Sample Philosophy Paper on The Tragedy of the Commons

The Tragedy of the Commons is an article written by an American Philosopher Garrett Hardin. The article argues that overpopulation is exhausting the resources in the world and humans are destined to desolation. It begins by introducing two superpowers producing missiles to spread their supremacy and defend their citizens. Hardin argues that this state of affairs cannot be fixed by technology. Essentially, technology worsened the situation to a more dangerous proportion. Regardless of the regular technological advancements, Hardin asserts, they are just for a short time. New technology will only assist in increasing the population, which will eventually exhaust the remaining resources. Hardin’s argument supports Thomas Robert Malthus observation that the population increase inexorably overtakes food production, causing an irresistibly prevalent starvation.

What Shall We Maximize?

According to Hardin’s argument, people should consider the earth’s resources limited so that a unified solution is achieved. He believes that colonization of other worlds is not a solution to this problem. He also challenges the idea that the existing resources on earth can accommodate more individuals. He maintains that people should understand the difference between maximum and optimum population. Where, maximum population means the Earth is occupied by as many people as possible. Optimum population presents a lesser number as compared to maximum. Hardin argues that when there is increased number of people, the natural resources become limited to serve everyone. Therefore, he dismisses the idea of having maximum population because it will do away with the activities such as leisure and pleasure.

Tragedy of Freedom in a Commons

Hardin’s fears are based on the fact that when people scramble for limited resources, there can be serious consequences. If there is no control over how individuals use the resources, the resources will certainly be depleted. Hardin supports this argument by incorporating William Forster Lloyd’s essay. The essay reflects productive communities’ pasture with cattle grazing on it. Initially, the estimated number of cattle grazing on the land is limited, but with time, more herders bring more cattle to graze. Because of the increase in number, the cattle begin to trample on the grass as they compete for fodder. In the long run, the grass is finished, soil erosion takes place, and the pasture becomes valueless. This echoes the tragedy of the commons idea-when there is lack of control on the use of resources, individuals fight to continuously get more until it is depleted.


Hardin describes various contemporary tragedies of the commons. Maritime nations fish so much that the species vanish. Industries spill oil, fumes, chemicals and sewage into the water, air and soil, thus degrading the environment and causing damage to life. Hardin argues that these tragedies of the commons occur due to overpopulation.

How to Legislate Temperance?

Hardin maintains that what is considered moral in the society is basically “system sensitive” (Hardin 1245).  He explains two different kinds of law: administrative laws and statutory laws. While statutory laws are passed by the legislature, the administrative laws are the guidelines for enforcing the statutory laws. Nevertheless, Hardin considers administrative laws the better way to regulate temperance and control over any activity.

Freedom to Breed Is Intolerable

One activity that should be controlled or stopped completely is human breeding. Hardin believes that the reason human breeding becomes hard to control is due to the acceptance that it is a basic human right. Assimilating “freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons” (Hardin 1246) is disastrous.  He condemns United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights for encouraging the families to make decisions over the number of children to give birth to.

Conscience Is Self-Eliminating

Hardin’s focus is then switched to finding the most suitable solution to deal with the rate of human breeding. He argues that the consideration of human breeding as a right should be changed. He asserts that the world has people with conscience, who views things the way he sees them. Nevertheless, even if people who have social conscience willingly desist from breeding, people without social conscience will take advantage of them. People with no social conscience will bear more children, scramble for more resources, and leave the world at a deplorable state

Pathogenic Effects of Conscience

Hardin looks deeper into the notion of ‘double bind,’ a term ascribed to Gregory Bateson. Hardin supports the idea that if humans are made to discontinue with an activity that seems destructive to the commons with an “appeal to conscience, they are being given two conflicting messages” (Hardin 1247). Either, they will be castigated for being irresponsible if they fail to take the suggested action, or if they do what is recommended, they are compelled “simpletons” who can easily give up accessing the commons, thereby being exploited.  Hardin argues that overusing tactic to make people feel guilty is ineffective. Instead, it brews anxiety among those that are coerced into going against their own interest. He considers real sanctions as the most desirable method.

Mutual Coercion Mutually Agreed Upon

According to Hardin’s argument, the best way to alter people’s opinions, attitudes and behaviors is through mutual coercion, not force. He asserts that even though the term “coercion” has a negative implication, it should be regarded as “persuasion”. Because appeal to social science is not effective, individuals should be compelled reduce family size through mutual agreement. Hardin considers taxes as one way of exerting mutual coercion. If there are no penalties put in place, people with no social conscience would not willingly contribute towards a common goal.


Recognition of Necessity

Well-constituted boundaries protect individuals from exploiting one another. Hardin maintains, “We need to reexamine our individual freedoms to see which ones are defensible.” (Hardin 1244). When certain restrictions are put in place, peace is guaranteed among people. Social change is conceivable. Hardin recounts how in the past, people abandoned some liberties and instead, used coercion to evade tragedy of the commons. It has become a common practice among people to devise new ways of protecting resources including, entitling private properties and constituting farming, hunting and fishing. However, as population increased, coercive agreements banned dumping domestic waste along the streets. According to Hardin, the moment certain agreements are put in place, humans quickly adapt to them as though such agreement were present even in the past.  He maintains that the only way to foster more treasurable and valuable freedoms such as leisure is by renouncing the freedom to breed.


The essay is quite interesting. Hardin’s development of a series of questions and answers which eventually lead to his conclusion is fascinating. He puts forward a question, explains the common wisdom, and then analytically contests the mechanisms that support the belief. Hardin poses certain questions that make the reader believe that actually the only solution to the topic in question is to limit breeding. For example, he asks, “Is ours a finite world? Can we meet the goal of the greatest good for the greatest number? What is good?” (Hardin1244). He answers the questions one by one by one, incorporating other scholars’ views, bringing in his evidence, and drawing a conclusion. This form of argument can be likened to the Socratic Method commonly used by the Great Greek Philosophers.

All through the article, Hardin reveals a wide knowledge, drawing from a broad range of fields such as, psychology, economics, philosophy, and politics, among others. He brings in the ideas of great scholars like Charles Darwin, Thomas Malthus and Georg Hegel. He demonstrates that he is addressing intellectual audience by the way he reference his works. Apart from just mentioning the scholars whose ideas support his argument, he goes further to explain why he does not agree to some arguments by some scholars. This he does by presenting certain evidence. For example, he gives detailed information concerning the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights before disqualifying its validity.

The way he structures his wording is subjective. His attention on the dangers of overpopulation is well expressed though his use of words. For instance, he uses the word breeding which is a term used when referring to animals such as dogs. This makes the subject weightier, making it look like humans are giving birth “too much”. He uses overpopulation alongside other words with undesirable connotations.

In addition, Hardin reflects on productive communities’ pasture with cattle grazing on it. Initially, the estimated numbers of cattle grazing on the land are limited, but with time, more herders bring more cattle to graze. Because of the increase in number, the cattle begin to trample on the grass as they compete for fodder. In the long run, the grass is finished, soil erosion takes place, and the pasture becomes valueless. In this case, he refers to the pasture as the “commons”. The word “commons” is also used as a metaphor to represent any shared resources which are damaged through overuse.

Hardin provides various examples such as City Street, parking space, sea life, air and water, and how overpopulation affects them. If one is keen enough, then it is easy to realize how his examples and statements reflect the reality of life. These examples imply that the commons can be abused by people, industries, communities and countries that scramble for power. It is for this reason that he recommends mutual coercions for every community. In reality, Hardin’s opinions and arguments are a true reflection of what goes on in the world. This form of articulation has the ability to persuade the readers to support the presented arguments. Hardin argues that human breeding should not be considered a right; there should be a law which limits humans from giving birth to as many children as possible. This is because, the world is already overpopulated and the resources are scarce. When this is done, it should not be considered abuse of morals. He further supports this by suggesting that morality should only be judged depending on the circumstance. Throughout the article, Hardin supports his arguments.


Work Cited

Hardin, Garrett. “The tragedy of the commons.” science 162.3859 (1968): 1243-1248.