Sustainability Science

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 373–383 | Cite as

Whose values count: is a theory of social choice for sustainability science possible?

  • Mark W. AndersonEmail author
  • Mario F. Teisl
  • Caroline L. Noblet
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Concepts, Methodology, and Knowledge Management for Sustainability Science


If sustainability science is to mature as a discipline, it will be important for practitioners to discuss and eventually agree upon the fundamentals of the paradigm on which the new discipline is based. Since sustainability is fundamentally a normative assertion about tradeoffs among values, how society chooses the specifics among these tradeoffs is central to the sustainability problem. Whose values should count in making social decisions and how should the multiplicity of values that exist be known and used in that decision process? Given the vast spatial domains and temporal domains at work in the sustainability problem, we need some means of reconciling the inevitably divergent choices depending on whose values we count, how we know what those values are, and how we count them in making social decisions. We propose an approach to dealing with these questions based on Rawls (A theory of justice. Belknap Press, Cambridge, 1971) and explore the problems inherent in a social choice theory for sustainability science.


Social choice Values Philosophy of science Public policy 



This research was conducted as part of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine. We are grateful for insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers who challenged our thinking for this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark W. Anderson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mario F. Teisl
    • 1
  • Caroline L. Noblet
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MaineOronoUSA

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