From moral belief to action

Student thesis: Master thesis (including HD thesis)

  • Anne Sivesgaard Jensen
4. term, Applied Philosophy, Master (Master Programme)
In the current climate debate, sustainability as concept has come to designate the actions necessary to avoid radical climate change and protect what people find valuable. Though most people agree on sustainability as a value worth pursuing, this does not seem to lead to the action actually needed. This master thesis takes as starting point the conclusion that to obtain sustainability people must act on moral principles such as altruism and the common good, as argued by several philosophers and theorists. The thesis seeks to close the gap between judging sustainability as a value worth pursuing and acting on this value by examining how moral principles can incite and sustain motivation for changing our usual behavior and act in new ways.
The thesis starts by identifying the ethical connotations of the concept of sustainability. Why can sustainability be said to require action based on moral principles? By examining the evolution of the concept of sustainability as well as the classic definition of sustainability based on the World Commission on Environment and Developments report Our common future (1987), the thesis concludes that sustainability asks of people to act with consideration for both a global populace and future generations – thereby acting for the good of others. Likewise, sustainability requires value-based considerations of exactly what we wish to sustain for the good of future generations. Next, the thesis outlines the philosophical discussion of moral motivation focusing on the question whether moral belief alone can incite action.
By analyzing Hannah Arendt (Arendt) and Alenka Zupančič´ (Zupančič) theories of action in a sustainability context, this study seeks to answer how we might strengthen motivation for action based on moral principles such as altruism and the common good. While Zupančič examines how moral duty by itself becomes a drive for action, Arendt identifies other incentives for acting on moral values and seeks to create the ideal space to cultivate these incentives. I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both theories in the context of acting on the principles of sustainability and conclude by showing, how both theories can help us strengthen the motivation to act when moral principles might seem our sole incentive for doing so. Arendt´s theory of action is used to create a space for cultivating common values and strengthen the individual´s motivation for acting on these. However, while Arendt´s theory shows how we might draw motivation from collectively agreed-upon values, Zupančič considers motivation for action breaking with the common understanding of what is possible or proper. I, therefore, argue on the usefulness of Zupančič´ theory when current ideologies or ways of thinking inhibits action based on moral principles.
Publication date2020
ID: 332982810