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Abstract

This essay will consider the relevance of the social sciences - especially economics - to the foundations of sustainable development. Looming environmental crises have served as a prime motivating force for reevaluating fundamental principles. In particular, the concept of sustainability, carrying with it clear requirements for values, goals and ethics, has begun to reshape economics. The broadest conception of sustainability is found if we understand sustainable development to mean Socially And Environmentally Just And Sustainable development - "SAEJAS development". Throughout the paper we will see examples of rules, or norms, that serve to organize human behavior without requiring that everything be rethought all the time. Among these may be found some ethical rules that lay the foundation for responding to the current situation in which humanity finds itself. What notice should the social sciences take of such rules? How would the social sciences - especially economics - have to change in order to be able to pay appropriate attention to ethical norms? "Participatory science," involving citizens as well as specialists, is proposed as an outline for the kind of science that is needed under contemporary circumstances. The approach described under this rubric will be contrasted with the methods and assumptions of mainstream economics. The essay will give some attention to how economic ideas - for better or for worse - affect and shape culture and society. The theory of sustainable development is proposed as offering strong, practical elements of a needed alternative economic paradigm. The conclusion will remind us that theory alone has little effect, and will point to an area where theory and practice can work together to civilize modern economies.

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