The Pathology of Boundaries…

I recently completed a course in Environmental Ethics. It was incredibly helpful and insightful as I have become increasingly concerned with ecology in both my thought and practice, especially since transitioning to Veganism almost nine months ago. The move to become vegan, itself, was motivated and brought on by a deep and thoughtful engagement with Aldo Leopold‘s Land Ethic from his work A Sand County Almanac, as well as Peter Singer‘s Animal LiberationBoth texts were required reading for a class I was taking at the time, Contemporary Issues in Philosophy. I also happened to be reading Daniel Quinn‘s novel Ishmael during this period. It, too, was quite influential in guiding my decision to become more environmentally focused and thus, to take up the vegan lifestyle. As such, the impetus of my current research and work is centered upon exploring the wider implications and intersections of ecology, philosophy, the humanities, and culture/society. This transition, itself, is something I hope to write about further in future posts.

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for the Environmental Ethics course previously mentioned. In this assignment I was asked to briefly reflect upon and respond to Leopold’s Land Ethic from the aspect of Reason, Emotion, or Physical Activity. I hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to comment and respond! I would would excitedly welcome your feedback!

In his editorial introduction to Hegel’s 1827 Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Peter C. Hodgson writes that the impetus or the “main theme” of “Western consciousness” is “the individuality of all things” and that this is especially and most accurately true of “human beings” (45). Individuation, separation, categorization, dissection, and fragmentation, these are but a few of the main ideals that form the basis for Western philosophy and Western psychology. From Social Contract Theory to Self-help and beyond everything is hinged upon the idea of the isolated, independent, and absolutely autonomous ‘subject’. Western consciousness has created a pathological sense or conception of ‘self’, i.e. the subjective I, the Cartesian cogito. Here, even the ‘self’ fails to be a unity but is divided into dichotomous dualisms and false binaries, mind/body, body/soul, or, as illustrated within the forum prompt itself, the clear-cut distinctions between Reason/Emotion/Physical Action.

This also leads to a pathological sense of species/nature which forms the backdrop for not only the way in which humans relate to themselves and to each other, but also to the world and the planet as a whole, i.e. humanity as separate and distinct from each other and humanity as above, opposed to, and/or ultimately separate from the biosphere. This is precisely what Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethics seeks to cure and correct. Leopold writes that “a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it” (171). As such, the land ethic, first and foremost, is developmentally psychological in orientation and methodology. It is at once, as Charles Starkey demonstrates, “a psychological theory of moral development and ecological rationality that advocates a shift in the way that environmental problems are conceptualized and approached” (149) and “a developmental change in cultural psychology… that expands the domain of the moral beyond that of human beings, so that nonhumans are afforded moral consideration” (159). Leopold reinvigorates the the fact that “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts” (171). With this comes the realization that “all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity” (Berry, 16). As such, the ‘self’ too must be envisioned as an integral whole both internally and externally, an undivided self unmistakably part of the land, responding with Reason, Emotion, and especially, with Physical action. Of what avail are Reason and Emotion if they do not spur one to action? As Marx famously concludes “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it” (574).
Sallie McFague makes clear “We do not have bodies…We are bodies” (16). We are not containers compartmentalized into separate isolated areas of Reason, Emotion, and Physical activity, each one caged off and uncontaminated by the other. We are none other than our material reality, that is, mind, reason, emotion, as a culmination “evolved from” and “continuous with our bodies” (McFague, 16). So, too, should we approach the biotic community, recognizing that we are “evolved from” and “continuous with” the Land.
Hodgson, Peter C. Editorial Introduction. Lectures of the Philosophy of Religion, One-Volume Edition: The Lectures of 1827. By G. W. F. Hegel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 1-71. Print.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac: With Essays on Conservation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.
Marx, Karl. The German Ideology, Including Theses on Feuerbach. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1998. Print.
McFague, Sallie. The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993. Print.
Starkey, Charles. “The Land Ethic, Moral Development, and Ecological Rationality.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 45.1 (2007): 149-175. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Nov. 2013
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