Human ecology, it is argued, even when embracing recent developments in the natural sciences and granting a place to culture, tends to justify excessively pessimistic conclusions about the prospects for creating a sustainable world order. This is illustrated through a study of the work and assumptions of Richard Newbold Adams and Stephen Bunker. It is argued that embracing hierarchy theory as this has been proposed and elaborated by Herbert Simon, Howard Pattee, T.F.H. Allen and others enables human ecology to conceive humans both as part of nature and as cultural beings in a way that gives due regard to the ethical development of humanity. That is, ethical constraints need no longer be conceived of as 'unnatural'. Characterizing the nature of such constraints, conceived of as emerging from the Hegelian 'struggle for recognition', this argument is shown to justify some optimism about the future, and to give some idea of how society should be organized if ethical constraints, able to constrain humanity’s relationship to the rest of nature, are to prevail.