From Economic to Sustainable Development - Unfolding the Concept of Law


  • Hanne Birgitte Jensen European University Institute


Keywords, political philosophy, cognition, many-valued conception of reality


The paper presents an analysis of the interrelationship of law, policy and knowledge under conditions of globalization. The paper’s basic premise is that the emergence of the sustainable development policy has been driven by an expanding awareness of the world as a singular and interdependent entity. My principal argument is that the policy of sustainable development is part of a wider epistemic shift, - which means that we - the global community at large - understand the world differently today than 50-60 years ago when the United Nations and the Bretton Woods inspired institutions were established. The theory of change underlying the policy represents, therefore, a shift from the model of economic development, which builds on the idea of separation and functional specialization, to a model of sustainable development, which builds on interdependence and integration. I suggest that the sustainable development policy provides us with a key to develop a common theoretical framework for explaining the implications of the epistemic shift, but, that giving effect to the shift will require research and co-operation between a wide range of disciplines. I further suggest that expanding the concept of law provides a necessary condition for making the epistemic shift operational as a new paradigm in a global governance context. In conclusion, I propose that the theoretical insight from the policy provides the resources to answer the post-modern crisis of truth, which in essence is a crisis of reality, self and language. In fact, I propose that sustainable development has the potential for enabling a change equivalent to that of the Copernican revolution, which concerned man’s place in the cosmos, while sustainable development concerns man's place in the biosphere. Effectuating the change will, however, require a fundamental willingness of the global scholarly community to engage with - and not merely describe, prescribe, and measure - reality and the human condition.

Author Biography

Hanne Birgitte Jensen, European University Institute

PhD Researcher, Department of Law



How to Cite

Jensen, H. B. (2006). From Economic to Sustainable Development - Unfolding the Concept of Law. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2006, Sonoma, CA, USA. Retrieved from



Systems Philosophy & Ethics