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Breaking Ground by Breaking Bread: A Conciliatory Philosophical Inquiry into the Debate over Industrial and Alternative Agricultures

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Title: Breaking Ground by Breaking Bread: A Conciliatory Philosophical Inquiry into the Debate over Industrial and Alternative Agricultures
Author: Pattullo Graf, Keiran
Department: Department of Philosophy
Program: Philosophy
Advisor: Linquist, StefanDeveaux, Monique
Abstract: Debates over agriculture often tie together many interdisciplinary threads and are prone to considerable conceptual confusion. Despite this philosophical ripeness and the overwhelming importance of the issues at stake, agricultural problems have received little philosophical airplay. Since philosophy’s main bridge to issues regarding the human-nature relationship, environmental ethics, is mainly concerned with issues of how to ground nature’s value independently of human artifice, it has tended to paint agriculture as inherently degrading. Those in search of an affirmative agricultural ethic have thus tended to draw more heavily from economics or agrarianism, giving rise to a highly polarized discursive environment. The aim of this thesis is to reconstruct and analyze two such positions, an institutional economic defense of industrial agriculture and an agrarian attempt to underpin alternatives. My first two chapters deal with arguments that favour industrial agriculture based on its production capacity and on its efficiency. In the first chapter, I reconstruct these arguments, uncovering and distinguishing normative and empirical assumptions about the operation of markets, the value of efficient production, and the connection between science, technology, and industrialism. My second chapter offers criticisms, concluding that such arguments cannot rule out agricultural principles, policies, and practices that incorporate social goals beyond efficient production. My third chapter reconstructs the main argumentative thread of Paul Thompson’s agrarianism, which seeks to establish agrarian agriculture’s political role as modeling properly socio-ecological sustainability. In my final chapter, I argue that we must dispense with agrarianism as an ideology that privileges rural experience, instead focusing on agrarians’ communitarian and ecological insights. I end by offering a set of ideals that I hope can form the basis of a less polarized, more constructive discussion about how to manage our food system.
Date: 2016-02
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