Poiesis & Praxis

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 15–31 | Cite as

Ranking policy options for sustainable development

  • Georg BrunEmail author
  • Gertrude Hirsch Hadorn
Original Paper


Sustainable development calls for choices among alternative policy options. It is a common view that such choices can be justified by appealing to an evaluative ranking of the options with respect to how their consequences affect a broad range of prudential and moral values. Three philosophically motivated proposals for analysing evaluative rankings are discussed: the measured merits model (e.g. Chang), the ordered values model (e.g. Griffin), and the permissible preference orderings model (Rabinowicz). The analysis focuses on the models’ potential for making transparent how an evaluative ranking can contribute to a justified choice among options, particularly in situations that involve diverse values as typically found in debates on sustainable development. Such transparency plays a crucial role when policy rankings are going to be used as arguments in political decision processes. The measured merits model is found to have questionable consequences for the concept of sustainability, while the ordered values model calls for an axiological framework that cannot plausibly be spelled out for sustainability. The permissible preference orderings model is more promising. Its formal structure and its ability to deal with value-pluralism provide an interesting re-structuring of the problem of justifying choices in sustainability issues.


Sustainable Development Sustainability Assessment Sustainability Issue Triple Bottom Line Ranking Policy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Nachhaltige Entwicklung verlangt, zwischen alternativen Strategien bzw. Verfahrensweisen zu wählen. Es ist üblich, eine solche Wahl mit Verweis auf eine evaluative Rangordnung der Optionen zu rechtfertigen. Dabei muss berücksichtigt werden, wie die Konsequenzen der Optionen unterschiedlichste Werte betreffen. Werden Rangordnungen von Strategien als Argumente im politischen Entscheidungsprozess verwendet, spielt Transparenz eine zentrale Rolle. Wir diskutieren drei philosophisch motivierte Modelle evaluativer Rangordnungen: das Messwertmodell (z.B. Chang), das Wertordnungsmodell (z.B. Griffin) und das Modell der zulässigen Präferenzordnungen (Rabinowicz). Die Analyse konzentriert sich auf den Beitrag der verschiedenen Modelle, die Rechtfertigung einer Wahl zwischen Optionen transparent zu machen. Während das Messwertmodell fragwürdige Konsequenzen für das Konzept der nachhaltigen Entwicklung hat, verlangt das Wertordnungsmodell eine axiologische Struktur, die für Nachhaltigkeit nicht plausibel ausgearbeitet werden kann. Das Modell der zulässigen Präferenzordnungen scheint vielversprechender zu sein. Seine formale Struktur und die Möglichkeit, Werte-Pluralismus zu modellieren, erlauben es, das Problem, wie Nachhaltigkeits-entscheidungen gerechtfertigt werden können, neu zu strukturieren.


Le développement durable exige de choisir entre différentes stratégies ou politiques. Il est courant de justifier un tel choix par un classement évaluatif des options. Il faut à cet égard tenir compte du fait que les conséquences de ces options touchent différentes valeurs. Lorsque le classement de stratégies est utilisé comme argument dans le processus de décision politique, la transparence joue un rôle central. Nous amenons la discussion sur trois modèles de classement évaluatif motivés par une pensée philosophique: le modèle des valeurs mesurées (p. ex. Chang), le modèle des valeurs classées (p. ex. Griffin) et le modèle des classements préférentiels admissibles (Rabinowicz). L’analyse se concentre sur la contribution des différents modèles à rendre transparente la justification d’un choix entre les options. Tandis que le modèle des valeurs mesurées a des conséquences discutables pour le concept du développement durable, le modèle des valeurs classées exige une structure axiologique qui ne peut être élaborée de manière plausible pour la durabilité. Le modèle des classements préférentiels admissibles semble beaucoup plus prometteur. Sa structure formelle et la possibilité de traiter le pluralisme de valeurs permettent de structurer de manière nouvelle le problème de la justification des choix dans le domaine de la durabilité.



This paper is based on the author’s research within the project TUMSS (Towards an Improved Understanding of Methane Sources and Sinks and their Role in the Past, Present and Future Climate) at ETH Zurich. Earlier versions have been presented at the universities of Basle, Constance and Zurich and at ETH Zurich. We would like to thank all participants for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesETH Zurich, CHN H 73.2ZurichSwitzerland

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