A new normative economics for the formation of shared social values

Neil Ravenscroft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is mounting evidence that a new set of principles is required to form and express, rather than capture, social values for sustainability. This is because many policy questions are sufficiently complex that individual people do not—possible cannot—hold fully pre-formed values with respect to them. Thus, when people are faced with such issues, a process is required to enable them collectively to form and express a bespoke set of values that are shared. This process of shared social value formation can be understood as normative, to the extent that those involved participate in a process of ascribing values to others. This invites us to reconsider the role of normative economics, because it implies that both procedural and distributive justice is unlikely to be achieved through conventional economic logic and processes. The paper argues that the theoretical traditions that have juxtaposed positive and normative economics have been lost, such that rational choice has been progressively limited to the maximisation of economic surplus. This may be acceptable for some policy areas where the state and the individual dominate. However, the formation of social values for sustainability demands a composite approach that enables individuals to work together to form values with respect to issues about which they may have little immediate reference. The paper identifies five principles for establishing normative shared social values, relating to social units of analysis, procedural and distributive justice, dialectical decision-making and the development of social value transfer as a means of relating the shared social values formed and expressed in one context with those appropriate for a related context. The paper concludes with an agenda for research that can test, develop and refine the five principles for normative deliberated social values for sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1297-1307
Number of pages11
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Bibliographical note

This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Sustainability Science. The final authenticated version is available online at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11625-018-0652-4


  • Deliberation
  • Distributive justice
  • Normative economics
  • Shared social values
  • Social value transfer


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