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A geo-ethical logic for citizens and geoscientists


The impacts of anthropogenic change do call for strengthening the socio-political and socio-economic anchorage of geoethical thinking. Geosciences are more than mere techno-scientific disciplines as, for example, geohydrology shows. Geoscience expertise ties geosciences and people's social lives. Geosciences are relevant for the societies' functioning, namely, to operate a technosphere at local, regional and planetary scales. Therefore, geoscience expertise includes a school of philosophical thinking called geoethics. Although initially designed for professional use, geoethics should support any citizen’s individual, professional and civic dealings. Nowadays, the technosphere is a vital feature of the contemporary Earth System (or ‘human niche’). In these contexts, conceptual benchmarks for geoethical thinking are described to address: (i) the operational limits of aspirational stipulations and (ii) a stronger socio-political anchorage of geoethical thinking. Methodologically, the present study relates geoethical thinking with the political philosophies of Bunge, Jonas and Kohlberg about people's social lives. Their works offer foundations for a broad application of geoethical thinking by providing benchmarks: Kohlberg's ‘hierarchy of societal coordination (moral adequacy)’, Bunge’s ‘balance of individual happiness (well-being) and duty’ and Jonas' ‘imperative of responsibility for agents of change’. These political philosophies can be combined with geoethical thinking (or geoethics). A ‘geo-ethical logic’ can be formulated, calling to act with: agent-centricity, virtue-focus, responsible-focus, reproducible/scientific knowledge, all-agent-inclusiveness and universal-rights-base. Whilst preserving the design of geoethics, the proposed geo-ethical logic strengthens the socio-political anchorage of geoethical thinking, and aspirational stipulations are benchmarked. Further study should aim to complement the given frame of socio-political benchmarks by socio-economic benchmarking.

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  1. For the benefit of the reader, the word ‘geoethics’ is used for a specific configuration of geoethical thinking to distinguish variants of thought.

  2. Considering socio-economic dynamics is subject of ongoing studies of the author.

  3. …system behaviour >> sense-making >> action >> system behaviour >> sense-making >> action >> …

  4. The term ‘relativism’ was replaced by ‘pluralism’ to sharpen the meaning.



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Correspondence to Martin Bohle.

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Bohle, M. A geo-ethical logic for citizens and geoscientists. Sustain. Water Resour. Manag. 7, 85 (2021).

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  • Geoethics
  • Moral adequacy
  • Imperative of responsibility
  • Sense-making
  • Complex-adaptive
  • Social–ecological systems