Tinkering with a clock is a job that can only be done effectively by a skilled and experienced craftsman. But, as Leopold points out, humans have tinkered with the land to the effect of radical changes to its structure. Since we only see the cause and effect of our actions in hindsight, we cannot know with confidence that the actions we take toward the land today will turn out to be ethically right or wrong. We may even destroy ourselves. It is this fearsome uncertainty that creates our need for more concrete instructions from Leopold, but he cannot give us a list of rules because of that same uncertainty.
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Without a deep understanding of its mechanics, any rules he might lay out could just as easily result in disaster. But then what kind of ethic can we have? Ultimately Leopold is asking us, since we cannot know how to live in perfect harmony within the environment, to try to limit our effect on it.
The trouble with our role in this perfectly engineered machine is that we are increasingly able to make enormous changes to the circuit very quickly. The Industrial Revolution and World Wars brought humanity into the modern era. Looking at where we are now, 64 years later, that potential has increased exponentially.
- The Land Ethic.
- The Land Ethic Revisited: Aldo Leopold, Daniel Bromley, and Kenya's Meru.
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How much more complex and unknowable, then, are the ultimate consequences of our modern way of life on the land? Is Leopold asking us to abandon it all and return to the wilderness?
No, he is calling for a philosophical shift rather than specific actions. The Ten Commandments is exactly what its name suggests: a declaration of ten specific moral rules that are literally set in stone. The Golden Rule, on the other hand, is a single guiding principle of reciprocity: treat other people the way you would like to be treated.
While the Ten Commandments ask only to be obeyed, the Golden Rule requires active reflection. To know how to treat others, we must think about feelings and consequences and give true consideration and respect to another human being.
There is no point-by-point instruction set handed down by a higher authority. Instead, it is a deeply personal attitude and way of thinking that can shift and evolve with different situations. Leopold intends for his land ethic to be developed in that same spirit. For Leopold, such a formula is too simple to be effective.
The land ethic "enlarges the boundaries of the community. VALUE hypothesis: Right action "implies respect for [our] fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Another corollary: human population density is inconsistent with land environmental health, so it is immoral.
Focus on economics always ignores the proper holism. Therefore population density is our most immediate evidence that we are acting wrongly in relation to our environment.
- The Land Ethic of Aldo Leopold | SpringerLink;
- The Land Ethic.
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- Leopold, Aldo (Paper I).
It is NOT a defense of animal rights. Callicott calls this old assumption "ethical humanism.