The very beginning of Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” discusses that there is both a philosophical and an economical definition for the word ethics. Philosophically, ethics refers to “the differentiation of social from anti-social conduct” and economically, ethics refers to “the limitation of freedom of action in the struggle for existence.” When I read his philosophical definition, that seemed like the normal definition that we use for ethics when we are thinking of someone’s behavior as being acceptable or not. His economical definition reminds me of laws that are set forth that state how we are to act. To me, the laws help decide what is an acceptable behavior, which makes the philosophical and economical definitions very similar. This is why Leopold speaks that they are “one thing.” For example, take the idea of shop-lifting. Economically, there is a law against it, stating that you can be persecuted and arrested if found shop-lifting. This leads to the philosophical idea that it is bad and immoral to steal. Socially, we do not accept stealing as an honest way of accumulating belongings.
Leopold then goes on to write about the three “types” (if you want to call them that) of ethics. First there is the relationship between people, second there is the relationship between people and society, and third there is the relationship between people and the land. He says that we have already taken steps to create obligations for the first two types, but not with the third. He makes a valid point. There are tons of laws and rules that say how you should treat another person and how you should act in society, but there are not many about how to treat the land. I do think we are trying to change this, though. For example, due to our drought the city was considering giving a fine to homes that overused water. They didn’t end up doing that since we got some rain, but I think that is something that should maybe be looked at more. The fines they were originally talking about were quite steep (like over $1,000), but maybe we should have something similar that isn’t quite so costly. Sure, everyone’s water, electric, gas, etc. bills are based off of how much they use, but maybe after a certain level of usage people should be charged a higher rate that? This could cause more of an impact than the current “oh, the water bill was a little higher than normal this month” reaction. Just something to think about.