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Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin (1986)
Born 21 April 1915
Died 14 September 2003
Fields Ecology
Known for The Tragedy of the Commons (essay)

Garrett James Hardin (21 April 1915 – 14 September 2003) was a leading and controversial ecologist from Dallas, Texas, who was most well known for his 1968 paper, The Tragedy of the Commons. He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Ecology, which states "You cannot do only one thing", and used the familiar phrase "Nice guys finish last" to sum up the "selfish gene" concept of life and evolution.[1]



Hardin received a B.S. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1936 and a PhD in microbiology from Stanford University in 1941. Moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1946, he served there as Professor of Human Ecology from 1963 until his (nominal) retirement in 1978. He was among the first members of the Society for General Systems Research.

A major focus of his career, and one to which he returned repeatedly, was the issue of human overpopulation. This led to writings on controversial subjects such as abortion, which earned him criticism from the political right, and immigration and sociobiology, which earned him criticism from the political left. In his essays he also tackled subjects such as conservation and creationism.

In 1974 he published the article "Living on a Lifeboat" in BioScience magazine, arguing that contributing food to help the Ethiopian famine would add to overpopulation, which he considered the root of Ethiopia's problems.

In 1994 he was one of 52 signatories on "Mainstream Science on Intelligence", an editorial written by Linda Gottfredson and published in the Wall Street Journal, which defended the findings on race and intelligence in The Bell Curve.[2]

Hardin and his wife Jane were both members of the Hemlock Society (now Compassion & Choices), and believed in individuals choosing their own time to die. They committed suicide in their Santa Barbara home in September 2003, shortly after their 62nd wedding anniversary. He was 88 and she was 81.[3]

See also




  • 1965, Nature and Man's Fate New American Library. ISBN 0-451-61170-5
  • 1972, Exploring new ethics for survival: the voyage of the spaceship Beagle Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-30268-6
  • 1973, Stalking the Wild Taboo W. Kaufmann. ISBN 0-913232-03-3
  • 1977, The Limits of Altruism: an Ecologist's view of Survival Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-33435-7
  • 1980, Promethean Ethics: Living With Death, Competition, and Triage University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-295-95717-4
  • 1982, Naked Emperors: Essays of a Taboo-Stalker William Kaufmann, Inc. ISBN 0-86576-032-2
  • 1985, Filters Against Folly, How to Survive despite Economists, Ecologists, and the Merely Eloquent Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-80410-X
  • 1993, Living Within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-509385-2
  • 1999, The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512274-7

Hardin's last book The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia (1999), a warning about the threat of overpopulation to the Earth's sustainable economic future, called for coercive constraints on "unqualified reproductive rights" and argued that affirmative action is a form of racism.

Selected journal articles

Chapters in books

  • 1991. Paramount positions in ecological economics. In Costanza, R. (editor) Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-07562-6
  • 1991. In: R. V. Andelson, (editor), Commons Without Tragedy, London : Shepheard-Walwyn , pp. 162–185. ISBN 0-389-20958-9 (U.S.)


  1. ^ Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene (2nd edition), Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. ISBN 0-19-286092-5
  2. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (13 December 1994). "Mainstream Science on Intelligence". Wall Street Journal: p. A18.  
  3. ^ Steepleton, Scott (19 September 2003). "Pioneering professor, wife die in apparent double suicide". Santa Barbara News-Press. Retrieved 28 September 2007.  

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Continuity is at the heart of conservatism : ecology serves that heart.

Garrett James Hardin (21 April 191514 September 2003) was a leading and controversial ecologist from Dallas, Texas who was most known for his 1968 paper, The Tragedy of the Commons. He is also known for Hardin's First Law of Ecology, which states "You cannot do only one thing".



  • Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

Naked Emperors : Essays of a Taboo-Stalker (1982)

  • Even at the religious level the creationist view is a biased one. The only creation story they mention is the one in Genesis (in which there are actually two stories — the version in the first chapter being so different from that in the second chapter that biblical scholars believe they were written hundreds of years apart). Why do they not mention the belief of the Hindus that the world began with the creation of the cosmic egg? What about the Babylonians' belief that there was not a single creationist god but two cosmic parents?
  • But it is no good using the tongs of reason to pull the Fundamentalists' chestnuts out of the fire of contradiction. Their real troubles lie elsewhere ... Fundamentalists are panicked by the apparent disintegration of the family, the disappearance of certainty and the decay of morality. Fear leads them to ask, if we cannot trust the Bible, what can we trust? The truth or falsity of evolution is a secondary matter. Rationalists must listen to the complaints of the Fundamentalists with a psychiatrist's "third ear", and respond to the more subtle messages.
  • Our desire to conserve wildlife for our children and our children's children forces us to bring out into the open conservation's secret question : Does God give a prize for the maximum number of human beings? Put another way, which shall we bequeath to our grandchildren : human life with nature, or human life without nature?
  • Why are ecologists and environmentalists so feared and hated? This is because in part what they have to say is new to the general public, and the new is always alarming. Moreover, the practical recommendations deduced from ecological principles threaten the vested interests of commerce; it is hardly surprising that the financial and political power created by these investments should be used sometimes to suppress environmental impact studies. However, I think the major opposition to ecology has deeper roots than mere economics; ecology threatens widely held values so fundamental that they must be called religious. An attack on values is inevitably seen as an act of subversion.

Filters Against Folly (1985)

  • The overall system of a sizeable community struggling to survive in a crowded world may be either socialism or privatism. Either system may work, more or less. But, except in non-critical areas of distribution, commonism cannot possibly work for very long.
  • Many of the environmentalists who moved into the environmental movement after Silent Spring ... detested pollution and craved purity. Absolute purity. They wanted to enforce zero tolerance on all environmental pollutants, not just on carcinogens. With friends like these the environment needs no enemies.
  • A coldly rationalist individualist can deny that he has any obligation to make sacrifices for the future. By contrast, those who, for whatever reason, regard the resources at their disposal as an inheritance from the past that they feel obliged to pass on to their descendants, have a better chance of producing future generations prosperous enough to be able to continue to wrestle with the problems of increasing the quality of life.
  • At this late date in the post-Christian Era, it might be questioned whether the Bible should even be brought into an ethical discussion. I argue that it should. Many people who do not explicitly call on the Bible for backing are nevertheless influenced by what they believe the Bible says. (Everyone knows about the Good Samaritan, even though they may not be able to remember what Samaritans in general were.) It is considered good form to speak politely of Scripture: revere it, but don't bother reading it seems to be the rule. Above all, don't read it thoughtfully.
  • Continuity is at the heart of conservatism : ecology serves that heart.

External links

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