My Book: A Philosopher's Guide to Natural Capitalism

A wind turbine with the sun shining through it.

A Philosopher’s Guide to Natural Capitalism: A Sustainable Future Within Reach (Routledge, 2024)

Wayne I. Henry 

Society stands at a crucial juncture: the worldview dominant in most capitalist democracies is outdated and ill-suited to solving our most pressing problems. Worse, it is putting us on a collision course with environmental disaster. It is also corrosive of democratic principles and exacerbates tensions with our global partners. This book posits that a sustainable future is possible without abandoning capitalism, but this will require us to embrace a new worldview that would re-contextualize our capitalist economies in ways that would completely revolutionize our lives. It would have the effect of changing the way we look at our relationships to the natural world and to one another.

To make this argument, the book takes on two tasks. One is the detailed critique of the old and outdated worldview, and the other is setting out a vision of what this new worldview for a sustainable society will look like. These two tasks divide the book into three parts. In Part I, an exercise in imaginative exploration, I set out the bold vision for a worldview that would underwrite a sustainable society. It begins with an economic model for a sustainable form of Capitalism, referred to in the literature as Natural Capitalism, and goes on to explore the details of the infrastructure required to implement this model. From these discussions, the supporting worldview is constructed. In Part II, attention turns to the rigorous philosophical analysis and critique of the older but still dominant narrative, which I call Classical Liberalism.

The narrative is reconstructed with great care because it is important to understand why it has been so powerful and enduring, and, of course, why it is no longer appropriate for our present circumstances. In Part III, we investigate Classical Liberalism and globalized capitalism, the economic system it licenses, from a normative perspective. The inspiring conclusion to emerge from this discussion is that the very same things we will be required to do to achieve genuine sustainability are also the things that can reinvigorate and strengthen our democracies. Finally, in the conclusion, we draw the threads of the discussion together in a way that emphasizes the differences between the two narratives, Classical Liberalism on the one hand, and the sustainable worldview that nurtures and supports Natural Capitalism on the other, which I refer to as Biosphere Consciousness.

This book will be of interest to anyone interested in a clear and interdisciplinary presentation of the issues arising out of climate change, including corporate governance, social and environmental policy, declining social capital and the capacity of democratic institutions to deal effectively with sustainability.

Table of Contents:


  • Why this book? And why now?

CH.1: Introduction: Overview and plan of the book

  • The power of narratives
  • Central themes
  • Some terminology clarified:
    • Feudalism
    • Mercantilism
    • Capitalism
    • Natural Capitalism, Biocentrism, and Biosphere Consciousness
    • Markets
    • Classical Liberalism and Progressive Liberalism
  • The plan of the book

Part I: Sustainability and Natural Capitalism:

CH.2: Genuine sustainability and what it will require of us

  • How is “sustainability” to be defined?
  • Political sustainability

CH.3: Natural Capitalism: A hopeful alternative

  • A new focus for productivity
  • The four principles of Natural Capitalism
    • First principle: maximize resource productivity
    • Second principle: biomimicry – closed-loop systems
    • Third principle: cradle to cradle - a new business model
    • Fourth principle: restoring natural capital
  • Concluding remarks

CH.4: Natural Capitalism: The underlying narrative

  • The infrastructural requirements of Natural Capitalism and the Third Industrial Revolution
  • The character of the post-TIR world
  • The narrative of sustainability:
    • Valuing nature in and of itself
    • Adopting biosphere consciousness as a fundamental moral attitude
    • The role of humility and empathy
    • Collaboration (valuing cooperation over competition)
    • Valuing community (open communications, trust, and social capital)
    • The decentralization of political authority
    • The democratization of energy and economic opportunity
    • Prioritizing local adaptation and shared knowledge
    • Prioritizing human capital before industrial capital
    • Taking a long-term perspective
    • Prioritizing access to services before private ownership
    • Why it all depends on us as individuals
  • Concluding remarks

Part II: Classical Liberalism: The Conceptual Foundations of Consumer Capitalism:

CH.5: John Locke and the Theory of Private Property

  • Historical context and Locke’s motives
  • The theory reconstructed
  • Some consequences of the theory:
    • Our labour is alienable
    • We live in a meritocracy
    • The value of nature
    • The doctrine of Terra nullis and colonialism

CH.6: Adam Smith and the Laissez-Faire Market

  • Historical context and Smith’s motives
  • Reconstructing Smith’s theory
  • Some consequences of the theory:
    • Self-interest versus selfishness as a motive
    • De-regulation
    • Privatization
    • Lower taxes

CH.7: Contrasting Visions: Classical vs. Progressive Liberalism and the Ideal State

  • Robert Nozick: The Night Watchman State
    • Stage 1: Leaving anarchy behind
    • Stage 2: Limits of the state
  • John Rawls: Justice as Fairness
    • Stage 1: The principles of justice
    • Stage 2: The original position
  • The two views compared:
    • Joseph Stiglitz and the price of inequality
    • Robert Putnam and social capital

CH.8: Corporate Governance and the Limits of Corporate Responsibility

  • The Shareholder model (Milton Friedman)
  • The Stakeholder model (R. Edward Freeman)
  • Summary and conclusions

Part III: Classical Liberalism Through a Normative Lens:

CH.9: Consequentialist Moral Theories

  • Historical context and motivations
  • Rule Utilitarianism
    • Stage 1: The standard version of John Stuart Mill
    • Stage 2: Preference Utilitarianism
  • Why Preference Utilitarianism is such a good fit for Classical Liberalism:
    • It provides the justifications for Classical Liberal prescriptions
    • It gives moral content to the idea of “Making the world a better place”
    • It makes its prescriptions on the basis of a kind of Cost-Benefit accounting
  • Re-evaluating the “fit” of Preference Utilitarianism for Classical Liberalism:
    • The absurdity of Human Rights
    • The re-imagination of Justice
    • Instrumentalizing our relations to others

CH.10: Kantian Duty Theory and the Deontological Normative Tradition

  • Kant’s historical context and motivations
  • The theory reconstructed
    • The Categorical Imperative: the fundamental law in its first formulation
    • The Practical Imperative: the fundamental law in its second formulation
    • The Kingdom of Ends: The fundamental law in its third formulation
    • The nature of our duties: Perfect vs. Imperfect duties and duties to others vs. duties to self
  • Kantian Duty Theory and Classical Liberalism
    • Agreement with Locke on the right to autonomy
    • Emphasizes our relationships to one another
    • The problem of non-human animals
    • Globalization and respect for others
    • The problem of motives
  • Summary and conclusions

CH.11: Concluding remarks

  • Why the Green New Deal is not the old New Deal
  • Sustainability will not look the same everywhere
  • Sizing up the alternatives
    • Classical Liberalism: a worldview past its shelf life
    • Biosphere Consciousness: a worldview for a sustainable future

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