Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

HOME PAGE                             
    Philosophy and Religion
    Ethics, Moral Issues, the Law
    The Environment

On Politics
    The Crisis
    Foreign Relations, War, Peace
    The Media
    The Elections
    Civil Liberties and Dissent
    Republicans & the Right
    Democrats & the Left
    Lies, Propaganda & Corruption
    Culture War & Religious Right
    Coup d'Etat, 2000

Published Papers

Unpublished Papers

Reviews, Lectures, etc.    

Internet Publications


Lecture Topics

Conscience of a Progressive
    (A Book in Progress)

A Dim View of Libertarianism

Rawls and the Duty to Posterity
    (Doctoral Dissertation)

The Ecology Project

For Environmental Educators

The Russian Environment

    (Critiques of Post Modernism)

Notes from the Brink
    (Peace Studies)

The Gadfly's Bio Sketch

The Gadfly's Publications

The Online Gadfly: Editorial Policy

The Gadfly's E-Mail: gadfly@igc.org

Classical Guitar:
"The Other Profession






By Ernest Partridge
University of California, Riverside

Northland College, Ashland, Wisconsin, February 22, 1993

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.

Wallace Stegner(1)

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 about."

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 of things...(2)



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 prey).

4) Our duty is to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community.

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 respect.

"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 "Leopold's Maxim":

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, below).

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 naturalistic fallacy."(3)

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 and responsibility.

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 whole."(4)

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 premises.

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 Premise:

"The whole informs the parts:" the ecosystem, and mankind's place and responsibility within, is best understood "contextually, from the perspective of the whole.

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 its kidney-self.

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 Premise:

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 community."

Justice Potter Stewart once remarked: "while I can't define obscenity, "I know it when I see it!"

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 environment.

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 Ethic.

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 lusted after."(7)

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 Premise:

Nature evokes desirable sentiments of affirmation, love, and well-being. (Value Premise)

Act so as to promote the appreciation of these sentiments, and to protect the source of these sentiments (i.e., wild nature). (Duty Corollary).

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 man."(9)

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 through us.(10)

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 observes:

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 done.

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 community.(11)

"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)


Upon encountering, late in A Sand 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 argument."

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 born.

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 masterpiece.

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 thought.

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 left!


1. "Living on our Principle," Wilderness, Spring, 1985, p. 15-21.

2. Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949, p. 174.

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 verification.

4. At the January, 1990, Moscow Forum on the Global Environment. (In transliteration: "Chelovesevo yavlyayetsya chast'yoo biosphyeri, a ..biosphyera eta yedinoye tseloye.")

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 writes:

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)

7. "Conservation is Not Enough," The American Scholar, Summer, 1954.

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 environmental philosophers.

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 sanity.

11. Krutch, op. cit.

12. "Is There An Ecological Ethic," Ethics, 85:2, January, 1975, p. 107.

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.

14. A Sand County Almanac, Foreword, viii-ix.

15. Garret 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.

Copyright 1993, by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .