, Volume 4, Issue 2, pp 113–124 | Cite as

A proposed value structure for a sustainable society

  • Lester W. Milbrath


The proposed value structure for a sustainable society constitutes a forecast of values and value relationships that are necessary to make a society sustainable over the long run. Values are defined as having the following characteristics:
  1. (1)

    They are held only by individual humans — other species do not value; societies do not value.

  2. (2)

    They are strongly held positive valences.

  3. (3)

    They generalize to other persons and society.

  4. (4)

    They typically form into hierarchies.

  5. (5)

    They are the basic glue of society.


The value structure recognizes that humans most fundamentally value their own life and are innately selfish. This central value, when modified by valuation on aggressiveness and competitiveness produces a society that is unsustainable. On the other hand, innate selfishness modified by empathy, compassion and a sense of justice for all is sustainable.

The following four values — one’s own life, high quality of life, compassion, and justice — are the core of the proposed value structure because they are grounded in the very essence of being human. A parsimonious listing of instrumental values, that fulfill these core values, are presented in the latter part of the paper. The paper concludes by discussing why a society organized according to the proposed structure would be more sustainable and also with suggestions for using this proposed structure to provoke thought and discussion.


Environmental Management Nature Conservation Economic Geology Individual Human Sustainable Society 
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.


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Copyright information

© Elsevier Sequoia 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lester W. Milbrath
    • 1
  1. 1.Environmental Studies CenterState University of New YorkBuffaloU.S.A.

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