The Last Man


  • Roger Lamb University of Queensland



I examine the basic logical character of ‘the last man example’, as well as the logical character of one of its more important variants. Although it has one striking antecedent in recent philosophy – of which more later – it’s fair to regard it as an example first presented to a contemporary audience by Richard Routley in his 1973 paper, ‘Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?’.  I want to determine exactly how the example goes and what it shows. I want to determine what it does not show. One reason for engaging in this exercise is the striking and engaging character of the last man example itself. Another is that a large number of environmental philosophers have since referred to the last man but have drawn different, sometimes contrary, lessons from it – though we won’t have time here to visit any but the earliest of these responses. It seems to me time to patiently revisit the example and time to attempt a conclusive understanding of its significance. A second, and broader, purpose I have is to describe the meta-ethical views it led Routley to adopt – or manufacture! – in an attempt to philosophically position his normative stance within a more fundamental, explanatory, framework.


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Author Biography

Roger Lamb, University of Queensland

Department of Philosophy

University of Queensand

(Senior Lecturer, now retired)