Environmental Ethics

Volume 30, Issue 4, Winter 2008

Ben A. Minteer
Pages 341-359

Biocentric Farming?
Liberty Hyde Bailey and Environmental Ethics

Most environmental ethicists adhere to a standard intellectual history of the field, one that explains and justifies the dominant commitments to nonanthropocentrism, moral dualism, and wilderness/wildlife preservation. Yet this narrative—which finds strong support in the work of first generation environmental historians—is at best incomplete. It has tended to ignore those philosophical projects and thinkers in the American environmental tradition that challenge the received history and the established conceptual categories and arguments of environmental ethics. One such figure is the agrarian thinker, conservationist, and rural reformer, Liberty Hyde Bailey. A writer whose environmental philosophy combined biocentric attitudes toward nature with more humanistic concerns about intergenerational fairness and civic responsibility, Bailey remains an invisible figure in environmental ethics, despite his clear influence on the later work of such conservation luminaries as Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and others. We would benefit from a recovery of Bailey’s environmental philosophy, especially his articulation of a pluralistic ethical outlook defined by the melding of anthropocentric moral and civic concerns with biocentric commitments regarding the beauty and resilience of the properly cultivated landscape.

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