Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 22:45
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Ethics    Topic: Materialism

Materialism is the philosophical doctrine that nothing exists except matter. By extension to society, it is a devotion to material needs or desires and a life-style based entirely on material interests. It therefore sees human beings simply as highly evolved animals with no spiritual dimension. Materialism has become the dominant faith of the Western economic system and the justification for the consumer society. The proponents of this dogmatic materialism have penetrated and captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, ensuring that no competing voices would retain the ability to challenge their projects of world wide economic exploitation (Universal House of Justice, 2005).

Yet the dogmas of materialism, whether of east or west, of capitalism or socialism, have failed to satisfy the needs of humanity or to deliver the new world they have promised. The fate of what the world now calls social and economic development has left no doubt that not even the most idealistic motives can correct materialism's fundamental flaws. While acknowledging the impressive benefits development has brought, it must be judged by its own standards as a disheartening failure (Universal House of Justice, 2005). The vast majority of the world's peoples are sinking ever deeper into hunger and wretchedness while those in power enjoy unimaginable wealth. In the light of this failure, we must acknowledge that a fresh effort is required to find the solutions to the agonizing problems of the planet (Universal House of Justice, 1985).

The vast majority of the world's peoples accept that humanity is more than material, that it also has a moral, ethical or spiritual dimension above and beyond its purely material, animal existence. This is equally important for considerations of sustainability, as it means that solutions must consider not only the material sustainability of the planet, bur also its social, cultural and spiritual sustainability.


Universal House of Justice. 1985. The Promise of World Peace. Baha'i World Centre, Haifa.

Universal House of Justice. 2005. One Common Faith. Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, USA.

Article last updated 29 June 2006

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