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Environmental Ethics

Volume 19, Issue 4, Winter 1997

Charles J. List
Pages 405-416

Is Hunting a Right Thing?

I argue that sport hunting is a right thing according to Leopold’s land ethic. First, I argue that what Leopold means by a “thing” (“A thing is right . . .”) is not a human action, as is generally assumed, but rather a practice of conservation that is an activity connecting humans to the land. Such an “outdoor” activity emphasizes internal rewards and the achievement of excellence according to standards which at least partially define the activity. To say that hunting is a right thing is to say that the practice of sport hunting tends in the direction of the land ethic. The actions of individual hunters are judged to be ethical or not by the standards of the practice; these standards are in turn evaluated by the precepts of the land ethic. Second, I discuss how the practical standards are evaluated. I argue that the concepts of integrity, stability, and beauty, contrary to some interpretations, are not inherent values of the biotic community, but rather labels carefully chosen by Leopold as three conduits for the ecological conscience necessary for the land ethic: the ethical, the ecological, and the aesthetic. I show that Leopold uses this model for his own evaluation of the practice of hunting as well as his evaluation of other practices of conservation. Thus, to ask about whether sport hunting is a right thing is to ask about the historical evolution of the standards of this practice and, of equal importance, about the future direction of these standards with regard to the land ethic.