Values and decisions in biological conservation




Frank, David Moorfield

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Conservation science applies research in the natural and social sciences to practical problems of nature conservation, thus presupposing various goals and values. This dissertation examines normative roles for the decision sciences in biological conservation. I am primarily concerned with two philosophical problems that arise in applications of the decision sciences to biological conservation problems: commensurability of multiple values and cooperation between multiple agents. I argue that models from decision analysis should be used to construct preferences over complex tradeoffs, and game theoretical models should be used to identify situations in which multiple agents pursuing their own interests cause outcomes that are worse for everyone. While these models allow values to be made explicit for decision-making, in other situations conservationists’ goals and values are obscure. I discuss this distinct problem in the context of conservation biology, where the central concept of biodiversity is analyzed and shown to necessarily reflect the values of its users. The multiplicity of meanings of ‘biodiversity’ and measures of biological diversity raise risks for conservation biology and motivate multi-criteria approaches to conservation decision-making. Finally, the goals and values of conservation scientists and landscape managers may or may not reflect those of people who are affected by conservation policies. I argue that while decision science can aid in making values of various stakeholder groups explicit, facilitating reflection and learning, it cannot resolve ethical dilemmas on its own without input from normative and applied ethics, particularly in identifying legitimate stakeholders and weighing multiple biological concerns against concerns for rights, welfare, and social justice.




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