When this forming
civilization assembles its Bible, its record of the physical
and spiritual pilgrimage of the American People, the account
of its stewardship in the Land of Canaan, Aldo Leopold's A
Sand County Almanac will belong in it, one of the prophetic
books, the utterance of an American Isaiah.
In St. Paul's Cathedral in London,
you will find this inscription on the tomb of its architect,
Christopher Wren: "If you would see his monument, look
Similarly, If you seek the
foundations of Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic, look about. After all,
that's what he did. "Look about" in the deserts of the Arizona and
New Mexico, in the Northern lakes and forests, and above all, in the
Sand Counties of Central Wisconsin where Leopold guides you through
the seasons at his farm.. Here, as in any moderately well-functioning
natural ecosystem, are to be seen the Foundations of the Land Ethic
-- but not obviously or immediately. They are seen through eyes, and
interpreted through a mind, seasoned, informed, concentrated, and
therefore extraordinarily acute -- the sort of perception and
insights that Leopold acquired over his brilliant career and left to
us in his splendid prose.
The contrast between the untutored
and the informed encounter with wildness, is captured by Leopold's
comparison of Daniel Boone, forest-wise but ignorant of evolution and
ecology, with a contemporary ecologist, such as himself:
Daniel Boone's reaction
[to the outdoors] depended not only on the quality of what
he saw, but on the quality of the mental eye with which he saw it.
Ecological science has wrought a change in the mental eye. It has
disclosed origins and functions for what to Boone were only facts.
It has disclosed mechanisms for what to Boone were only
attributes.... We may safely say that, as compared with the
competent ecologist of the present day, Boone saw only the surface
A: THE LAND
The fundamental tenets of the Land
Ethic, are these:
1) "Land" (which we would
now call an "ecosystem") is a system of interdependent parts: best
regarded as a "community," not a "commodity."
2) Homo Sapiens is a
member, not the master, of the land community.
3) "The Whole informs the part" --
that is, we can only understand and appreciate our place in
nature, and the place of our fellow creatures, in the context of
an understanding of the whole. (Thus we can appreciate that while
the wolf is the enemy of the deer, it is the friend of the
deer-species. The deer owes its fleet foot and sensitive ear to
its predators, and the wolf owes its keen nose and stealth to its
4) Our duty is to preserve the
integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic
But who can better express this than Leopold himself:
"We abuse land because
we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a
community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and
"A land ethic changes the role
of homo sapiens from conqueror
of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It
implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the
community as such."
And finally, what I will call
A thing is right when it
tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the
biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."
Leopold's significance as a pivotal
figure in intellectual history, and philosophy in particular, lies in
his unique attempt to devise an ethic from a foundation of ecological
science. It is, I must say, an attempt which has drawn considerable
critical fire from traditional philosophers (see note 16,
To properly understand and appreciate
the significance of the Land Ethic, and Leopold's attempt to ground
it on an empirical science, we must briefly consider the fundamental
philosophical problem of "ethical naturalism" -- i.e., the attempt to
draw normative (value) conclusions from factual premises,
"prescriptions" from "descriptions."
Leopold seems never to have doubted
that the concepts and theoretical constructs of ecology had ethical
implications -- that from the empirical knowledge gained from the
observation of life communities, one could draw clear inferences as
to how humans should behave toward those communities and their
component organisms -- namely, as "plain citizens" of that community.
He was quite unconcerned, and perhaps even unaware of the
philosophers' preoccupation with the notion that it is impossible to
derive ethical conclusions from facts alone.
In a strict sense, I submit that the
analytic philosophers are correct: it is a basic rule of logic that
one cannot validly introduce into a conclusion terms and concepts
that are absent from the premises. Accordingly, one cannot derive
"oughts" from "is-es," values from facts, prescriptions from
descriptions. Philosophers have come to call such attempts "the
It is difficult to over-stress the
importance of "the naturalistic fallacy," which is arguably the
mother of most environmental policy errors, from inappropriate
applications of cost-benefit analysis and public opinion surveys, to
attempts to draw moral guidance from the history of ideas.
One means of avoiding the
naturalistic fallacy is to locate implicit value concepts among the
premises, or to deliberately introduce normative statements to the
premises. By so doing, scientific statements, which can yield no
ethical conclusions by themselves, might prove crucial in the
justification of ethical principles and commitments.
In the section which follows I will
offer two value premises which, I believe, when combined with the
insights of ecological science and the holistic view of nature,
provide strong justification for Leopold's "Land Ethic."
The Land Ethic stands on four
premises: The first, "ecology," has its origin in the life sciences.
The second, "holism," is a theory of knowledge which emerges from
ecology, and which is crucial both to that science and to the moral
philosophy which it supports. The third premise suggests an ethical
"model" or metaphor, "health," which applies to both the ecosystem
and to its component, our species. The fourth premise, "affirmation,"
identifies the sentiment and provides the motivation to make the
condition and fate of nature a matter of our personal moral concern
1. The Ecology Premise:
The Ecosystem is a
systemic whole, of which human beings are a part.
This maxim, ignored throughout most
of the history of Western civilization, has recently become common
knowledge. It has echoed throughout the world, even within the walls
of the Kremlin, as Mikhail Gorbachov proclaimed: " , ... ." "Humanity
is part of the biosphere, and ... the biosphere is an integrated
The theme of the unity and
integration of nature resounds throughout A Sand County
Almanac, where we find the fundamental principles of Ecology,
both enriching and enriched by Leopold's keen and informed
perceptions. As we study this functional-systemic science of nutrient
recycling, of energy throughput, of information exchange, of
interacting niches, and of trophic pyramids, the metaphor of
"health" becomes irresistible, as the ecologist identifies varying
degrees of robustness, diversity, integration and stability of the
subject life-communities. However, confined to the context of
ecological science, the concept of "health" is value-neutral. Later,
it becomes crucial as a component in one of our value
An attempt to elaborate upon the
elements of Ecological Science would quickly exhaust our allotted
space, and furthermore, it would be moot, since, I suspect, most of
the readers of this journal know as much as or more about Ecology
than I do.
2. The Holism
"The whole informs the
parts:" the ecosystem, and mankind's place and responsibility
within, is best understood "contextually, from the perspective of
Western philosophy has a tradition of
building knowledge "from the inside out" -- attempting to "construct"
the known world from the immediate experience of the individual. Why
not do so as we attempt to understand the "life community" and
mankind's responsibility within it?
A fanciful thought experiment might
illustrate the difficulties with such an approach. Suppose our bodily
organs were conscious and deliberative. One might imagine a "selfish
kidney" saying, "look, why should I care about the heart and lungs?
Me and my buddy kidney have our own problems?" To which the heart
might respond, "Oh yeah? If that's the way you feel, I'll just do my
thing and the Hell with you?" Needless to say, you wouldn't want to
be carrying a life insurance policy on that body.(5)
It would seem to make no sense for
the kidney to speculate as to the "uses" of the "body as a whole" to
The Zen philosopher, Alan Watts, put
the matter this way: one might think of the stomach as the brain's
way of feeding the brain. Or one might think of the brain as the
stomach's way of finding food. But, of course, once you have
descended "below" the analytic level of the integrated organism,
there is no "way" that makes any sense. The "interests" of the
component organs can only be comprehended from the point of view of
the interest of the organism.
The Land ethic regards an
anthropocentric (i.e., human-centered) ethic as an analog to
"kidney-centrism" -- ultimately self-defeating, because it is a point
of view that is focused on the level of the component, rather than
the level of the whole.
The strength of this argument rests
upon the aptness of the analogy. Ecology lends support to the
analogy. However, one should not be carried away with this analogy,
since the individual human, as a moral agent, has valid claims on his
autonomy. But in this direction lies some subtle considerations of
moral philosophy which we must pass by.
3. The Health
A healthy life community
is desirable. (Value Premise)
Act so as to maintain the
health of the community. (Duty Corollary)
In Leopold's words: "A thing right
when it tends to preserve the integrity
[and] stability ... of the biotic
Justice Potter Stewart once remarked:
"while I can't define obscenity, "I know it when I
To employ a strange simile,
health, like obscenity, is difficult to define but easy to
recognize. We know when we have it, and more acutely when we do not.
Mindful of the difficulty of defining health, here is my attempt:
"Health" is an optimal integrated and stable functioning of the
component organs and chemistry of the organism. This definition lends
itself to analogical extension: mental health is the
integrated and stable functioning of the components of personality;
"the healthy society" is one in which the institutions, norms and
interpersonal relationships are well-integrated and stable; and
ecological health is the integrated and stable interaction of the
component parts with each other and with the physical
While the concept of the "healthy
land" is implicit, and occasionally explicit, throughout A Sand
County Almanac, Leopold takes little trouble in either defining
this concept or defending its desirability.(6)
Why? Because, like most of us
(including philosophers when they are away from their work), Leopold
prefers common sense to the sort of radical skepticism that only a
philosopher can love. We all know what health is, and we can all
agree that there is no serious need to defend the intuitively
compelling notion that health is desirable.
Is health good? Only a philosopher
would think to ask. And if health is good, and if the
organism/ecosystem analogy is correct, then we have affirmed part of
the fundamental maxim: "a thing is right when it tends to preserve
the integrity [and] stability ... [that is to say, the
"health"] of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends
otherwise." And so, we have our required evaluative premise -- but
not quite the full roster of fundamental premises for the Land
But why should the systemic 'health'
of the ecosystem be of interest to the human beings? Because, of
course, our personal health is inextricably tied in with the health
of the ecosystem. We'd better take care of the ecosystem if we know
what's good for us. But that's simply anthropocentrism writ large.
And, of course, Leopold wants much more than that: not mere
"enlightened self-interest," but affirmation and love. For, as Joseph
Wood Krutch writes, in behalf of Leopold: "We must live for something
besides making a living. If we do not permit the earth to produce
beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food either... Unless
somebody teaches love, there can be no ultimate protection to what is
To complete the foundations of the
Land Ethic, we must find valid sentiments and motivations that might
lead us to cherish the earth for its own sake, and not merely in our
own "enlightened self interest." To that task we now turn.
4. The Affirmation
Nature evokes desirable
sentiments of affirmation, love, and well-being. (Value
Act so as to promote the
appreciation of these sentiments, and to protect the source of
these sentiments (i.e., wild nature). (Duty
In Leopold's words: "A thing
is right when it tends to preserve the ... beauty
of the biotic community."
Strange to say, the affective
affirmation of nature receives little if any explicit exploration in
A Sand County Almanac. But that would almost be too much,
since the Almanac, from beginning to end, is a rhapsody to
the delight, wonder and joy of nature.
Even so, eco-philosophers have had
some trouble with the third element of Leopold's maxim: "Beauty."
Nonetheless, I believe that if broadly interpreted, the concept of
beauty is quite applicable to the Land Ethic. The interpretation that
I recommend is that of George Santayanna: "Beauty is pleasure
objectified" -- which is to say, pleasure "projected upon" the
beautiful object and regarded as a quality thereof.
But isn't this "objectification" an
illusion, reducing ultimately to subjectivism and cultural
relativism, and thus of no use to the Eco-Moralist? Not necessarily
-- not, that is, if our sense and attraction to natural beauty
manifests an evolved "fit" of our natural organism to the environment
which selected it. I am suggesting here nothing less than a "natural
history" of our appreciation of the "beauty" of the environment.
Though this idea has been suggested by several estimable scholars
(most recently, Harvard's Edward O. Wilson), I owe my adoption of
this idea to Hugh Iltis, the Director Emeritus of the University of
Wisconsin Herbarium. Iltis writes:
... the best environment is
one in which the human animal can have maximum contact with the
type of natural environment in which it evolved and for which it
is genetically programmed without sacrificing the major advantages
of civilization... Every basic adaptation of the human body, be it
the ear, the eye, the brain, yes, even our psyche, demands for
proper functioning, access to an environment similar, at least, to
the one in which these structures evolved through natural
selection over the past 100 million years.(8)
It is an intriguing hypothesis, to be
sure, and not without some nagging problems. How, for example, are we
to explain such notorious naturophobes as Ronald Reagan's Interior
Secretary, James Watt, and that quintessential urbanite, Woody Allen?
Despite such puzzling counterexamples, I suggest that there is at
least something to the hypothesis -- that, to use Paul Shepard's
vivid image, the destruction of nature is an "amputation of
It remains to be determined just how
much we can live in a totally artificial environment, detached from
the environment that selected our genes and shaped our genome,
without going bonkers. I will only suggest that amongst those genes
that hard-wire our nervous system, are a few that dispose us toward
having positive "natural sentiments" of affirmation toward
undisturbed nature, and conversely, to suffer when deprived of our
primeval landscapes. From this "biophilic" nervous system has issued
the great works of art, literature and science that celebrate nature.
Beethoven's "Pastoral Symphony," Debussy's La Mer, Van
Gogh's Starry Night, Thoreau's Walden, Ed Abbey's
Desert Solitaire, Sigurd Olson's The Singing
Wilderness, and, of course, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County
Almanac -- all are voices of nature speaking back to us and
And so, through these "natural
sentiments" of wonder, delight, and serenity within
nature, and throughout of affirmation and love of
nature, we find a significant association between our "mental health"
and ecosystemic health. Thus, these affirming sentiments and the
resulting motivation gives us a "stake" in protecting and preserving
our natural environment -- a stake more fundamental and enduring than
"enlightened self interest." For, as the astute Professor Krutch
The wisest, the most
enlightened, the most remotely long-seeing exploitation of
resources is not enough, for the simple reason that the whole
concept of exploitation is so false and so limited that in the end
it will defeat itself and the earth will have been plundered, no
matter how scientifically and far-seeingly the plundering has been
To live healthily and successfully
on the land, we must also live with it. We must be part not only
of the human community, we must acknowledge some sort of oneness,
not only with our neighbors, our countrymen and our civilization,
but also with the natural as well as the man-made
"Ecological thinking," writes Holmes
Rolston, "leads us to silent wonder and affirmation."(12)
As authentic lovers, we cherish
nature, not for ourselves, but for its own sake. Thus do we affirm
the "health of nature," as a good for ourselves. The ethical
foundation of the Land Ethic is thus complete.(13)
LEOPOLD AS PHILOSOPHER
Upon encountering, late in
County Almanac, Leopold's celebrated essay "The Land Ethic," the
critical reader might ask, "but where is the supporting argument?"
One response which immediately comes to mind is, "did you read the
first part of the book?" "Sure," replies the critic, "but that isn't
argument. Granted, this is skillful, eloquent and descriptively
detailed nature writing, perhaps a literary treasure -- but not
Strictly speaking, our critic may be
correct. But not significantly so. The early portions of A Sand
County Almanac, like the early days of its author's career,
presents evidence, not argument, just as Charles
Darwin's encounters with the Galapagos finches gave evidence, not
argument, for evolution. Like evolution, the land ethic is an insight
born of acute observation. A Sand County Almanac invites the
reader to share the author's perceptions, and to follow him from
field observations, to generalizations, to moral precepts.
The enduring strength and
significance of Leopold's work lies in the fact that his literary
grace and his philosophical vision are grounded in hard and
compelling science: ecology. Through this science alone we
may gain understanding -- all too often, coldly and
impersonally. Add moral philosophy and we might literally
comprehend (meaning "bring together," "encompass") and
appreciate the facts, laws and theories yielded by science.
Leopold's Land Ethic transforms the science of ecology into
a world-view, and thus the grounds for a guide to conduct -- which is
to say, an ethic. "That land is a community is the basic
concept of ecology," he writes, "but that land is to be loved and
respected is an extension of ethics."(14)
To paraphrase Immanuel Kant, "Ethics
without ecology is empty, ecology without ethics is blind." Both are
required for a view of the world, and mankind's place in it. Upon
completing a "strictly scientific" text in ecology, the student is
likely to ask, "so what?" -- which is to say, "so what difference
should all this make to me as an individual and as a citizen." "The
Land Ethic" is a brilliant response to that question.
The final decade of Leopold's life
and career coincided with a bizarre season in the history of moral
philosophy. Consumed by an enthusiasm for reductive analysis,
"logical positivists" such as A. J. Ayer claimed that ethical
principles reduce to "non-factual" expressions of emotion, and
existentialists such as J. P. Sartre held that values are grounded in
nothing more than an individual's radical will. And in the background
was a fashionable belief, encouraged by cultural anthropologists,
that an individual's morality had no more foundation than the
arbitrary norms of the culture into which one happened to be
Leopold apparently did not realize or
care to notice any of this. He also did not know that a scientist has
no business seeking ethical insights from empirical studies. How
fortunate for us that he paid no attention to these philosophers. For
if he had, he might have been discouraged from producing a
And now, as the emotivists and
volitionists fade into the mists of the history of ideas, Leopold's
ideas have grown into a significance unimaginable to him at the time
of his death. And quite possibly the greatest impact of his ideas is
yet to come, as environmental philosophy moves beyond "applied
ethics" to challenge some of the fundamental assumptions of Western
As it happens, Leopold was not simply
out of step with his philosophical contemporaries, he was ahead of
them. And now, at last, moral Philosophy has caught up with him. As
few philosophers would or could recognize in the thirties and
forties, ethics cannot be reduced to simple emotions or acts of will
of the individual. For to seek "meaning" in ethics from such a
perspective makes as much sense as the statement, "move that
horse-head piece two squares forward and one square left," detached
from knowledge of the placement of the other pieces, and of the rules
and objectives of the game of chess. Now we have come to realize that
moral philosophy must be grounded in an "ecology" of relationships,
expectations, sentiments, and requirements, so that, as the ecologist
Garrett Hardin puts it, "the morality of an act is a function of the
state of the system."(15)
Is "A Sand County Almanac" a work of
science or philosophy? Strictly speaking, it is neither -- and we are
all the richer for it. As a founder of the science of wildlife
management, as author of numerous scientific books and over
three-hundred technical papers, Aldo Leopold had no need to prove his
scientific manhood. As for philosophy, his unorthodox use of such
terms as "ethics" or even "philosophy" annoys my professional
colleagues, many of whom, in their annoyance, have failed to share
his vision. No doubt, had he undertaken the requisite professional
training, he would have been a fine philosopher. Similarly, had
Einstein pursued his other love, the violin, he might have been very
good at it. But what a loss -- in both cases!
In fact, the progress of the
Almanac, from particular observations at his Sauk County
farm, to generalizations from his North American travels, to "the
Upshot," his summary concepts and precepts, is built, not upon
controlled experiments and structured arguments, but upon anecdotes
and impressions. Accordingly, to those who fail to understand
Leopold's method and grasp his objective, Almanac is weak
science and unrefined philosophy.(16)
But surely Leopold can not be faulted
for failing to accomplish what he did not intend to achieve. Instead,
he has broadcast to a global public a perspective that was once held
only by professional ecologists and a few philosophers off the
mainstream, notably Alfred North Whitehead. He has established a
specialty in philosophy, environmental ethics, which shows promise of
revolutionizing that ancient discipline. He has become a pivotal
figure in Western intellectual history -- and who knows, eventually
in universal human history, thus joining the ranks of such monumental
geniuses as Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein.
Not bad for a Wisconsin professor,
who claimed he was just writing for himself and his friends, as he
jotted down his sketches sipping coffee by "the shack," while the
dawn crept across the meadow of his farm.(17)
In writing his book, Leopold simply
said, in effect, "Dear Reader: share with me, if you will, my
experiences, then my thought, and if you choose to follow, then my
vision. And if you seek foundations and proof, there are libraries
and laboratories at your disposal. Moreover, if you so choose, you
might even set your career upon such a course. But first, just try
this vision." That is all that he intended. But, to paraphrase the
verse that closes his book:
He was one of
the time-tested few that left the world
When he was gone, not the same place that it was.
Mark what he
1. "Living on our
Principle," Wilderness, Spring, 1985, p. 15-21.
Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949, p.
3. This is a
broadening of the original meaning of the term, as introduced by the
English philosopher, George Edward Moore. In his Principia
Ethica, published in 1903 (Cambridge), Moore described "the
naturalistic fallacy" as the belief that "good" is a "natural"
quality of the evaluated object, amenable to empirical
4. At the January,
1990, Moscow Forum on the Global Environment. (In transliteration:
"Chelovesevo yavlyayetsya chast'yoo biosphyeri, a ..biosphyera eta
5. "Bad analogy,"
says the anthropocentric critic. "Unlike your example, there is only
one 'part' of the ecosystem which has moral agency and is conscious
-- and that's homo sapiens ." (The animal rights faction
will object, but let's stipulate this, for sake of argument only).
Very well, let's suppose instead that
only the kidneys are conscious. Would that make any difference in
it's "selfish" attitude toward the heart and lungs? Clearly, its
"selfishness" would be equally self-defeating. The problem in both
cases, is that the selfish kidney wrongly conceives its
"individuality" -- it commits what A. N. Whitehead called, "the
fallacy of misplaced concreteness." In the context of the integrated
whole that is the body, a "kidney-centered ethic" simply makes no
sense. It is self-defeating.
6. To the best of
my recollection, Leopold's most direct treatment of this concept
appears near the end of "The Land Ethic" (and therefore the book), in
a section titled: "Land Health and the A-B Cleavage." There he
A land ethic ... reflects
the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in tun
reflects a conviction of individual responsibility of the health
of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal.
Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this
capacity. (p. 221)
is Not Enough," The American Scholar, Summer,
8. Hugh Iltis, "To
the Taxonomist and the Ecologist, Whose Fight is the Preservation of
Nature," Bio-Science, December, 1967, 887. In
numerous articles and lectures in the early seventies, Iltis was
among the first, perhaps the first, to articulate and defend this
theory. It is a great pity that his energy and devotion did not
prompt an appropriate response among scientific researchers and
Here is E. O. Wilson's statement of
the hypothesis, which he calls "Biophilia:"
The brain evolved into its
present form over a period of about two million years, from the
time of homo habilis to the late stone age of homo
sapiens, during which people existed in hunter-gatherer bands
in intimate contact with the natural environment. Snakes mattered.
The smell of water, the hum of a bee, the directional bend of a
plant stalk mattered. The naturalist's trance was adaptive: the
glimpse of one small animal hidden in the grass could make the
difference between eating and going hungry in the evening. And a
sweet sense of horror, the shivery fascination with monsters and
creeping forms that so delights us today even in the sterile
hearts of the cities, could see you through to the next morning...
Although the evidence is far from all in, the brain appears to
have kept its old capacities, its channeled quickness. We stay
alert and alive in the vanished forests of the world.
E. O. Wilson,
Biophilia, Cambridge: 1984, Harvard University
Press, p. 101.
9. "Ecology and
Man," in Shepard and McKinley, The Subversive Science,
(Houghton Mifflin, 1969), p. 4.
10. The alert
reader will find, in this paragraph, a remarkable narrowing of the
"is-ought gap" as we attempt to derive the "affirmation of nature" (a
value) with an "evolved attunement to nature" (a fact-claim). This
inference can likewise evade the naturalistic fallacy by introducing
intuitively undeniable value premises _ possibly no more startling
than "it is better to be happy than sad," or "all other things equal,
pleasure is preferable to pain." These too seem to be not debatable
"ethical dogmas" as much as they are fundamental conditions of
11. Krutch, op. cit.
12. "Is There An
Ecological Ethic," Ethics, 85:2, January, 1975, p.
13. This has
turned out to be the most difficult section of this paper, not
because I have little to say about it, but because I have so much.
Moreover, it is difficult to present the case for the "natural
affirmation of nature" in layman's terms. The question of the
phenomenology and moral psychology of the experience of nature
appears in one of my first papers, "Meditations on Wilderness,"
(Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, April 27, 1974),
and my latest "Moral Psychology and Loyalty to the Earth,"
(Environmental Ethics, Forthcoming), and numerous efforts in
the intervening twenty years.
Sand County Almanac, Foreword, viii-ix.
Hardin, "The Tragedy of the Commons," Science Vol.
162, p. 1245, 13 December, 1968. In the same paragraph, he also
observes, that this is "a not generally recognized principle of
morality." While that offhand remark may apply to some preachers, it
does not apply to most moral philosophers.
16. Here are a
few criticisms that a moral philosopher might raise:
a. Leopold's opens his "Land Ethic"
with the story of Odysseus killing his slave girls, and proceeds to
point out how ethics has been "extended" since ancient times. This
extension of ethics is probably historically false, but more to the
point, even if true, it is irrelevant to moral argument. Historical
trends are not necessarily desirable. (Cf. my "Are We Ready for an
Ecological Morality?" in Environmental Ethics, 4:1 (Summer,
1982), p. 175.
b. There is no analysis in Leopold's
writing of such essential concepts as "community," "responsibility"
and "moral agency."
c. His fundamental thesis, that we
should regard land as a community rather than a
commodity, is often reiterated, but never defended with a
clear and structured argument.
d. His writing contains an abundance
of cryptic phrases which, in some likely interpretations, are simply
indefensible. For example, "An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation
on freedom. An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social
from antisocial conduct. These are two definitions of one
thing." (A Sand County Almanac, p. 202. My italics).
They are nothing of the kind, retorts the philosopher. Missing from
Leopold's account is the essential concept of "moral agency," without
which an ethic is empty. In point of fact, there is no "ethic
ecologically" (or in any other sense) until moral agents (i.e., human
beings) enter the scene.
17. In an unpublished earlier version of the
Foreword to A Sand County Almanac, Leopold wrote: "These
essays were written for myself and my close friends, but I suspect
that we are not alone in our discontent with the ecological
status quo." Published in J. Baird Callicott (ed.), Companion to A Sand County Almanac, Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1987, p. 288.