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PhD Thesis 

Candidate: Leanne Seeliger
Supervisor: Professor Johan Hattingh
Co-supervisor: Professor Servaas van der Berg
Institution: Stellenbosch University, Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Department of Economics


This thesis sets out to uncover why environmental concerns are not being effectively addressed in economic decision-making. It investigates this by analyzing the key values underpinning neo-classical economics and ecological economics, and concludes that both approaches remain trapped in a form of moral monism and are thus unable to express the full range of environmental values that exist. This results in a form of reductionism in economic thinking where all environmental value is expressed in the form of exchange value. In order to escape from this reductionism, it is asserted that ecological economics needs to adopt a moral pluralist philosophy that can accommodate both exchange values and subjective intrinsic value.

Mindful of the quagmires of moral relativism, the thesis seeks out an approach to economic decision-making that is able to justify courses of action amid seemingly competing economic and environmental values. Environmental pragmatism, a form of moral pluralism, that focuses on the contextual nature of truth and value, is found fitting for the task. It uses experience to reduce uncertainty and moves decision-makers towards courses of action that can support a plurality of values within a given context. Environmental pragmatist Bryan Norton’s philosophy of adaptive management, with its guidelines of experimentalism, multi-scalar analysis and localism, is found to be particularly helpful in achieving this.

The second half of the thesis concentrates on demonstrating the value of environmental pragmatism in economic decision-making by using it to analyse the South African National Budget of 2005. Norton’s guidelines are first used as critical tools of analysis to show up the gaps and inconsistencies in the budget process and then, secondly, as creative tools to reconstruct the budget process. To demonstrate what this would mean in concrete terms, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture budget votes are analysed using the sustainability indicators of The City of Cape Town’s Sustainability Report of 2005 and the 2020 goals of The City of Cape Town’s Integrated Development Plan of 2004/5.