The Journal of Value Inquiry

, Volume 47, Issue 1–2, pp 121–133 | Cite as

The Last Man Argument Revisited

  • Martin Peterson
  • Per SandinEmail author


Imagine that you are the last person on Earth. The rest of mankind has been eradicated, perhaps as the result of some disaster. What would you do? What should you do? Are there things you ought not to do? This situation figures in an ingenious thought experiment designed to show that nature is valuable not just in an instrumental sense, but also has some non-instrumental value. The argument is known as the Last Man Argument and was introduced by Richard Routley in 1973. 1 Routley asks us to imagine that,

[t]he last man (or person) surviving the collapse of the world system lays about him, eliminating, as far as he can, every living thing, animal or plant (but painlessly if you like, as at the best abattoirs). What he does is quite permissible according to basic chauvinism, but on environmental grounds what he does is wrong.2

Routley’s term “chauvinism” is synonymous with what today is called “anthropocentrism”. If nature has some non-instrumental value then the traditional...


Thought Experiment Virtue Ethic Environmental Ethic Virtuous Agent Irrelevant Factor 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section for Philosophy and Ethics, School of Innovation SciencesEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Crop Production EcologySwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUppsalaSweden

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