Mark Sagoff (1941-2023)


Influential environmental philosopher Mark Sagoff, retired Professor of Philosophy and Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University, has died.

Professor Sagoff was known for his interdisciplinary work across a range of topics in environmental philosophy, including ethics, law, economics, public policy, and science. He is the author of Price, Principle, and the Environment and The Economy of the Earth: Philosophy, Law, and the Environment, among other works. You can learn more about his writings here and here.

Sagoff was one of the early members of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy (IPPP), which was founded in 1976 at the University of Maryland to provide expertise on the normative dimensions of public policy, including environmental policy (it subsequently moved to George Mason University). A memorial notice at the Institute discusses the significance of this work:

In the late 1970’s, there were very few, if any, research institutes devoted to applied ethics or what is broadly considered as “public philosophy” today. Consequently, Mark, and fellow Institute members, were trend-setters in developing a new kind of philosophy focused on the normative dimensions of public policies. This work quickly saw uptake and support for their ideas in think tanks, NGOs, philanthropies, and governments. Institute members communicated through traditional academic articles and books, but also policy reports, advisory memos, and innovative publicly-engaged projects, including, under Mark’s guidance, the influential Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly, which successfully bridged the gap between the academy and institutions of public decision-making.

Sagoff was a member of the faculty at George Mason University from 2011 until his retirement in 2016. Prior to that, he was at the University of Maryland, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Wisconsin (Madison), and Cornell. He earned his PhD from the University of Rochester and his undergraduate degree from Harvard University.

The Institute’s memorial notice includes remarks from its current director, Andrew Light, about Sagoff. He says:

Mark both was and was not a philosopher of the old school—delighting in the most difficult abstract puzzles and problems—but spending most of his time engaging with disciplines on the front lines of public decision-making. He inspired so many of us by demonstrating that a morally responsible and defensible public policy required a seat at the table for those with philosophical training who were willing to wholly immerse themselves in the details of a policy arena. He constantly challenged us to take those seats and was unfailing in his support.

Mark Sagoff died on Tuesday, December 12th, 2023.

(via Jesse Kirkpatrick)

Obituaries elsewhere:
Washington Post
Boston Globe

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Wayne Fenske
2 months ago

I remember reading his 1993 article ‘Animal liberation and environmental ethics: Bad marriage, quick divorce’ in the mid-1990s and being very impressed. He really changed my thinking on the relationship between these two areas of moral concern.