Re-Examining the Darwinian Basis for Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic

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Ethics, Policy & Environment, ISSN: 2155-0085, Vol: 18, Issue: 3, Page: 301-317

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Roberta L. Millstein
Informa UK Limited
Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Environmental Science
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Many philosophers have become familiar with Leopold’s land ethic through the writings of J. Baird Callicott, who claims that Leopold bases his land ethic on a ‘protosociobiological’ argument that Darwin gives in the Descent of Man. On this view, which has become the canonical interpretation, Leopold’s land ethic is based on extending our moral sentiments to ecosystems. I argue that the evidence weighs in favor of an alternative interpretation of Leopold; his reference to Darwin does not refer to the Descent, but rather to the Origin of Species, where Darwin discusses the interdependencies between organisms in the struggle for existence.

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