Hierarchy Theory and Socio-Environmental Ethics

Brian John Hilton


This paper examines the raison d’etre for a new hierarchy of ethics and morality to emerge for the socio-environmental systems now re-emerging post the era of enlightenment. These are significant to post-modern human leadership in a 21st Century world. In this world knowledge creation (epistemology) and distribution plays an increasingly significant part in the process of extracting and distributing the useable energy that ontologically exists both on and off our planet.

Ethics and morality arise from our need to give defensible meaning to the choices we take in relationships relevant to these processes whither it be epistemologically in conjunction with others of our own kind, our in ontologically supporting the real planetary and universal resources in which we are embedded. Rationality alone is insufficient to resolve the conflicts of choice then faced. Ethical challenges have a huge role to play in stabilizing the sustainability of our planet and ourselves. The choices so faced are never between the clearly right and the clearly wrong. Then there is no choice. True choice comes faced with the apparently right and the apparently wrong or more complexly with choices between the apparently wrong and the apparently wrong.

We simply do not have the omnipresence to distinguish between these. Yet, frequently we are faced with such choices. Such conceptual choices are at the very heart of Hierarchy Theory. This stems as Ahl & Allen, (Ahl and Allen, 1996) tell us from the necessity we feel to observe and order the universe in a manner useful to our understanding in support of action As hierarchy theory makes evident the “hierarchical structures” then observed are more a function of our capacity to observe than of any real ontologically accessible “processes” underlying them.

This paper presents a hierarchy of ethics that can be totally compatible with each other provided they are applied at the appropriate level with the hierarchy we describe. If applied outside their own level they are self destructively incompatible. Ethical standards in our sense are not only not universals but necessarily different for different position in the hierarchy. However this is not ethical relativism for the standards required are not flexible within a particular level of the described hierarchy.


Business Ethics, Moral Compass, Knowledge, Individual Enterprise, Community, Planetary Guardians, Social Guardians

Full Text: