Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic
1. The Land Ethic
This view is a version of ecocentric ethics – the view that ecological wholes have intrinsic value and, hence, moral standing.
Leopold’s particular version of ecocentric ethics holds that
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.
The general idea is that the good of the biotic community is the ultimate measure of the rightness or wrongness of things.
According to Leopold, the boundaries of moral consideration should be extended to include “soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”
Leopold: “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 respect for the community as such.”
2. Leopold’s Holism
The views we’ve looked at so far have all been individualistic in the sense that it is individual beings that have intrinsic value (or are the locus of pleasure, etc.) and, hence, moral standing.
The land ethic, however, is a holistic view in various senses.
First, it is a version of ethical holism.
On this view, it is the biotic community itself that has intrinsic value and, hence, moral standing.
Since our basic duty is to promote the good of the biotic community, individual members of the community can be used as resources to promote the good of the biotic community.
Second, Leopold’s ethical holism is based upon ecological holism.
More specifically, Leopold’s ethical holism is based upon epistemological holism and metaphysical holism – two varieties of holism found in the science of ecology.
Epistemological holism is the view that we can gain an understanding of the individual members of a biotic community only if we understand their roles in the community.
Metaphysical holism is the view that the biotic community should be...
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