Why the Standard Interpretation of Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic is Mistaken

Environmental Ethics 36 (4):443-453 (2014)
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The standard interpretation of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is that correct land management is whatever tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, of which we humans are merely a small part. From this interpretation, it is a short step to interpreting Leopold as a sort of deep ecologist or radical environmentalist. However, this interpretation is based on a small number of quotations from Leopold taken out of context. Once these quota­tions are put into context, and once the broader context of Leopold’s mature writings and his actions as a land manager are taken into account, it becomes clear that he is much closer to being an enlightened anthropocentrist than he is to being anything like a radical environmentalist. When properly understood, Leopold’s land ethic recognizes that fundamental human interests must be treated with the highest possible respect, and it emphasizes the incredible challenge and need for modesty in identifying the correct tradeoffs between lesser human interests and the interests of the broader biotic community.



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Mark Budolfson
University of Texas at Austin

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The land ethic.Aldo Leopold - forthcoming - Environmental Ethics.

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