Darwin's summary
of how the use of contraceptives by some of the population generates selection
for homo progenetivictus replacing homo contraceptiens are also reprinted
in Population, Evolution and Birth Control (Hardin, 1964, 1969).
C. G. Darwin's analysis provided inspiration for Garrett's (1963a) thoughts
concerning "A Second Sermon of the Mount," in which he enunciated
the principle "Blessed are the women that are irregular, for their
daughters shall inherit the earth." Professor Hardin pointed out
that the rhythm method of birth control is self-defeating: "If there
is even a tiny hereditary element in their irregularity (as there surely
must be), natural selection would then ultimately produce a world populated
only by irregular women. Tidings of Darwin should be carried to Rome"
(Hardin, 1963a, p. 371). Garrett, armed with selection theory, has been
more than just a taboo stalker. He is one of the best scientific slayers
of poorly thought-out political/theological ideas our generation has produced.
GARRETT HARDIN BECOMES AN ACTIVIST
James Newman's book review of Abortion in the United States published
in the January 1959 issue of Scientific American greatly affected Dr.
Hardin's professional and personal life (Hardin, 1973). His interest in
birth control made the abortion taboo a natural subject.
The autumn 1963 day after Garrett delivered his first public lecture
on abortion-an analysis and recommendations for abortion reform-in a
University of California (Santa Barbara-UCSB) lecture attended by more
than 900 persons, Garrett began receiving telephone calls from women seeking
help in obtaining a safe abortion. Garrett became an agent in the underground
railroad for women seeking safe abortions. He also became a member of
the board of National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which
was instrumental in bringing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case which made anti-abortion
laws unconstitutional, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Looking back in 1983,
Garrett noted that, "Abortion sure altered my life, because I'd never
intended to be an activist" (Hardin, 1982, pp. 5-11).
Garrett became the intellectual spokesman for the abortion reform movement
as the result of his UCSB "Abortion and Human Dignity" lecture.
It was reprinted by the Society for Humane Abortion after he gave essentially
the same lecture at the University of California (Berkeley UCB) in 1964.
Garrett wrote other papers advocating abortion reform (Hardin, 1967, 1968a)
as well as the book Mandatory Motherhood: The True Meaning of "Right
to Life" (I 974b).
One question asked over and over again was, "When does life begin?"
Garrett would reply that biologists think that life began more than two
billion years ago; but now life is merely passed on from one cell to another.
The question we should ask and answer is, "When do we want to call
it a human life?" Human personhood is more than just life. Garrett
drew an analogy between an architect's blueprints and the information
contained in DNA.
Dr. Hardin published his most recent views on the subject of abortion
in 1982. He also was a supporter of the amicus curiae brief filed in Webster
v. Reproductive Health Services by Population-Environment balance and
seven other environmental groups (Lassow, 1989). In this 1989 case, the
U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of a Missouri law
restricting access to abortion.
Tragedy of the Commons
The Centennial celebration of the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin
of Species in 1959 led Charles' grandson, Charles Galton Darwin (1960),
to apply his grandfather's theory of adaptive evolution by selection to
predict that voluntary population control policies select for their own
failure. Garrett Hardin, impressed with both the scientific logic and
the political implications of C. G. Darwin's insight, developed a more
general ecological version of these principles in a paper entitled "The
Tragedy of the Commons" (Hardin, 1968b).
It has been said that the road to confusion is paved with metaphors.
Nonetheless, short pithy phrases can dramatize problems and focus attention
on the costs and benefits of proposed solutions. Professor Hardin invented
the metaphoric tragedy of the commons in an attempt to communicate the
need to modify the ethical basis of our decision-making if we are to adequately
cope with our population/resources/pollution problems.
Dr. Hardin used the tragedy of the commons metaphor to describe the human
misery that is predicted to ultimately occur whenever the right of a person
or group to use a resource held in common is not matched by an operational
responsibility to care for the resource (or the consequences of using
the resources). The commons owned by English villages and available for
all citizens to graze their cattle was proposed as the classic example
of a commons. For the purposes of metaphor, rules governing the use of
this commons were stated as: first, each herdsman may pasture as many
cattle as he wishes on the commons; and second, the benefit from the growth
of the cattle goes to the individual owners of the cattle.
In such an unmanaged commons, one or more herdsmen seek to maximize their
private gain by adding cows to the herd. Ultimately this causes the herd
to reach the population size at which the carrying capacity of the pasture
is damaged by overgrazing and the resulting environmental deterioration
brings ruin to all. Thus rational behavior at the individual level leads
to tragic consequences for the community as a whole.
Professor Hardin (1977) points out that the unmanaged commons is but
one of four political systems for distributing the costs and benefits
of using environmental resources. He compares consequences of the unmanaged
or poorly managed commons with the outcomes of privatism (where individually/corporately
produced costs such as ecologically damaging wastes cannot be socialized),
socialism (defined by Hardin as an adequately managed commons) and altruism
(which is interesting but unworkable as long as there are individuals
in the population working in their own self interest). The unmanaged or
poorly managed commons enables individuals or groups to privatize the
benefits while socializing the costs of using finite resources. It is
a selective system that rewards the very persons or groups that increase
the rate at which they (and/or their descendants) use commonly held resources.
Consequently the rate at which a finite resource is used increases and
ultimately becomes so great that it approaches and soon exceeds the carrying
capacity of the environment, i.e., the maximum population size that the
environment can sustain over extended time. The carrying capacity can
be decreased by human behaviors that result in soil erosion or pollution
(acid rain for example). An illusion that the carrying capacity of our
environments have permanently increased is created when fixed supplies
of fossil fuels are depleted and renewable biological resources are harvested
at a rate faster than they are being regenerated-as is presently occurring.
Crowding sets the stage for the tragedy of the commons to occur. Growth
in our numbers or growth in our affluent lifestyles or some combination
of both generate environmental stress which exceeds the carrying capacity
of the environment, causing a deterioration in the future carrying capacity.
One need only assume that at least some human beings are egotists operating
in their own self-interest for cultural selection to produce tragedy in
an unmanaged commons. Selfish behavior in such a system is rewarded with
benefits. The unmanaged commons establishes a social system that selects
for its own failure, that is, for the adoption by other individuals of
very selfish behavior that ultimately brings about tragedy.
Societies that try to regulate the use of resources in a commons by appealing
to conscience ("voluntarism" or "jawbone responsibility")
merely generate selection favoring people who either do not have a social
conscience or have consciences that tell them to do otherwise-individuals
who, to use the words of Henry David Thoreau, march to a different drummer.
In other words, appeals to conscience in a commons sets up a selective
system that favors the reproduction of the ideas and genes of those individuals
who reject society's pleas to voluntarily control the rate at which they
(and their descendants) use resources held in common. The tragic effects
of cultural selection for individual behaviors that abuse the environment
become so great that the question is not whether society should abandon
the commons political system but rather when and how. Professor Hardin
concludes that the poorly managed/unmanaged commons must be abandoned
in favor either of privatism or socialism where the commons is managed
in ecologically sustainable ways.
One of the most controversial of Dr. Hardin's conclusions deals with
human reproduction. Since the effect of coupling "the concept of
freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right
to the commons" locks "the world into a tragic course of action,"
Hardin contends that the commons system with respect to childbearing has
to be abandoned also (Hardin, 1972, pp. 188-189).
The private enterprise system of childbearing and childbearing generates
so much misery among innocent children that Professor Hardin does not
consider it to be an ethically acceptable option for modern societies.
Consequently, he contends that a society which has been guaranteeing the
survival, health and education of children must also have the power to
decide how many children shall be born. In others words, societies will
ultimately have to adopt coercive policies if they are to succeed in producing
individual reproductive responsibility. The kind of coercion Hardin envisions
is mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people
affected (Hardin, 1968b, 1972, 1977, 1985).
Just how successful has Professor Hardin been in breaking the social
taboo on publicly applying selection theory to human problems? If one
measures success by the number of times the "Tragedy of the Commons"
has been cited (Anonymous, 1979), the number of times it has been reprinted
in anthologies, or that in 1971 the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
made it into an educational movie starring Garrett, or that it has made
Garrett famous, the answer is very successful.
When one measures Dr. Hardin's success by the extent to which other scholars
have been motivated to apply Darwinian selectionist logic to human problems
of resource use, the answer is that few have been willing to publicly
apply it. Study of the cultural evolution of ideas and/or genetic evolution
of DNA is not taboo, but application to carrying capacity problems is.
Sociobiologists who specialize in applying selection theory to the evolution
of behavior rarely, if ever, mention Charles Calton Darwin's application
of selection theory nor Garrett Hardin's more popular and more general
"Tragedy of the Commons" version. Only one author (Bajema, 1978),
in the three volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics, discusses the tragedy of
the commons selectionist logic and its implications for policies that
rely on voluntarism.
The tragedy of the commons selectionist logic has been most frequently
applied to the management of such natural resources as fisheries, forests
and pollutable reservoirs such as air and water (Baden and Stroup, 1977;
Clark, 1973; McCay & Acheson, 1987; Repetto & Gillis, 1989). Professors
John Baden and Garrett Hardin teamed up to edit Managing the Commons (1977),
a book which draws attention to ecological and political consequences
of cultural selection for the particular resource-using behaviors which
are generated by particular political systems.
Professor Hardin, through his numerous lectures, essays and books (Hardin,
1972, 1973, 1977,1978, 1985; Hardin and Baden, 1977), has had and will
continue to have a major impact on analysis of political problems. For
example, Professor Hardin (1963, p. 80) replaced the rather naive ecological
statement that "everything is connected to everything else"
with one sentence that virtually demands that one search any action or
inaction for its unintended effects. This sentence, "WE CAN NEVER
DO MERELY ONE THING," is so powerful a stimulus to ecologically important
thinking that the editors of Fortune Magazine wrote:
If a prize were to be awarded for the most illuminating single sentence
authored in the past ten years, one of the candidates would surely be
Hardin's Law ... It says, with deceptive simplicity, "You can never
do merely one thing." This is something like a very clean glass door-you're
not sure at first glance whether anything is there. But those seven seemingly
casual words express a profound truth about human affairs (Editors, 1974,
Since "we can never do merely one thing," Dr. Hardin contends
that we need to be asking the question "AND THEN WHAT?" over
and over again to more accurately estimate the consequences-intended and
other-of what we do. The question "AND THEN WHAT" highlights
the value of selectionist theory for evaluating the results of managing
renewable and nonrenewable resources under alternate political systems.
Scholars have an obligation to summarize and evaluate the current version
of a theory that a scientist is advocating. Garrett Hardin incorporated
the fact that there are two kinds of commons-a "managed commons",
a form of socialism where resources either can be managed in an ecologically
sustainable way or ecologically mismanaged, and an "unmanaged commons",
a form of socialism which selects the very behavior that leads to tragic
outcomes-into his theory more than ten years ago (Hardin, 1977, Hardin
and Baden, 1977). Yet scholars persist in criticizing outdated, or their
own misinterpretations of Hardin's application of selectionist logic (Cox,
1985; McCay & Acheson, 1987; Reader, 1988). One misconception is that
selection will operate to bring tragedy only if every individual is an
egotist operating in his own self-interest. Not so; but such behavior
does quickly spread because selection in voluntarist systems favors "cheaters."
(:heaters are rewarded with resources. Consequently, more and more individuals
in a society adopt the ecologically unsustainable cheater behavior and
the tragedy results.
Those wishing to evaluate Professor Hardin's use of selectionist logic
to predict how a particular political system will affect human behavior
and use of resources should consult his 1985 book Filters Against Folly.
There, for example, they will read about the DOUBLE C-DOUBLE P game, the
tragic distribution system that couples commonized costs with privatized
profits and thus generates selection for its own failure.
DEVELOPING AN ENVIRONMENTALLY BASED HUMANIST ETHIC
Garrett Hardin has gone far beyond linking major political systems to
the selective multiplication of resource-using behaviors which undermine
the carrying capacity of the environment and thus the subsistence base
of future generations. He proposes that we adopt a humanist environmental
ethic based on comparing the consequences of a proposed action or inaction
with the results from what currently is being done.
"In Praise of Waste," the concluding chapter of Nature and
Man's Fate (1959), contains Professor Hardin's first major discussion
of an ideal humanist ethic. It is founded upon freedom of speech because
this, among its other benefits, generates new ideas and combinations of
ideas on which cultural selection can operate to bring about scientific
and technological progress. The following passage, an echo of the conclusion
of Darwin's Origin of Species, concludes Nature and Man's Fate:
We know now that a completely planned heaven is either impossible or
unbearable. We know that it is not true that design can come only out
of planning. Out of luxuriant waste, winnowed by selection, come designs
more beautiful and in greater variety than ever man could plan. This is
the lesson of Nature that Darwin has spelled out for us. Man, now that
he makes himself, cannot do better than to emulate Nature's example in
allowing for waste and encouraging novelty. There is grandeur in this
view of life as a complex of cybernetic systems that produce adaptedness
without foresight, design without planning, and progress without dictation.
From the simplest means, man, now master of his own fate, may evolve societies
of a variety and novelty-yes, and even of a beauty-that no man living
can now forsee (p. 346).
The failure of both laissez faire capitalism and classic Marxism in avoiding
ecological degradation and resulting tragic consequences for future generations
of humans beings led Professor Hardin to propose a fundamental extension
in morality. In "The Tragedy of the Commons," he developed a
secular ethics that takes into account that at least some individuals
operate in their own self-interest (exactly what one would expect on the
basis of Darwinian adaptive evolution by selection theory) and that places
the actions of individuals in an ecological context. The ecological ethic
Hardin champions is system-sensitive to the state of the environment at
the time the moral value of any particular action/inaction is determined.
Professor Hardin expanded the situation-based humanist ethics developed
by the theologian Joseph Fletcher to include ecological effects on individuals
in the future-other individuals in present and future generations. Hardin's
ecologically based consequentialist ethic uses the following rule: action/inaction
is determined to be moral or immoral on the basis of its consequences
not merely for the current participants but for individuals in the future.
Garrett Hardin expanded, revised and updated his ideas concerning ethics
in Exploring New Ethics for Survival: The Voyage of the Spaceship Beagle
(1972x), where he inserted scientific logic within the framework of a
science-fiction parable to help his fellow citizens understand the momentous
questions that are involved in population control, a problem that he contends
can be solved only by restricting some human freedoms in order to preserve
The short time span and selfish dimensions of much of traditional ethics
led Professor Hardin (1974c) to add a phrase to the theologian Martin
Buber's classic "I-Thou" frame of reference. The ethical frame
of reference that Dr. Hardin champions is "I-Thou AND THIN WHAT?"
Garrett Hardin applied the "tough love" logic of triage to foreign
aid in his 1974 essay on "Lifeboat Ethics," to which the editor
of Psychology Today added the subtitle "The Case Against Helping
the Poor" without consulting Dr. Hardin (1978,* p. 242). Professor
Hardin is not opposed to providing the poor or anyone else with information
that they can use to improve their situation. What Dr. Hardin realizes
and his critics do not is that one cannot cure a cancer (overpopulation)
by feeding it (foreign aid) or transporting some of its cells elsewhere
Dr. Hardin had summarized the logic of his position fifteen years earlier,
In the realm of inter-community affairs an analogous moral principle
must be espoused-freedom to err. Within a single community there cannot
be freedom of action for individual members. It will not do, for example,
for a community that disapproves of murder, to wink at murder by individuals
who want to be free. But, as between communities, there must be freedom
for each community to determine its own moral principles. Other communities
must be free not only to live morally (by our standards) but also to live
immorally (again by our standards). Put bluntly, every community must
be free to go to hell in its own way, so long as its action does not endanger
the continued existence of other communities. A community must, for instance,
enjoy the freedom to breed itself into a state of starvation, if it so
wishes, without a finger being lifted elsewhere to interfere with its
stupidity. To interfere, to save it from the consequences of its own immorality
is but to postpone and aggravate the problem, and to spread the moral
infection. By not interfering, however, we make it more probable that
a community will see its error in time, will see that a moral principle
of unlimited reproduction is incompatible with the principle of unlimited
use of medicine in the prevention of crowd diseases. If we have any responsibility
at all with respect to other communities, it is only because we ourselves
failed in the past to see the cultural incompatibility of the above-mentioned
principles and freely gave of our medicine without at the same time seeing
to it that gift was coupled with the principle of birth limitation (1959,
*Second edition of Stalking the Wild Taboo
On numerous occasions Professor Hardin (1979, p. 1; 1981, p. 45,) has
contended that what we need are "thinking rather than bleeding hearts,"
and that each nation has the moral obligation to become selfreliant. (Note,
Dr. Hardin did not say "self-sufficient"). Hardin encourages
ecologically comprehensive thought by championing the "sanctity of
the carrying capacity of the environment" as an ethical concept which
is more humane in its consequences for human life than "sanctity
of the individual" (Hardin, 1977; 1985).
In his 1982 essay "Ending the Squanderarchy," Professor Hardin
outlines some of the important ethical changes that a squanderarchy like
the United States will have to make in order to become an ecologically
sustainable conservationist society. Rather than expect the transition
to come directly, Hardin is a "trend" pessimist: for the U.S.
and other squanderarchies, the probable pathway to a conservationist society
is through a dark age-a period of poverty and chaos before the more humane,
ecologically sustainable state is reached.
Garrett Hardin's efforts to find the most humane solution to the human
ecological predicament led the American Humanist Association to choose
him as recipient of the 1989 Humanist Distinguished Service Award.
We temporary fellow travelers on the Planet Earth are fortunate to have
in our midst Garrett Hardin, a scholar who has spent most of his life
helping citizens gain a better understanding of the implications that
evolutionary processes have for their fate.
There are those shallow thinking optimists who merely extrapolate desirable
trends (making some trends desirable by choosing the "appropriate"
time frame) or contend that since humans have time and again proven their
resourcefulness, they have the capacity to produce a technical fix that
will solve every human problem.* In contrast, Dr. Hardin has developed
a well-tested theory-driven humanist ethic that takes real world constraints
into account. There are ecological limits to growth in the use of resources
and pollution of the environment. The real world is inhabited by people
who evolve under conditions which favor ideas and individuals that privatize
profits and commonize costs. Consequently, political systems that attempt
to regulate the use of resources by appeals to simple conscience produce
tragic ecological consequences for human beings. Professor Hardin has
not only drawn our attention to these problems but also has evaluated
alternate ways for solving the ecological problems we face.
*See also critiques by Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 1982; and Daly, 1982 and
in this volume.
If we human beings succeed in resolving our population/resources/ environment
problems, it will be in large part because of having finally learned to
use the ecological logic that Garrett Hardin has so ably championed. Only
by asking and scientifically answering the question "And Then What?"
can we meaningfully evaluate the consequences of choices that will determine
if we are to survive with dignity on this planet_ In "The Tragedy
of the Commons," "Lifeboat Ethics," "Do Trees Have
Legal Standing?," "Limits to Altruism," "Carrying
Capacity as an Ethical Concept," "Squanderarchy" and other
numerous essays Dr. Hardin has drawn our attention to the consequentialist,
humanist dimensions of our population/ resources/environment crunch. His
analysis of alternate ethical systems gives due weight to the rights of
It is appropriate that we honor Garrett Hardin for his contribution to
the quality of human life on this planet in addition to celebrating with
him his 75th birthday. His professional life has been a full one, enriched
by his wife Jane, who also has served as an involved participant with
whom Garrett "field tested" many of his thoughts. We honor Dr.
Garrett Hardin, Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology, University of California
at Santa Barbara, for helping us to become more-critical thinkers and
more considerate of future generations, whose claims we lay alongside
those who are alive today. The Earth and all the creatures on it now and
in the future are truly fortunate to have such a literate, numerate and
ecolate humanist champion as Garrett James Hardin.
HONORS AND AWARDS RECEIVED BY GARRETT JAMES HARDIN
1930 Chicago Daily News essay winner
1932 Scholarship, University of Chicago
1932 Scholarship, Chicago College of Music
1952-53 Ford Fellow, California Institute of Technology
1963 Professor of Human Ecology, University of California, Santa Barbara
1964 Visiting Professor, University of California, Berkeley
1964 Remson Bird Lecturer, Occidental College
1966 Faculty Research Lecturer, University of California, Santa Barbara
1970 Visiting professor, University of Chicago
1970 Nieuwland Lecturer, University of Notre Dame
1970-71 National Visiting Lecturer, Phi Beta Kappa
1972 Messenger Lecturer, Cornell University
1972-73 National Lecturer, Sigma Xi
1973 Hall of Fame Award, Friends of the Earth
1973 Elected Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1974 Elected Member of American Philosophical Society
1974 Aquinas Foundation Lecture, Drew University
1974 Tracey I. Storer Lecturer, University of California, Davis
1975 Elected Honorary Member, National Association of Biology Teachers
1975 Honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree, University of Puget Sound
1975-76 Member, Advisory Committee of Ethical and Human Value Implications
of Science and Technology, National Endowment for the Humanities/National
1976 Patten Foundation Lecturer, Indiana University
1977 Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Northland College
1978 Lecturer, Dartmouth College (chosen by students)
1979 Jesse and John Danz Lecturer, University of Washington 1980 Margaret
Sanger Award, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
1986 Distinguished Service Award, American Institute of Biological Sciences
1987 Mack Lipkin Lecturer, American Museum of Natural History 1989 Humanist
Distinguished Service Award, American Humanist Association
1990 Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform Award
1990 Population-Environment BALANCE Carrying Capacity Award
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38-43. Expanded (O(t. 1974). Living in a lifeboat. Bioscience, 24 (10),
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Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
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Los Angeles Times, Part V, pp. 1, 3.
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of five audiotapes. Archives, University of California at Santa Barbara.
Hardin, G. (1985). filters against Folly: Flow to survive despite economists,
ecologists, and the merely eloquent. NY: Viking Press. (1986, paperback
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CA: 294 pp. Lassow, D. R. (1989). Amicus brief, excerpts. Population and
Environment, 1 1 (2), 141-152. McCay, B. I., & Acheson, J. M. (Eds.).
(1987). The question of the commons: The culture and ecology of communal
resources. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press.
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M. Calderone (Ed.). (1958). Scientific American, 200, (1), 149-154.
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