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Jonathan Higginbotham

Environmental Philosophy
The Land Ethic and Fontanelle Forest

Throughout the duration of time the implications resulting from the expansion of the

moral circle has remained a highly debated topic among humans. Who should we allow within

the moral circle? Whom among us is entitled to due consideration? What would be the

implications and consequences from denying those who are entitled to consideration within the

circle? To answer these questions from the viewpoint of mere sentient beings would be highly

insufficient in being morally permissible in today’s culture. As society has evolved, our

understanding about our natural world deepens – rather, it expands to encompass the highly

complex and interdependent networks that make up our biotic community. Morality is about how

we, as humans, should act as members of a community, humans arguably are integral members

of the biotic community and thus we should “preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the

biotic community.” (Leopold)

The natural world is increasingly complex and laden with interdependent parts that are

simply incomprehensible. Human history of interacting with the natural world has been one of

despotic nature. Throughout time humans have long held anthropocentric ideologies towards the

universe, humans regard themselves as the ruler of a hierarchal society, and natural beings were

placed here for our convenience. Is this not the subject of immorality in today’s understanding?

To believe that one has power and intrinsic value over another sentient being can be equated to

that of slavery. To force another natural being to adhere to the demands of human ideals is the

start towards blatant moral ambiguity. To grant a human intrinsic value but to label a chimpanzee

with instrumental value directly denies animals, and by further extension – the environment,

from inclusion within the moral circle.

Jonathan Higginbotham
Environmental Philosophy
The Land Ethic is an ecocentric approach that shifts the focus from individualistic to

holistic views. Entire biotic communities are the main unit of moral consideration and are

deemed to have intrinsic moral worth. The basis of The Land Ethic is that morality functions to

make us cooperate, we need to act like members of a society or community and do our part in the

protection and continuance in its longevity for future generations of species. For years humans

have continued to neglect and abuse the biotic community and refused to acknowledge our

pivotal role within the ecosystem.

“The image of the earth as a living organism and nurturing mother had served as a

cultural constraint restricting the actions of human being. One does not readily slay a mother,

dig into her entrails for gold or mutilate her body, although commercial mining would soon

require that. As long as the earth was considered to be alive and sensitive, it could be considered

a breach of human ethical behavior to carry out destructive acts against it.” (Merchant)

This quotation from Carol Merchant perfectly describes that humans had separated the

idea of nature as being “alive” and “sensitive” from that of being worthy of consideration. We

have also aligned nature with the idea of machines thus allowing us to maintain our sense of

morality while simultaneously ensuring our humanistic viewpoints remain the top position of the

ecological hierarchy. Aldo Leopold strived for a dynamic shift in our understanding of the biotic

community, that humans played an instrumental part in our ecosystems. During the case study

“Hunting and The Fontanelle Forest” we were asked to understand the tensions between the

ecocentric theories and individualistic theories put forth by Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Aldo

Leopold. Individualistic theories places moral importance upon individual beings as the main

unit of the theory. While ecocentric theory emphasizes the entire biotic community (i.e. water,

air, soil, plants and animals) is entitled to intrinsic value.

Jonathan Higginbotham
Environmental Philosophy
“A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these

‘resources’, but it does affirm their right to continued existence in a natural state – a land ethic

changes the role of “Homo Sapiens” from conqueror of the land-community to plain member

and citizen of it. In human history, we have learned that the conqueror role is eventually self-


Aldo Leopold describes in the excerpt above that the land ethic itself cannot prevent the

alteration of natural resources but rather it strives to ensure the continued existence of the biotic

community as a whole entity instead of individualistic parts. In the case of “Hunting and The

Fontanelle Forest” we were told about an association that took a hands-off approach managing a

1300 acres plot of land remaining after the surrounding area was deforested.

The association’s rule for visitors to the forest reads:

Rule 1

“All plant and animal life is strictly protected.”

Rule 2

“No hunting, fishing, or weapons.”

The Fontenelle Forest Association had implemented the rules to help preserve the

“pristine condition” of the forest by embracing the philosophy for operating the reserve under the

directive of no management, no interference by humans. But to simply deny the fact that humans

play a role within the ecosystem of Fontenelle Forest is simply asinine. The Land Ethic extends

the moral circle to encompass the “Land” (i.e. soil, water, air, animals, humans etc.) to help

people, begin to understand the complex interrelations of our vast ecosystem. According to the
Jonathan Higginbotham
Environmental Philosophy
story, humans have already caused extensive damage to the landscape, thus displacing numerous

animals and flora onto the path of biocide. Due to inaction and unwillingness to acknowledge our

place within the ecosystem, we have caused an imbalance within the Biotic community. Does the

burden of correcting our mistake not fall upon our shoulders? Even if deemed the “Right” thing

to do? Wouldn’t it morally wrong to have caused such an imbalance in the Biotic community

that the entire system must suffer because the sudden exponential boom of a singular species was

left unmanaged? If we are to say that the deer had the right to live, we would then be denying the

Land due consideration by extension. Isn’t this too morally wrong? The best way to be fair is to

take a holistic approach and find the “Right” path to take, even if it means making hard


Singer and Regan both held beliefs that animals should be considered within the moral

circle due to them being sentient being capable of feeling pleasure and pain. While we should

consider them to be members of our society and thus should be protected, we also have to

consider them as a interdependent part of our overall ecosystem. In the case of Fontenelle Forest,

the deer population has become unbalanced and thus threatens the surrounding ecology. Gavin

Varner’s Miniride principle applies perfectly to this situation “The miniride principle instructs

us to minimize the overriding of individuals rights, rather than to maximize aggregates


While I think hunting in terms for sport is morally wrong, since you are enforcing your

will over another sentient being for the sole purpose of personal gratification (and not of personal

sustenance). But when looking at hunting through the lens of environmental conservation than I

find it morally permissible to hunt animals to help preserve the balance within a particular

ecosystem because while it’s not the “Good” thing to do, it’s the “Right” thing to do. Some may
Jonathan Higginbotham
Environmental Philosophy
say that my viewpoints (most of which align with Leopold) can be considered ecofascist, but to

ensure that the preservation and continuance of the environment, is monumentally important. In

the case study, one could say that a government entity is not a visitor but rather a manager of the

estates. I think the best course of action for the association is to amend/add a third rule:

Rule 1

“All life within forest is strictly protected.”

Rule 2

“No hunting, fishing, or weapons.”

Rule 3

“Seasonal hunting allowed in tandem with Association regulations”

While making decisions that conflict with one’s sense or morality, the verdict sometimes

favors the “Right” over the “Good”. Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic takes a holistic approach to the

surrounding biotic community and the complex interdependent relations that reside within in it

not as a sense of righteousness but one of moral correctness. Humans needs to reconsider the

Land’s worth not merely one of instrumental value, but one of intrinsic nature. We humans must

resituate ourselves within the biotic community and embrace a dynamic shift from despotic

rulers of the land to one of stewardesses.