Tragedy of the Commons Essay

Pages: 5 (1411 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

Philosophy -- the Tragedy of the Commons

Overview of the Tragedy of the Commons

In principle, Hardin explains that the "Tragedy of the Commons" means that one of the inevitable consequences of large societies is that contemporary generations do not have a natural incentive to refrain from behavior that is decidedly detrimental to subsequent generations (or to others now). Specifically, the problem, according to Hardin, is that people can be trusted only to do what is in their personal interests and to exercise self-imposed restraint on activities that are beneficial to them but detrimental to the welfare of others.

For example, if high-profile studies revealed that breathing in aerosol deodorant vapors cause cancer in users, many current users of deodorant sprays would change their habits immediately, out of self-interest. Conversely, if the studies indicated that using spray deodorant today would cause cancer to others elsewhere in the world (but not to users), such as (for sake of argument, as a function of being carried thousands of miles in the jet stream and subsequently absorbed by fresh sources of drinking water in other continents), many fewer individuals would change their deodorant habits.

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Since the natural tendency to act selfishly in this regard is so strong, the burden falls on government and political institutions to impose reasonable rules and regulations to govern behavior that is harmful to others (living elsewhere or in the future) by the same objective justification for regulating potentially harmful conduct to others contemporaneously. Hardin points out that it is not helpful to rely on the exercise of conscience because most people will choose to act selfishly rather than benevolently for the purpose of protecting future generations (or the general public if it is in the individual's personal or immediate interests to act selfishly).

Considering Hardin's Thesis about Overpopulation

Essay on Tragedy of the Commons Assignment

The main thesis of Hardin's essay is the implication of applying the Tragedy of the Commons to the problem of overpopulation. In that discussion, Hardin presumes that the best solution to the global problem of overpopulation is encouraging people to procreate less fruitfully. Hardin argues that, in this context, the Tragedy of the Commons principle means that relying on people to respond appropriately by doing the right thing (i.e. choosing to limit their family size to reduce population growth and the strain on global resources needed to support more people) could never achieve its objective.

Moreover, encouraging people to have smaller families than they might otherwise wish to have would only work on those people with a high moral conscience, and the intellectual ability to understand the issues, and the evolved psychology not to succumb to rationalization. Their more selfish, stupid, and rationalizing counterparts would continue to procreate at whatever rate they would have without government efforts to encourage responsible family planning out of beneficence and social responsibility.

One particular result Hardin warns about is that this approach would also dilute the gene pool by benefiting those individuals who are selfish, stupid, and less psychologically evolved by allowing them to maintain their birth rate over many generations while simultaneously reducing the birth rate of those in society who are the most benevolent, intelligent, and honest with themselves. That is not a recipe for positive changes in human societies over the longer term.

Therefore, Hardin suggests that the only appropriate and reliable way of achieving the strategic objective of reducing human population growth without diminishing the gene pool to society's detriment in the process requires some form of mandated government-administrated family planning to limit the size of families. Hardin argues that classic Darwinian principles would ensure that any voluntary system of changing behavior would produce a human race that becomes increasingly incapable of resisting the natural urge to ignore what objective ethical principles require and act selfishly.

Hardin's Thesis in Light of Sen's Distinction between Collaboration and Override

Sen disputes both the factual bases of Hardin's concern about overpopulation being the most significant problem in the world and the conclusion of Hardin that only mandatory measures imposed by government to override the natural desires of people could achieve the objective of reducing family size. Sen provides several examples from various regions of the world where voluntary measures of that nature actually worked better than forced compliance… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Tragedy of the Commons" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Tragedy of the Commons.  (2012, June 18).  Retrieved April 6, 2020, from

MLA Format

"Tragedy of the Commons."  18 June 2012.  Web.  6 April 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Tragedy of the Commons."  June 18, 2012.  Accessed April 6, 2020.