Sample Argumentative Essay 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 super powers 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.