Margaret Schabas


Research Classification

Philosophy, History and Comparative Studies

Research Interests

History and Philosophy of Economics

Relevant Degree Programs


Research Methodology



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History and Philosophy of Economics; Philosophy of Nature; Environmental Philosophy; Early Modern Philosophy; British Nineteenth-Century Philosophy; Science and Technology Studies

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - May 2019)
The world as a garden : a philosophical analysis of natural capital in economics (2015)

This dissertation undertakes a philosophical analysis of “natural capital” and argues that this concept has prompted economists to view Nature in a radically novel manner. Formerly, economists referred to Nature and natural products as a collection of inert materials to be drawn upon in isolation and then rearranged by human agents to produce commodities. More recently, nature is depicted as a collection of active, modifiable, and economically valuable processes, often construed as ecosystems that produce marketable goods and services gratis. Nature is depicted as consisting of various unproduced mechanisms or “natural machines” that are first discovered and then channeled so as to serve human ends. In short, nature as an ideal is a kind of garden that is characterized by natural objects purposefully arranged by intentional human agents. This dissertation first lays out working definitions of the key terms, such as capital and Nature, and then traces the historical roots of natural capital in the writings of eminent classical political economists, such as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, and Karl Marx. I then examine the question of substitutes for “critical natural capital”, and argue that the preservation paradox is warranted: no one can restore or preserve a part of Nature without turning it into an artifact. Following the recent work of Debra Satz and Michael Sandel, I finish my dissertation by situating the question of natural capital in the broader context of whether some goods should not be for sale, particularly those I define as Basic Ecological Goods.

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Hume's ethics of belief (2011)

Hume’s theory of belief and his normative standard or ethics of belief are founded on empirically observable, natural principles, principles which have been misunderstood by those who view Hume’s belief theory as one based on the forcefulness and liveliness of our ideas. In this dissertation, I argue that, according to Hume, both factual and value judgments are arrived at via the same basic, natural processes of the mind. All human judgments are ultimately derived from feeling or affect, that is, from internal impressions which arise within the human mind in tandem with, or in reaction to, its experience of ideational content, that is, the “parts or composition of the idea, which we conceive.” According to Hume, then, our feelings, operating in concert with the sensory and cognitive functions of the mind, provide us with our final standards of judgment, whether factual or evaluative. Our ethics of belief—our normative standards of belief—are therefore, like belief itself, more properly ascribable to the “sensitive” or feeling part of our nature, than to the non-affective, rational, or cogitative aspects of cognition. In sum, for Hume, belief is a complex but wholly natural cognitive phenomenon, consisting of, firstly, our experience of ideational content, and secondly, our feeling of cognitive commitment—the feeling of believing in the ideational content experienced. All judgments, factual and evaluative, are composed in this way.

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