Volume 30, Issue 1, Spring 2016
Justice in the Public Square
Towards an Aristotelian Ethics of the Built Environment
This paper develops some foundations for an Aristotelian ethics of the built environment by combining the formal elements of Aristotelian justice with the design theory of Christopher Alexander. The resulting ordered set of human actions and their corresponding built environments require social deliberation about the integration of activities. This deliberation is required at all levels of human action, is characterized by local and step-wise decision making, and in important ways makes it possible for us to know if and how we are harming others. On the political level this is embodied in the “public square,” whose essential purpose as integrative and moral-epistemological has deep and provocative implications for our built environment. For example, walkable human communities should be the default ethical choice for our built environment. I conclude by discussing a two-fold challenge to the New Urbanism movement for the light this sheds on the overall argument.