Human Rights

Dr Tom Kerns













Study Questions for

Elliott and Lamm's essay

"A Moral Code for a Finite World"


1. For purposes of their argument, Elliott and Lamm ask us, in the first paragraphs of their article, to accept certain premises about our present world. What are the most important of those premises, in your mind, that they ask us to accept?

2. What do you understand “The Tragedy of the Commons” to be (paragraph 2), according to their description?

3. Elliott and Lamm describe what they understand Kant’s ethic to be (paragraph 8). Do you agree with their assessment?

4. In this article Elliott and Lamb are describing “an ethic of the commons” (paragraphs 5, 26, 27, 28, etc). What do you understand this “ethic of the commons” to be, according to this essay?

5. In paragraph 19 Elliott and Lamm say “When the population in any environment is small and natural resources plentiful, every additional person increases the welfare of all. As more and more people are added, they need increasingly to exploit the finite resources of the environment. At a certain point, the members of an increasing population become so crowded that they stop benefiting each other; by damaging the environment that supports everyone, by limiting the space available to each person, and by increasing the amount of waste and pollution, their activity begins to cause harm. That is, population growth changes from good to bad.”
How do you see this as fitting into what they are saying in this essay?

6. If you had to give a formal definition of Elliott and Lamm’s ethic of the commons, how would you define it? In other words, try completing these two sentences: “According to an ethic of the commons, actions would be considered right in so far as they...[complete this sentence]. And actions would be considered wrong in so far as they... [complete this sentence].