Posted on July 14, 2018
It seems as though today concern for the environment is again in the media and for good reason. Seems that not only are our seas damaged, not beyond repair, and sea animals at jeopardy of vanishing, but the very oceans themselves are increasingly becoming dumping grounds for plastic products of all varieties.
In the news now straws are the culprit rather than our consumer behaviour which drives the pollution to disastrous levels. Stories being shared for a good reason, are warning consumers that changes need to be made and some businesses have taken notice and eliminated their use. Deeming it important to make a stand is hopefully not without some thought on whether looking back in the past, conversations could have lasted longer and been more conclusive on action items.
Only focusing on straws, everyone knows, will not solve this complex problem of climate change and environmental degradation. New approaches to reduce rising temperatures can be made and improvements upon past action can be fruitful. Environmental disasters are linked, as this news story reveals:
The question I have is important for others to know. Why not make it more public? It would only lead to good and better social views on nature.
Posted on June 16, 2018
In “The Methods of Ethics”, Henry Sidgwick is looking for the proper moral code to use in order to figure out what is it people “ought” to do. In doing so he examines three moral theories seriously, Egoistic hedonism, Universalistic hedonism also known as utilitarianism, and Intuitionalism. Of these three, it is Henry Sidgwick’s review and critique of Intuitionalism with regards to the four conditions he believes must be completely fulfilled in order to arrive at trustworthy conclusions which will be the focus of this paper.
The moral theory of Intuitionalism begins with the fundamental assumption that it is possible for people to clearly see what actions are in themselves right and reasonable. Our intuitions about what is right and wrong relate to the intentions of the individual performing the action. The rightness of an action then depends more on the state of mind of the individual than only the outwards actions themselves. “In other words, what we judge to be ‘wrong’ – in the strictest ethical sense – is not any part of the actual effects, as such, of the muscular movements immediately caused by the agent’s volition, but the effects which he foresaw in willing the act; or, more strictly, his volition of choice of realizing the effects as foreseen.” When analyzing the individual’s state of mind the motives and the intentions of the individual must be examined. While the intention serves as a judge to determine the rightful or wrongness of an action, the motives determine the scale in which that action is right or wrong. For instance, the morality of the simple action of stealing a loaf of bread cannot be determined by the physical action along, a great deal more information needs to be revealed. Two essential bits of information needed to determine the morality of an action under Intuitionalism are the individual’s intentions and motives. One possible scenario is that the individual intended to steal the loaf of bread with the motivation of feeding his family. In this scenario, the act is still wrong but because the motivating factor is taken to be a good one, it lessens how bad the action of stealing is and seems to be intuitively more excusable. If the individual intended to steal the loaf of bread only to see if he could do it than the motivating factor would intuitively not diminish the wrongness of the action. This demonstrates how the rightness or wrongness of an action can be determined intuitively by looking at the intentions and motivations of an action without actually looking at the consequences.
Since Sidgwick is trying to find a usable moral theory to determine what people ought to do, the notion that Intuitionalism can lead to moral judgments of right and wrong is not enough. Many moral theories can tell us what we ought to do but that does not mean that those theories are correct. Sidgwick believes that for Intuitionalism to be a useful theory it must be able to lead us to trustworthy conclusions. In order to distinguish self-evident truths from mere-opinions Sidgwick proposes four conditions, each of which the fulfillment of must be met in order to accept the self-evident truths which follow from Intuitionalism as trustworthy conclusions. The four conditions which must be met are that the terms of the proposition must be clear and precise, the self-evidence of the proposition must be ascertained by careful reflection, it must be mutually consistent, and the intuition must be widely accepted.
Sidgwick thinks that Intuitionalism does not pass the first criteria of being clear and precise. A moral theory must be able to clearly decide every possible case of what is right and what is wrong. It must be that it can determine what our individual duties are in so far as we can reliably say action x is or is not bad. So in the case of the person stealing a loaf of bread, Sidgwick is looking for a moral theory which will have a clear and precise answer i.e. the action of stealing a loaf of bread is bad, what he is trying to avoid is an “it depends answer”. Sidgwick also thinks that Intuitionalism cannot determine what to do in instances where two duties are conflicting with one another. For example, Sidgwick believes that in an instance between meeting someone for lunch, versus saving a person it could not be determined which to do. It seems incorrect though that Intuitionalism cannot make clear and precise principles in both instances of individual duties and when two duties are conflicting with one another. Rather than thinking Intuitionalism fails to meet this criterion it is more the case that Intuitionalism simply needs more specifics in determining whether an action is right or wrong which when dealing with morals is a strong characteristic of the theory rather than a weak characteristic. Although it may be the case that Intuitionalism cannot clearly state whether stealing a loaf of bread is wrong, it is only due to the extreme broadness of the situation. The greater the amount of information provided the stronger and easier it would be for Intuitionalism to make a clear and precise principle from it. For instance if we add to the example of the person stealing a loaf of bread that it is being stolen from a baker who has a large excess of bread which will foreseeable be thrown out, and the person stealing the bread may die of hunger, then it seems that the Intuition that what the person is doing is at least morally neutral if not acceptable. Just how precise the self-evident proposition needs to be is wrongfully left to doubt. It is a fallacy to look for a moral theory which makes sweeping judgments without taking into consideration the context of the action, which by looking at the motives and intentions of an action Intuitionalism is stronger for.
The second condition Sidgwick puts forth to determine if the apparent self-evident truths that stem from Intuitionalism can be taken as trustworthy conclusions is that they must be ascertained by careful reflection. The careful reflection is necessary in Sidgwick’s view in order to guard against mistaking impulses and impressions with dictates of reason and additionally from opinions which upon frequent repetition may be mistaken as self-evidence. This condition of reflection is important for Sidgwick as he does not want to be tempted to simply approve actions as moral any which brings desire. Not everything that first strikes someone as valid is self-evident and Sidgwick is trying to state that it really must be a judgment of self-evidence, intuition is not sufficient grounds alone. He wants to put intuitions of rightness through rigorous testing in order to see if it really expresses a clear intuition of rightness or if it has just been mistaken as such.
That the propositions be taken to be self-evident must be mutually consistent is Sidgwick’s third criteria. He believes that any collision between two intuitions is evidence that the intuition of at least one of them must be false. Although in general, this may be true it does not seem to hold up when the specifics of a case are added, which as already mentioned is what strengthens Intuitionalism. To illustrate this it can be helpful to look at the stealing of the loaf of bread case. Our general intuition about stealing is that it is morally wrong and our general intuition about saving one’s own life is morally good. If the only way the individual could save his life were to steal the loaf of bread in order to feed himself there is a clear case of two intuitions conflicting with one another and yet it does not seem to be that either one of the intuitions is false. Rather than completely eliminating the intuitions on what is right and wrong, it would be more plausible to state that when there are two conflicting intuitions the specifics of the case will lead to a new intuition for all scenarios in which those two previous intuitions conflict. So it could be said that it is intuitively good, perhaps only to a slight degree, that the person stole the loaf of bread. From then on it would be known that it is intuitively good to save a life at the expense of a minor theft in large part because it is intuitively known that the importance of the former vastly outweighs that of the latter.
General acceptance of the self-evidence of an intuitional proposition is Sidgwick’s fourth and final criteria. Since intuitive propositions are supposed to be self-evident then it should be the case that the majority of people can easily arrive at the same conclusion without any elaborate background information. The denial by some of the self-evidence of the proposition would seemingly force impairment in the confidence of a claim one can hold on just how self-evident it truly is.
It is those four conditions, clear and precise, sustained by careful reflection, mutually consistent, and generally accepted, through which Sidgwick goes against Intuitionalism. It actually seems as though Sidgwick set up the conditions in order for Intuitionalism to fail. If the first and third conditions are met then it seems condition two could not be because of what each one demands. The first and third conditions demand specifics while specifics seem to deny the self-evidence of the proposition and thus failing the second condition. Intuitionalism seems incapable of passing these four conditions laid out by Sidgwick to determine if the conclusions that follow can be trustworthy although he believes that Utilitarianism, which is the moral theory he clearly prefers, can pass the test.
The moral theory of Intuitionalism which holds that through intuition, it is possible to clearly determine whether a certain action is right or wrong is rejected by Sidgwick. It is rejected on the basis that the conclusions which are apparently self-evident are not trustworthy, because they do not meet all four of the conditions for determining whether a method of reasoning leads to trustworthy conclusions. Those conditions being that they be clear and precise, self-evident upon careful reflection, mutually consistent and that there is general acceptance of their validity.
 Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed. (1907; Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981) pg.201
 ibid pg.338-341
 ibid pg.339
 ibid pg.341
Posted on June 2, 2018
Over the years I continue to look at the world through an ethical lens, it’s unavoidable after 5 years of morality, ethics, law, and theological lectures.
Often people complain today on social media about how this person said this, or this person did that. It is a remarkable equalizer in terms of social justice with corporate PR Teams often themselves in the news frantically responding to a tweet which went uncontrollably viral and permeated the various app feeds of every 15 – 35 year old in the developed world.
It’s as though now we can say, finally, don’t treat me badly or you will be the one in the spotlight. And it will hit you hardest where it hurts, in your pocketbook from a tarnished reputation.
Could this be avoided if people were to follow the “Golden Rule” – do unto others as you would have done unto you. The thought often arises, if an individual said today, I don’t treat people that way and so I do not expect to be treated that way, what could they really do. People have a remarkable tool now in the Internet, to respond in the court of public opinion and marketplace to say “Hey, enough!” Using a tool which has established itself as the means of communication, people today can affect change in ways never before imagined.
The other side of social media and a connected world devoid of personal relationships or relationships strained by time online is that people, at least I find, are increasingly rude and intolerant. Everyone has a microphone and freedom to shout over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc. etc. etc. Online bullying is a very real issue in schools today.
For many, living life with the expectation of being treated how they themselves have treated others is just the normal way of making decisions. Can we say though, without lowering ourselves to “their” level, I will treat others how I have been treated?
If people continually live with the Golden Rule, or as found in many ethical tenants some close variation, then surely how a person has been treated by someone is in fact what they want in return, for good or bad. Some might say, well I am not myself someone who follows the Golden Rule and so treat me well. What they are really saying is I want to be free from consequences my actions may cause. It is one thing to behave a certain way and expect to be treated that way in return. It is outlandish to think unwelcome behaviour would be treated well in return. Is it not? Clearly, there are many who would say, “forgive”, “turn the other cheek”, “get over it”, and they may in fact interestingly be those who live strongest by the Golden Rule.
It’s a complex dilemma for sure. If we “Flip it and Reverse it” to take Missy Elliott’s terminology, on the left hand we have nothing in return for unwelcome behaviour which we have forgiven. On the right hand, we have change through activism and progress. Change based not on benign neglect of social justice concerns, but on expectations of a better world and social environments free of hate and intolerance.
Posted on May 26, 2018
When the idea that hockey players should be wearing helmets first came out, many thought it was a good idea and said that they would endorse it while at the same time refusing to wear one themselves because others were not. This assignment looks at some of the conditions under which it may be rational for players to not wear helmets themselves while at the same time supporting a rule which would require everyone to wear one, and what some implications of this may be for understanding efficiency.
Efficiency when looking at market economics is generally taken to mean Pareto efficiency, which falls under the Pareto standard. The Pareto standard is the idea that a social state is more efficient with the more people in that state in which it is efficient for. So for instance, a social state between fifteen people will be as efficient as possible when it is efficient for each individual in that society working towards making it efficient. This creates a benefit for those involved in making a greater positive balance of achievement over sacrifice. Pareto efficiency is used because it allows the possibility for at least some individuals to be in a better position to achieve their goals while at the same time not hindering anyone else’s ability to do so. It, therefore, would allow one or several hockey players to not wear helmets in order to make more profit if possible while at the same time not decreasing the amount of profit for those who are wearing helmets.
Possible conditions than for not wearing a helmet could be when someone wants to gain endorsements and a way in which to do so is to distinguish your self from the rest of the hockey players. This was one of the reasons why some of the players decided not to wear helmets when they were first introduced because they believed that their fans would not be able to recognize them. Under this view, it seems it would be wrong to force helmets upon them because in doing so you would be worsening their welfare while improving others. This, however, is assuming that welfare is only taken to mean profit which need not be the case.
While the Pareto efficiency may allow certain players to not wear helmets if they so choose in order to maximize their own gains, Pareto efficiency can also provide a reason for supporting a rule requiring hockey players to wear helmets if welfare is taken to mean not only profit but also safety. In making helmet wearing mandatory everyone who plays hockey will be safer while not making anyone worse off. In the ability of helmets to decrease the risk of skull fracture upon hitting the ice, it is clear that a player’s welfare in the health and safety sense will be improved. Even this claim, however, has been recently challenged, by suggestions that the wearing of helmets provides a false sense of security through which the players become more aggressive and actually increase the risks of serious injury. On the profit side of the issue, if everyone was forced to wear a helmet then it could not be said that one person is losing profit from not having the fans recognize their face because that loss would be placed upon each player equally.
We are understanding efficiency in the market as Pareto efficiency which only allows for win-win transformations. To know if the implementation of mandatory hockey helmets is an efficient rule to require, it needs to be that such a rule will create a win-win transformation. In order for this to be known there need to be certain presuppositions in which to determine what the value is of certain inputs and outputs such as profit and health. In addition, there must be a consensus of the presuppositions in which all of the hockey players come to in order to make it valid. What the costs and benefits will have a large impact on whether or not the suggested helmet rule is an efficient one.
The problem with cost-benefit analysis is those specific measurements on values such as health and well-being cannot be made as easy as it can with money. Additionally, finding a consensus throughout the entire hockey league on how much weight should be given to each value in the analysis would be an extremely difficult task to accomplish. While some players would place more weight on health and well-being others would place more weight on profit. Others, the more reasonable ones perhaps, would recognize that the two are combined. Someone who stays safe has a better chance of making a greater profit over the long run than someone who does not wear the necessary protective gear and then becomes injured unable to make a profit. For our understanding of efficiency in large groups then, it would seem that the implication of a rule which requires hockey players to wear helmets would be efficient. When looking at individual efficiency however it is generally evaluated in accordance with the agent’s own goals and preferences.
If we were to look at one individual hockey player and evaluate that person in accordance with their own goals and preferences than it could easily be the case that the implications of implementing the helmet rule are indeed not efficient. For example, if prior to implementing the rule, the hockey player generated a large portion of profit from fans recognizing him and faced only a small amount of danger while on the ice, forcing the player to wear a helmet would create a losing scenario for the individual.
It must be concluded then that the implications for efficiency differ depending on whether we look at individual hockey players or all of the hockey players together. When we look at them as one it would in effect lead to the implementation of the helmet rule while if we look at them individually the efficiency of implementation of the helmet rule will vary from case to case.
Posted on May 11, 2018
Hello Ethics Nutters,
As I subscribe to the The American Journal of Bioethics I saw this fascinating podcast on the right to be forgotten in the digital age. Link below:
What some see as an issue others may not. Seems like a lot stems from matters of opinion.
Go through it and you’ll know where I’m coming from.
Posted on May 10, 2018
It is not enough for moral theories to simply explain how things should be and then just leave it at that, there needs to be some reason for people to follow a moral theory. In other words, there needs to be some form of consequences inherent to that theory so that there is a reason to be moral, a reason not to break the rules. Each moral theory must answer this question in order for it to be applicable in the real world, and each goes about it in different ways. It is the focus of this paper to show why John Stuart Mill believes one should be moral under Utilitarianism.
Utilitarianism is a moral theory that states an action is morally right if and only if it produces more or at least the same amount of good, called utility, as any other alternative action available to the person. To this, Mill added a greatest happiness principle which is simple one should act in such a way as to produce the greatest happiness.
Mill focuses on which sanctions Utilitarianism provides compared to others and why people will follow Utilitarianism in chapter 3 of Utilitarianism 2nd Edition. Mill states that Utilitarianism can impose all of the sanctions other moral theories can, just as easily. According to Mill there are two types of sanctions relating to moral theories, external and internal. External sanctions according to Mill are sanctions which are external to a person such as a sanction from fear of disapproval stemming from peer pressure. Mill does not go into great detail about this but believes that like other moral theories this form of sanction can be associated with Utilitarianism. Internal sanctions, on the other hand, seem more important to Mill because they involve our conscience and are stronger. Internal sanctions come from ones own conscience and their feeling of duty such as the satisfaction from fulfilling a duty. Mill sees these internal sanctions as being subjective because what one person may view as duty another may not, but this is a problem which he notes not only Utilitarianism has to deal with, but all moral theories. Mill is most interested in these internal sanctions because what he is looking for is some kind of force to bind people to a moral code and since internal sanctions have the strongest influence on a person’s actions Mill targets them.
These sentiments of duty which Mill tries to use as a binding force can be either innate or implanted. He does not believe that it really matters which of the two it is because either would support Utilitarianism. If they are innate he does not see why they could not be with respect to others pain and pleasure, and so it would be fine under Utilitarianism and his greatest happiness principle. Mill, however, feels that internal sanctions are not innate but rather implanted, but that they still remain natural. He thinks that they can spring up spontaneously or can be cultivated. Those moral feelings which are cultivated into existence are natural according to Mill because they are a “natural outgrowth” from human nature similar to speaking, or building cities. This look at how Mill accepts implanted morals as internal sanctions raises doubts. There seem to be several problems with Mill accepting internal sanctions to be implanted. These are that the implications for what could now be called human nature seem to be drastic, that Mill is overlapping external sanctions with internally implemented sanctions, and there is a problem with the possibility of cultivating bad morals which he himself addresses.
To support Mills claim that moral feelings are acquired and yet still natural he uses several examples of acquired faculties in which he sees as natural, and that he believes no one would question as natural. His examples are of speech, reasoning, building cities, and farming. These examples are flawed though because the first two are very different from the latter two. The first two examples seem to be innate human abilities which occur in human nature because humans are born with them and instead of acquiring these abilities later in life they are really just developing them. Everyone has, aside from birth defects, the ability to speak and reason later in life. The level of teaching someone how to speak is so low that it need not really be taught but only requires the infant to merely listen to something which cannot be avoided. As for reasoning, certain forms can be taught, and may even be very complex, but on the basic level of reasoning, it appears to be more of a function of the brain that can be present without being taught to the person. The other two examples, on the other hand, are things that are acquired but are so, from many lifetimes worth of knowledge being passed down through time and built upon. No one is born with the knowledge of how to farm or how to build a city, and how to do so properly would be impossible for a human to do in a lifetime. To simply say that because it is an “outgrowth” from human nature it is natural is to obscure the definition. This would mean that anything humans do is natural. For example, it was perfectly natural for Neil Armstrong to walk on the moon. That, according to Mill’s rational, is natural for a human to do. Mill should have stuck with internal sanctions which were innate. These seem to be things which are indeed natural because no one needs to be taught that health or security are good things all living beings innately recognize this from birth. This is only the first of a few problems that arise from his line of reasoning.
Mill distinguishes internal sanctions with implanted morals, from external sanctions when they should be looked at as the same thing. If for example someone is peer pressured into doing good deeds for the world and generating happiness for as many people as possible, and then the subject actually begins to develop his own desire to do this, it still began as peer pressure from a fear of disapproval, which is an external sanction. To this, however, Mill may respond something along the lines of the following. In the beginning, when he was doing the actions from fear of disapproval, it was an external sanction, but the moment he wanted to do it on his own it became an internal sanction which was implemented. From this however, one can see that if someone peer pressures someone into doing a bad act then it may get to the point where the person actually wants to do the evil act, and this seems to raise a problem.
This problem of bad morals being cultivated is actually addressed by Mill. His response is it is that these are “artificial” moral feelings, and they are so, because they are being imposed rather than being naturally developed. Imposed feelings, according to Mill, can be distinguished from naturally developed ones because naturally developed ones do not dissolve under scrutiny. The problem here is how to distinguish “cultivation” and “imposition”. This really needs to be addressed because the former, Mill states can lead to good morals while the latter leads to bad “artificial” ones. If someone is cultivating someone even for seemingly good reasons, they must be to some degree imposing their values on another person, because through cultivation they are trying to alter a person’s view, in the end, to coincide with their own. If they did not need to impose their values on the other person then they would not need to cultivate the person in the first place because their morals would be aligned. The fact that Mill does not go into any great detail in this area seems to be a weakness. Mill makes a distinction between being able to naturally develop morals through cultivation, which requires some degree of imposition, and not being able to naturally develop morals through imposition alone. This distinction does not seem to exist. Even if one was to accept this distinction it remains unclear why an “artificial” imposed moral would always dissolve under scrutiny. If Mill was to impose instead of cultivating people to accept Utilitarianism, would it not stand up to scrutiny? Mill skips over many parts that just cannot be excluded because they raise serious doubts and reveal real weaknesses in his line of reasoning.
Never the less Mill believes that since utilitarian feelings of duty stand up to scrutiny, it is a strong foundation. This is what Mill’s argument uses as a foundation and goes roughly as follows. The principles that Utilitarianism hold are a natural “outgrowth” from human nature which can be cultivated, and not be considered “artificial” because they are not being imposed and can withstand scrutiny. Because these principles are being cultivated they are implanted rather than innate sentiments of duty. These implanted sentiments of duty are of the strongest form of sanctions, internal ones. This will ensure people follow Utilitarianism so that they do not feel as though they have violated their sense of duty, which has been cultivated into them.
Through this paper, it has been discovered that this position is not strong. The fact that Mill tries to assert, that the feeling of duty crucial to Utilitarianism stands up to scrutiny is questionable and is never proved. Mill’s notion of what is and is not natural is inaccurate. The distinction between imposing ones views and cultivating someone to accept a view seems irrelevant if at all there is one. Finally, there also does not seem to be any real reason why to distinguish implanted internal sanctions with external sanctions. For all of these reasons, Mill does not do an adequate job in providing rational reasons why Utilitarianism is binding with inherent consequences and thus needs to be revised to be a successful moral theory.
 Robert Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd Edition, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pg. 942
 Ibid pg. 942
 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 28
 Ibid pg. 28
 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 29
 Ibid pg. 29
 Ibid pg. 30
 Ibid pg. 31
 Ibid pg. 31
 Ibid pg. 31
 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31
 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31
 Ibid pg. 31
 Ibid pg. 31
 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism 2nd Edition, Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing, 2001, pg. 31
Posted on May 5, 2018
Hello Ethics Nutters,
An interesting interview with Art Caplan on the most recent Trump scandal involving his former Doctor.
Interesting to hear what he has to say.
Posted on April 5, 2018
City parks are a useful tool in raising awareness for environmental problems, by providing people with an opportunity to see the beauty of nature beyond the narrow view of a household garden, of a potted plant in the corner of a room, or a small cactus completely out of place on an urban office desk. Many people who have lived exclusively in an urban environment, however, have never had a chance to see nature in anything other than this light. Parks allow people to witness nature in hopes that they may take home with them the mentality that nature is something to be protected. This paper examines Aldo Leopold’s land ethic and applies it to Sherwood Park to discover if under the land ethic it is ethical. Further, it will be questioned whether the nature in the park can actually be restored to its original beauty, and what some problems may be with the method used to limit human interaction with nature.
Aldo Leopold dedicated his entire life to the conservation effort. His most notable contribution to the field is his work on a land ethics. One of the main reasons why he formulates a land ethic is to end the connection between the economic value of the land and any notion derived from this of what is acceptable to do to the land. For instance, he does not want a group of trees to be protected if the rationale behind doing so is in order for them to become larger so that in the future when they are more valuable they will be cut down. Rather he would want the trees to be protected for their value as part of the biotic community. When an economically driven ethics is used not only do certain plants and animals become completely worthless, but entire biotic communities do as well. Leopold wants to eliminate the economic-based standard of evidence for validity when looking at what is an acceptable way to treat the land. He attempts to do this through his development of a land ethics.
Leopold recognizes ethics as a limiting factor on a person’s freedoms. This limiting factor found in ethics is a necessity. It protects the community in such a way as to balance the instinctual behavior of people to compete with one another, with a reason for people to co-operate. Leopold wants to extend the sense of protecting a community to encompass the land as well. When referring to the land Leopold does not just mean the soil but also everything on or dependent on the soil. So, while the instinctual feeling of competition may lead people to cut down all the trees in Canada, Leopold wants to develop a land ethic to force co-operation among those living in the same community. This is to ensure that there will remain a place to compete in, in the first place.
From this concept of ethics, he builds an environmental ethics in order to put limitations on how people can interact with nature. At the core of his ethics is an attempt to place moral obligations on the private landowner so that even if someone owns the land they cannot simply do as they wish to it. A logging company, for instance, could not buy large tracts of land and cut down all the trees under the notion that it is their land and they can do whatever they want with it. As was the case in the past when women were viewed as property and an ethic still existed on how to interact with women, albeit not the best one, Leopold wants the same situation to occur with the environment. No longer does he want the ownership of land to be a justification for someone being able to do whatever they wish to it. Leopold’s land ethic tries to show people what one person does on their land can and often does, affect what happens on another person’s land and that this complex interaction should not be overlooked.
Leopold sees nature as an extremely complex chain of which its ability to function is dependent on both the co-operation and competition of the diverse parts. What happens in one area will undoubtedly influence what happens in another. There is no part of nature which can be placed in its own little bubble. Leopold sees the land as a “fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” The proverbial circle of life as it were. With this view of nature, it is easy to understand why Leopold would want to put moral obligations on private landowners. What private lands owners do on their land will have an effect on what happens on another person’s land, and so some degree of responsibility must be established. Leopold does this through his concept of a land ethic.
What Leopold would like the landowner to acknowledge and follow is found in his famously quoted 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.” Under this land ethic the right thing to do when interacting with nature is anything which would preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the area while anything contrary to this would be wrong. So for example, under this land ethic, a private owner of land could not clear-cut his section of land because it would preserve none of the three criteria. It would, however, allow the owner to cut down trees selectively in a manner which preserved the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community rather than in an approach that did the opposite. It is through this maxim that Leopold gives private landowners ethical obligations to the land. This, in turn, limits what can be done to the land and justifiably forces co-operation among members of the same community. It is this sense of a common community which Leopold is trying to get others to recognize. Land as a community not a commodity.
This land ethic as developed by Leopold is not without its problems. One main problem is that it is unclear how preserving the beauty of the biotic community could limit someone from doing anything. While integrity and stability are closer to the realm of objectivity, beauty is almost entirely subjective. Where one person sees a hideous barren wasteland, another could just as easily see a picturesque landscape. There would be nothing under the beauty criteria that would stop someone from cutting down large areas of trees to make a big grassy field. Furthermore the idea that the biotic community is a beautiful thing is entirely ethnocentric. While there are many beautiful biotic communities, there are undoubtedly many biotic communities which humans would not find beautiful. A good example of this would be parasites living off the carcasses of the dead, or the entire insect community in general, which people seem to inherently find gruesome. What the beauty of a biotic community is too a human should not only be irrelevant but even if it were relevant, it would be hard to argue whose idea of beauty should be followed.
Another problem with the land ethic is that it does not exclude the possibility of continuing to view the land as a commodity which Leopold seems to want to get away from. Although it would be a giant step forward if such obligations to the land were implemented it would not necessarily mean that people would stop viewing the land as a commodity. If people knew that the only way they could continue to profit from the land for many generations were to implement this land ethic, it would not in any way mean that those making money off the land viewed it as anything different than a commodity.
Sherwood Park is a fairly typical city park aside from its size. Being comprised of forty acres makes it a larger than a normal park, when compared to the parks, found further downtown. It is built around a ravine and is primarily comprised of fenced nature trails, and specific places designed for children to play in. Situated only a short distance north-west of Bayview and Eglinton the way in which Sherwood Park is set up is excellent in highlighting the themes and concerns found in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.
The fact that Sherwood Park surrounds a ravine leads one to suspect that it was initially the leftover land in the area which could not be developed. With the difficulty of building on a ravine the park may have initially been one of those biotic communities which were entirely written off as having no economic value. This would be an unacceptable way to view the land to Leopold. Although there is an intense preservation effort currently going on in the park, it can still be said that the way in which people are viewing the park has not changed, rather it has flipped. Instead of looking at the park as having no economic value, the park is looked at as having great economic value for raising the property values in the area. With green space becoming less available while demand remains constant, having a large park near a house is an attractive selling point people are willing to pay considerable amounts of money for. So although how people see the value of the land as changed that fact that it is still being seen as a commodity would be something Leopold would be opposed to.
Although the way in which the park is being viewed might be something Leopold is against he certainly would not be against the way in which it is being preserved. Sherwood Park fulfills all three of the main criteria of preserving the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community in the area. It achieves each of these goals primarily through a system of fenced nature trails called “Discovery Walks”. The nature trails in the park are intended not only to guide people from one area to the next and provide a scenic view along the way, it is also used to limit where a visitor to the park can go. Limiting where a visitor can walk is useful in that it limits the possibility of damage to the area to a specific and easily monitored section. By keeping people sectioned off from the environment the biotic community in the area can be kept in an unimpaired condition, which would then naturally preserve the beauty, integrity, and stability of the area. This limiting factor on the part of those visiting the park may have just what Leopold had in mind when he recognized that some form of limitation on people’s freedoms will be needed.
There are some in the environmental community such as Robert Goodin who would argue that it is not. Attempting to restore the nature in the area to its original value, value in the non-economic sense is impossible. Those who agree with this are working with the idea that nature is a pristine otherness to human culture which value reduces the more humans intermix with it. Thus “a restored bit of nature is necessarily not as valuable as something similar that has been ‘untouched by human hands’.” Goodin would say that what will exist in Sherwood Park in the future, once the restoration process is completed, will be some form of fake or forgery of the original one which value will be less than the original.
Although some form of limitation is needed in order to preserve the biotic community, there is a downside to the use of nature trails to do so. Nature trails separate humans from nature, and the sense that humans are part of the interconnectedness of nature is lost. Otherness to the land can easily be a rationale for humans to dominate over nature as nature’s guardian.
The way in which the nature trails in Sherwood Park are set up completely limits the degree in which people can interact with nature. Not only are there many signs that instruct people to follow the paths but there are fences on both sides of the path as an extra obstacle. There is no sense of interacting or experiencing nature while on the nature trail. This is done so that ideas of nature such as those put forth by John Passmore can be maintained. Passmore states that nature is anything which is not human or human in origin. It is a sort of distinction which views nature as the part of the world which is prior to human activity which we have had no hand in creating. Although it is clear that the areas off limits in the park are not prior to any human activity, it is intentionally being left alone so that aside from the initial partitioning off of the area humans will have no hand in creating the land. People have been intentionally separated from the land in Sherwood Park in order to create an area of nature untouched by humans. This intentional separation furthers the notion of nature as an otherness to humans.
It has been said that the concept of nature as “otherness” to humanity is fundamental. The reason for this being fundamental is that in order to define humanity it is not sufficient to use the definition of nature. Differences must be used and the fact that there is something different than humanity must mean that there is something other to humanity which it can differentiate itself from. “To the extent that we relate to it, we are outside nature.” The otherness of nature to humans is clear, what is not so clear however is what this means for how people should treat nature. It can be taken to mean that humans should not interfere with nature but it can also be taken to mean that humans have some role in maintaining it. A problem arises though when humans take this otherness and separation with nature to mean that it can be dominated.
The notion that nature is something which can be dominated is certainly present in Sherwood Park. The entire restoration process is dependent on the idea that humans can know what is best for the area and that what they are doing is just that. This is no reason though to think that humans can or do know what is in the best interests of nature. The signs hung all along the fence also indicate a sense of human domination and control over nature. It is clearly stated on each sign that the goal of the fences is to limit access in order to prevent erosion and to restore the native vegetation. Preventing erosion and restoring the native vegetation is completely out of the hands of those working in the park and yet they are taking credit for it. Humans are manipulating Sherwood Park to their own specifications of what they view nature should be.
Sherwood Park meets all of the criteria in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic when determining what is right. Through the use of nature trails the lands integrity, stability, and beauty will be preserved for many years to come. The park though is still being looked at in economic terms as a commodity is something Leopold would be against. According to environmentalists such as Robert Goodin, it will not even be possible to restore the area to its original nature. Instead, Goodin would say that only a forgery of the original can be made. The limitations placed on people in the park raise the problem of human domination over nature through completely separating humans from nature and eliminating any chance at interacting with it in a meaningful way. We are placing nature in manipulated little bubbles for ourselves to observe. It is as though we have created a zoo for people to observe nature in. What they are really seeing though is not nature at all but rather a forgery of the original which we have manipulated into existence.
 Aldo Leopold “The Land Ethic” p.377
 ibid p.373
 ibid p.374
 ibid p.374
 ibid p.378
 ibid p.378
 ibid p.378
 ibid p.378
 ibid p.382
 ibid p.373
 Kate Soper “The Discourses of Nature” p.16
 Robert Goodin “Green Political Theory” p.41
 ibid p.41
 John Passmore “Man’s Responsibility for Nature” p.207
 Kate Soper “The Discourses of Nature” p.16
 ibid p.16
 Robert P. Harrison “Toward a Philosophy of Nature” p.427
Posted on March 26, 2018
Hello Ethic Nutters,
I purchased the book “The Morality of War” by Brian Orend and plan on reading through its chapters this year.
To get in the mindset I decided to turn to Youtube for information.
Sure enough, there’s so much more on Youtube than I can really share. My favourite, Obama’s Nobel speech in 2009. What a year that was. Great to listen to and I’m saving it for myself in favourites. Another not mentioned on Just War Theory, Michael Walzer speaking for Big Think. Search for it. You’re guaranteed to enjoy.
What an INCREDIBLE difference between Trump and Obama. You actually get the feeling of force behind the words.