Glossary description

In the 1970s, the Heidelberg School of Ecological Economics was founded to meet the complex and diverse challenges of environmental protection by an equally diverse team of researchers, all experts in their fields of economics, physics, biology, philosophy, and other disciplines. This group came together to build a shared understanding of the interplay between nature and economy.
Their core belief that only interdisciplinary research could lead to robust innovations made them forerunners in academia, and they soon established themselves as advisors to a number of governments all over the globe on ecological topics: This spirit of cooperation and innovation shines through the institute’s publications and is spread by the many professors who have emerged from the school. In order to preserve and further develop the expertise of these pioneers of interdisciplinary work on ecological economics, we intend to create the online platform “Mapping the Interplay between Nature and Economy” (MINE).

The term utility is used as a measure of satisfaction in economics. According to economic assumptions, people’s actions are motivated by the striving for utility. As it is explained in the context of Homo Oeconomicus, one central assumption is the non-satiation, which means that people want as much utility as they can get. The more utility they achieve, the more diminishes the difference every additional unit of utility makes. Therefore economists speak of a diminishing marginal utility.

Mentioned in:

Key Thinkers:


Reflection about the conditions, principles and goals of human individual and social actions.

Mentioned in: Responsibility, Justice and Sustainability

Thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Max Weber

The concept of joint production captures the particular characteristic of human activity – namely that it always has unintended side effects – which is the structural cause of many environmental problems.

Mentioned in: Joint Production; Responsibility, Thermodynamics, Irreversibility

Key Thinkers: Adam  Smith,  John  Stuart  Mill,  Karl  Marx,  Johann  Heinrich  von  Thünen,  William  Stanley Jevons,  Arthur  Cecil  Pigou,  Heinrich  von  Stackelberg,  John  von  Neumann, Pierro  Sraffa


Every useful stock can be used according to the view of whoever it affords utility to. In this case it is practical to speak  of  stores  instead  of  stocks.  Stores  are  therefore  the  subset  of  stocks  that  can  be  viewed  under  the perspective of positive utility. As a store consists of a finite amount of homogeneous material, it can be (and tends to be) depleted. A store is generally recognisable as such in that someone can extract something useful from it.

Mentioned in: Stocks, Stores and Funds

Key Thinkers: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

A stock is an accumulation of a finite amount of ‘homogeneous’ material. Every useful stock can be used according to the view of whoever it affords utility to. In this case it is practical to speak  of  stores  instead  of  stocks.

Mentioned in: Stocks, Stores and Funds

Key Thinkers: Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen

Ignorance can be divided into open and closed ignorance. A person is characterised by closed ignorance when he does not know that he is ignorant. In other words, that person has no knowledge as to his own ignorance. In the case of open ignorance, the person is conscious of his ignorance: he knows what it is that he does not know. Open ignorance can be further differentiated according to whether it is reducible or not.

Reducible ignorance may be individual and social ignorance. An individual can reduce his ignorance by learning; a society uses scientific research to transform its ignorance into knowledge. If ignorance cannot be reduced as described above, we speak of irreducible ignorance.

Mentioned in: Ignorance, Power of Judgement, Responsibility

Key Thinkers: Augustine, Nicolas of Cusa, Immanuel Kant, Plato, Michel Smithson

The  concept  of  the  homo  oeconomicus  is  the  most  central  assumption  of  economics, because economic behaviour is the central pillar of economic theory. It is generally assumed that all  human  beings  behave  according  to  the  model  of  the  homo  oeconomicus,  i.e.  they  are maximising their own utilities. It is presupposed that she is well informed about herself and the world.  Her  wants,  i.e.  her  preferences,  are  not  in  any  way  restricted  (Arrow  1951/1963:  24-25).

However, without further characteristics it would not be possible to forecast her behaviour. For this reason it is further generally assumed in economics that all consumers act according to the following two assumptions.

The first and most important one is non-satiation, i.e. she always wants to have more of at least one good, be it, e.g. gold or time. Second, it is taken for granted that she is concerned solely about her own well-being; this implies that envy and pity are strange to  her. Both  assumptions,  non-satiation  and  independence  of  preferences,  are  crucial  for  the mathematical calculation of the decisions of the homo oeconomicus and for the central results of welfare  economics.

Mentioned in: Homo Oeconomicus and Homo Politicus; Mainstream Economics and Ecological Economics

Key Thinkers: Kenneth Arrow, Jeremy Bentham, Gary S. Becker, Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith

The  concept  of  responsibility  has  always  been  explicitly  or  implicitly  dealt  with  in  political philosophy and philosophical ethics.  But only in the twentieth century did responsibility become  a  ‘key  category’. Two meanings need to be distinguished. The Primary meaning of responsibility: Responsibility for the consequences of one’s own action, in the sense of ascription. This is a precondition for morality, not morality itself. The Secondary meaning of responsibility: Responsibility for the consequences of one’s own action or for something in particular, in the sense that moral and legal standards have to be met. This imposes moral or legal obligations.

Furthermore, a differentiation between positive and negative responsibility needs to be made. Negative responsibility: Actions must not damage another subject. Positive responsibility: Responsibility for the good state of being of something in particular, e.g. an object, an individual, a group or an institution.