The search for an agricultural ethic



Boyd, Freeman

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University of Guelph


Part One of this thesis examines the leading 'alternative model' to our current food system, ecological agriculture. I present ecological agriculture as radical and, as yet, incomplete. Overall, ecological agriculture judges that the practice of agriculture should be an exercise in constraint. I argue it is built on first principles, drawn from the study of wild ecosystems, that misconstrue the nature of agriculture and underestimate its potential contributions to society. Even more problematic, ecological agriculture is influenced by a preservationist ethic, which seems to undercut the imperative to produce that shapes the working landscapes of our planet. Part Two of this thesis tries to develop a second, and more satisfactory, 'alternative model' for agriculture by presenting a core of principles around which an agrarian model of agriculture can be elaborated. The first principle is the tripartite division of the environment, the notion that working landscapes are different from either built environments or wild places. This principle literally carves out places for the practice of agriculture in the environment, and it implies that we need a distinct ethic to guide our actions in such places. The second agrarian principle, presented as a theory of human nature, is an attempt to explore the content of this proposed agricultural ethic. Based on the idea that in working landscapes humans are neither conquerors nor plain citizens of the biotic community, it presents agriculture as a partnership between humans and nature, as a special dialectic which shapes both nature and culture. It is unique in the claim that through farming well, both the farm and the farmer are improved.



Agricultural ethic, Ecological agriculture, Preservationist ethic, Agrarian model, Tripartite division