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Closely read the text provided and write a source-based argument on the topic below. Use two additional
outside texts that you determine to be both credible and relevant to the topic.
Topic: Throughout history we have tried to conquer the wilderness, tame the jungles, and master the
elements, and we are still trying to conquer space. But are nature and humankind necessarily in conflict?
We created civilization to protect us from the undesirable features of the outdoors and, to some degree,
from harm. But now our experience of the natural world is so mediated that many of us know it only as it
is presented on television or online. Has our rela- tionship with nature changed so drastically that nature
now exists within civilization, as contemporary naturalist Bill McKibben suggests? Do we now contain
nature rather than being contained by it? How does our perspective on Ralph Waldo Emersons classic
essay Nature change now that nature is threatened? Can we balance human progress and economic
well-being with environmental protection?
In recent years, humankinds attitude toward the natural world has changed. Before Rachel Carson and
others began to alert us to the dangers of pollution, most people simply didnt think about the
environment. And looking back over the last half century, it is hard to imagine what may be in store for us
over the next fifty years. Are we yet to see the consequences of what we have already done to alter the
environment?
Question: What is our responsibility to the natural environment?
Your Task: Carefully read the text provided. Then, using evidence from that text, plus two credible
pieces of research you gather on your own, write a well-developed argument regarding our responsibility
to the natural environment. Clearly establish your claim, distinguish it from alternate or opposing claims,
and use specific, relevant, and sufficient evidence from these three texts to develop your argument. Do not
simply summarize each text.
Guidelines: Be sure to:
Establish your claim regarding our responsibility to the natural environment.
Distinguish your claim from alternate or opposing claims.
Use specific, relevant, and sufficient evidence from at least three of the texts to develop your
argument.
Develop claim(s) and counterclaim(s) thoroughly and in a balanced manner, supplying the most
relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both, anticipating
the audiences knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
Express the appropriate complexity of the topic.
Identify each source that you reference, and use MLA guidelines for in-text citations and a works
cited page at the end of the essay.
Organize your ideas in a cohesive and coherent manner.
Maintain a formal style of writing.
Follow the conventions of standard written English.

2

Brooklyn Technical High School David Newman, Principal Jess Rhoades Bonilla, AP English
29 Fort Greene Place Brooklyn, New York 11217 Telephone: (718) 804 – 6400 Fax: (718) 804 – 6535 www.bths.edu
Text: The Land Ethic by Aldo Leopold on page 906 of The Language of Composition, 2nd Edition
Resources:
A guide for assessing the credibility of online sources:
Who is the speaker? What is their authority, credibility, experience, or bias? Do they have an
advanced degree, institutional affiliation, or other qualifications that make them an authority on
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delivering the information?
When was the piece published? Is it current and therefore relevant to the topic at hand, or is the
information out of date? If there is no timestamp, copyright date, or date of publication, thats a
bad sign.
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MLA General Format
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Standards Addressed:
11-12W1: Write arguments to support claims that analyze substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
11-12W1a: Introduce precise claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from counterclaim(s), and create an
organization that logically sequences claims, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
11-12W1b: Develop claim(s) and counterclaim(s) thoroughly and in a balanced manner, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while
pointing out the strengths and limitations of both, anticipating the audiences knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases. 11-12W1c:
Use precise language, content-specific vocabulary and literary techniques to express the appropriate complexity of the topic.
11-12W1d: Use appropriate and varied transitions, as well as varied syntax, to make critical connections, create cohesion, and clarify the
relationships among complex ideas and concepts. 11-12W1e: Provide a concluding statement or section that explains the significance of the
argument presented.
11-12W1f: Maintain a style and tone appropriate to the writing task.
11-12W6: Conduct research through self-generated question, or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate. Synthesize
multiple sources, demonstrating understanding and analysis of the subject under investigation.
11-12W7: Gather relevant information from multiple sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each
source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas; avoid plagiarism,
overreliance on one source, and follow a standard format for citation.
11-12W6: Conduct research through self-generated question, or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate. Synthesize
multiple sources, demonstrating understanding and analysis of the subject under investigation.
11-12W7: Gather relevant information from multiple sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each
source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas; avoid plagiarism,
overreliance on one source, and follow a standard format for citation.

TEXT
from The Land Ethic
Aldo Leopold
Aldo Leopold was born in Iowa in 1887. He attended the Sheffield Scientific School
at Yale and subsequently enrolled in the Yale forestry school, the first graduate
school of forestry in the United States. Graduating with a masters degree in 1909,
he joined the U.S. Forest Service and stayed with that agency in various research
and management positions until 1933, when he took a position at the University
of Wisconsin. Throughout his life, Leopold was at the forefront of the conservation
movement; many people acknowledge him as the father of wildlife conservation in
America. He was also an internationally respected scientist who wrote over 350
articles, mostly on scientific and policy matters. In addition, he was an advisor on

conservation to the United Nations. He died of a heart attack in 1948 while fight-
ing a fire on a neighbors farm. Leopold is best known for his book A Sand County

Almanac (1949), which includes the chapter excerpted here, The Land Ethic.
When god- like Odysseus returned from the wars in Troy, he hanged all
on one rope a dozen slave- girls of his household whom he suspected
of misbehavior during his absence.
This hanging involved no question of propriety. The girls were property. The
disposal of property was then, as now, a matter of expediency, not of right and
wrong.

Concepts of right and wrong were not lacking from Odysseus Greece: wit-
ness the fidelity of his wife through the long years before at last his black- prowed

galleys clove the wine- dark seas for home. The ethical structure of that day cov-
ered wives, but had not yet been extended to human chattels. During the three

thousand years which have since elapsed, ethical criteria have been extended to

many fields of conduct, with corresponding shrinkages in those judged by expe-
diency only.

The Ethical Sequence
This extension of ethics, so far studied only by philosophers, is actually a process
in ecological evolution. Its sequences may be described in ecological as well as in
philosophical terms. An ethic, ecologically, is a limitation on freedom of action in
the struggle for exis tence. An ethic, philosophically, is a differentiation of social
from anti- social conduct. These are two definitions of one thing. The thing has its
origin in the tendency of interdependent individuals or groups to evolve modes
of co- operation. The ecologist calls these symbioses. Politics and economics are
advanced symbioses in which the original free- for- all competition has been
replaced, in part, by co- operative mechanisms with an ethical content.

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 906 6/18/12 3:13 PM

LEOPOLD THE LAND ETHIC 907
The complexity of co- operative mechanisms has increased with population
density, and with the efficiency of tools. It was simpler, for example, to define the
anti- social uses of sticks and stones in the days of the mastodons than of bullets
and billboards in the age of motors.

The first ethics dealt with the relation between individuals; the Mosaic Deca-
logue1

is an example. Later accretions dealt with the relation between the indi-
vidual and society. The Golden Rule tries to integrate the individual to society;

democ racy to integrate social organization to the individual.
There is as yet no ethic dealing with mans relation to land and to the animals
and plants which grow upon it. Land, like Odysseus slave- girls, is still property.
The land relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.
The extension of ethics to this third element in human environment is, if I

read the evidence correctly, an evolutionary possibility and an ecological neces-
sity. It is the third step in a sequence. The first two have already been taken. Indi-
vidual thinkers since the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah have asserted that the

despoliation of land is not only inexpedient but wrong. Society, however, has not
yet affirmed their belief. I regard the present conservation movement as the
embryo of such an affirmation.

An ethic may be regarded as a mode of guidance for meeting ecological situ-
ations so new or intricate, or involving such deferred reactions, that the path of

social expediency is not discernible to the average individual. Animal instincts
are modes of guidance for the individual in meeting such situations. Ethics are
possibly a kind of community instinct in- the- making.
The Community Concept

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a mem-
ber of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to com-
pete for his place in that community, but his ethics prompt him also to co- operate

(perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include
soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.
This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the
land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we

love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter- skelter downriver. Cer-
tainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines,

float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we extermi-
nate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of

which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species.
A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of
5

10

1
The Ten Commandments found in the book of Exodus in the Bible. Eds.

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 907 6/18/12 3:13 PM

908 CHAPTER 12 THE ENVIRONMENT
these resources, but it does affirm their right to continued exis tence, and, at
least in spots, their continued exis tence in a natural state.
In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of
the land- community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his
fellow- members, and also respect for the community as such.

In human history, we have learned (I hope) that the conqueror role is eventu-
ally self- defeating. Why? Because it is implicit in such a role that the conqueror

knows, ex cathedra,
2
just what makes the community clock tick, and just what and
who is valuable, and what and who is worthless, in community life. It always
turns out that he knows neither, and this is why his conquests eventually defeat
themselves.
In the biotic community, a parallel situation exists. Abraham knew exactly
what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abrahams mouth. At
the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is
inverse to the degree of our education.

The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the com-
munity clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the

biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never be fully understood.
That man is, in fact, only a member of a biotic team is shown by an ecological
interpretation of history. Many historical events, hitherto explained solely in
terms of human enterprise, were actually biotic interactions between people and
land. The characteristics of the land determined the facts quite as potently as the
characteristics of the men who lived on it.
Consider, for example, the settlement of the Mississippi valley. In the years
following the Revolution, three groups were contending for its control: the native
Indian, the French and En glish traders, and the American settlers. Historians
wonder what would have happened if the En glish at Detroit had thrown a little
more weight into the Indian side of those tipsy scales which decided the outcome

of the colonial migration into the cane- lands of Kentucky. It is time now to pon-
der the fact that the cane- lands, when subjected to the particular mixture of

forces represented by the cow, plow, fire, and axe of the pioneer, became blue-
grass. What if the plant succession inherent in this dark and bloody ground had,

under the impact of these forces, given us some worthless sedge, shrub, or weed?
Would Boone and Kenton3

have held out? Would there have been any overflow

into Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri? Any Louisiana Purchase? Any trans-
continental union of new states? Any Civil War?

Kentucky was one sentence in the drama of history. We are commonly told
what the human actors in this drama tried to do, but we are seldom told that their
15

2

Latin for from the chair, here meaning from the seat of authority, often a reference to infal-
lible papal decrees. Eds.

3

Daniel Boone (17341820) and Simon Kenton (17551836), famous American frontiers-
men. Eds.

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 908 6/18/12 3:13 PM

LEOPOLD THE LAND ETHIC 909
success, or the lack of it, hung in large degree on the reaction of particular soils to

the impact of the particular forces exerted by their occupancy. In the case of Ken-
tucky, we do not even know where the bluegrass came from whether it is a

native species, or a stowaway from Europe.
Contrast the cane- lands with what hindsight tells us about the Southwest,
where the pioneers were equally brave, resourceful, and persevering. The impact
of occupancy here brought no bluegrass, or other plant fitted to withstand the
bumps and buffetings of hard use. This region, when grazed by livestock, reverted

through a series of more and more worthless grasses, shrubs, and weeds to a con-
dition of un stable equilibrium. Each recession of plant types bred erosion; each

increment to erosion bred a further recession of plants. The result today is a pro-
gressive and mutual deterioration, not only of plants and soils, but of the animal

community subsisting thereon. The early settlers did not expect this: on the
cinegas4
of New Mexico some even cut ditches to hasten it. So subtle has been its
progress that few residents of the region are aware of it. It is quite invis ible to the
tourist who finds this wrecked landscape colorful and charming (as indeed it is,
but it bears scant resemblance to what it was in 1848).
This same landscape was developed once before, but with quite different
results. The Pueblo Indians settled the Southwest in pre- Columbian times, but
they happened not to be equipped with range livestock. Their civilization expired,
but not because their land expired.

In India, regions devoid of any sod- forming grass have been settled, appar-
ently without wrecking the land, by the simple expedient of carrying the grass to

the cow, rather than vice versa. (Was this the result of some deep wisdom, or was
it just good luck? I do not know.)
In short, the plant succession steered the course of history; the pioneer simply
demonstrated, for good or ill, which successions inhered in the land. Is history
taught in this spirit? It will be, once the concept of land as a community really
penetrates our intellectual life.
The Ecological Conscience

Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. Despite nearly a cen-
tury of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snails pace; progress still

consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we
still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.
The usual answer to this dilemma is more conservation education. No one
will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs stepping
up? Is something lacking in the content as well?
It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I
understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some
20

25

4
Spring-fed marshes. Eds.

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 909 6/18/12 3:13 PM

910 CHAPTER 12 THE ENVIRONMENT
organizations, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the
government will do the rest.
Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worth- while? It defines
no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change

in the current philosophy of values. In respect of land- use, it urges only enlight-
ened self- interest. Just how far will such education take us? An example will

perhaps yield a partial answer.

By 1930 it had become clear to all except the ecologically blind that south-
western Wisconsins topsoil was slipping seaward. In 1933 the farmers were told

that if they would adopt certain remedial practices for five years, the public would
donate CCC labor to install them, plus the necessary machinery and materials.
The offer was widely accepted, but the practices were widely forgotten when the
five- year contract period was up. The farmers continued only those practices that
yielded an immediate and visible economic gain for themselves.
This led to the idea that maybe farmers would learn more quickly if they
themselves wrote the rules. Accordingly the Wisconsin Legislature in 1937 passed
the Soil Conservation District Law. This said to farmers, in effect: We, the public,
will furnish you free technical service and loan you specialized machinery, if you will
write your own rules for land- use. Each county may write its own rules, and these
will have the force of law. Nearly all the counties promptly organ ized to accept the
proffered help, but after a decade of operation, no county has yet written a single
rule. There has been visible progress in such practices as strip- cropping, pasture
renovation, and soil liming, but none in fencing woodlots against grazing, and
none in excluding plow and cow from steep slopes. The farmers, in short, have
selected those remedial practices which were profitable anyhow, and ignored

those which were profitable to the community, but not clearly profitable to them-
selves.

When one asks why no rules have been written, one is told that the commu-
nity is not yet ready to support them; education must precede rules. But the

education actually in progress makes no mention of obligations to land over and

above those dictated by self- interest. The net result is that we have more educa-
tion but less soil, fewer healthy woods, and as many floods as in 1937.

The puzzling aspect of such situations is that the exis tence of obligations

over and above self- interest is taken for granted in such rural community enter-
prises as the betterment of roads, schools, churches, and baseball teams. Their

exis tence is not taken for granted, nor as yet seriously discussed, in bettering the
behavior of the water that falls on the land, or in the preserving of the beauty or

diversity of the farm landscape. Land- use ethics are still governed wholly by eco-
nomic self- interest, just as social ethics were a century ago.

To sum up: we asked the farmer to do what he conveniently could to save his
soil, and he has done just that, and only that. The farmer who clears the woods off
a 75 per cent slope, turns his cows into the clearing, and dumps its rainfall, rocks,

and soil into the community creek, is still (if otherwise decent) a respected mem-
30

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 910 6/18/12 3:13 PM

LEOPOLD THE LAND ETHIC 911
ber of society. If he puts lime on his fields and plants his crops on contour, he is

still entitled to all the privileges and emoluments of his Soil Conservation Dis-
trict. The District is a beautiful piece of social machinery, but it is coughing along

on two cylinders because we have been too timid, and too anxious for quick suc-
cess, to tell the farmer the true magnitude of his obligations. Obligations have no

meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of social
conscience from people to land.
No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal
change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions. The
proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in
the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it. In our attempt to
make conservation easy, we have made it trivial. . . .
Land Health and the A- B Cleavage
A land ethic, then, reflects the exis tence of an ecological conscience, and this in
turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land.
Health is the capacity of the land for self- renewal. Conservation is our effort to
understand and preserve this capacity.
Conservationists are notorious for their dissensions. Superficially these seem
to add up to mere confusion, but a more careful scrutiny reveals a single plane of
cleavage common to many specialized fields. In each field one group (A) regards
the land as soil, and its function as commodity- production; another group (B)
regards the land as a biota, and its function as something broader. How much
broader is admittedly in a state of doubt and confusion.
In my own field, forestry, Group A is quite content to grow trees like cabbages,

with cellulose as the basic forest commodity. It feels no inhibition against vio-
lence; its ideology is agronomic. Group B, on the other hand, sees forestry as

fundamentally different from agronomy because it employs natural species, and
manages a natural environment rather than creating an artificial one. Group B

prefers natural reproduction on principle. It worries on biotic as well as eco-
nomic grounds about the loss of species like chestnut, and the threatened loss of

the white pines. It worries about a whole series of secondary forest functions:
wildlife, recreation, watersheds, wilderness areas. To my mind, Group B feels the
stirrings of an ecological conscience.

In the wildlife field, a parallel cleavage exists. For Group A the basic com-
modities are sport and meat; the yardsticks of production are ciphers of take in

pheasants and trout. Artificial propagation is acceptable as a permanent as well as

a temporary recourse if its unit costs permit. Group B, on the other hand, wor-
ries about a whole series of biotic side- issues. What is the cost in predators of

producing a game crop? Should we have further recourse to exotics? How can
management restore the shrinking species, like prairie grouse, already hopeless
as shootable game? How can management restore the threatened rarities, like
35

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 911 6/18/12 3:13 PM

912 CHAPTER 12 THE ENVIRONMENT
trumpeter swan and whooping crane? Can management principles be extended
to wildflowers? Here again it is clear to me that we have the same A- B cleavage as
in forestry.
In the larger field of agriculture I am less competent to speak, but there seem
to be somewhat parallel cleavages. Scientific agriculture was actively developing
before ecology was born, hence a slower penetration of ecological concepts might
be expected. Moreover the farmer, by the very nature of his techniques, must

modify the biota more radically than the forester or the wildlife manager. Never-
theless, there are many discontents in agriculture which seem to add up to a new

vision of biotic farming.
Perhaps the most important of these is the new evidence that poundage or
tonnage is no measure of the food- value of farm crops; the products of fertile soil
may be qualitatively as well as quantitatively superior. We can bolster poundage
from depleted soils by pouring on imported fertility, but we are not necessarily
bolstering food- value. The possible ultimate ramifications of this idea are so
immense that I must leave their exposition to abler pens.
The discontent that labels itself organic farming, while bearing some of the

earmarks of a cult, is nevertheless biotic in its direction, particularly in its insis-
tence on the importance of soil flora and fauna.

The ecological fundamentals of agriculture are just as poorly known to the
public as in other fields of land- use. For example, few educated people realize that

the marvelous advances in technique made during recent decades are improve-
ments in the pump, rather than the well. Acre for acre, they have barely sufficed

to offset the sinking level of fertility.
In all of these cleavages, we see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the
conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener of his sword versus
science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the
collective organism. Robinsons injunction to Tristram may well be applied, at
this juncture, to Homo sapiens as a species in geological time:
Whether you will or not
You are a King, Tristram, for you are one
Of the time- tested few that leave the world,
When they are gone, not the same place it was.
Mark what you leave.
The Outlook
It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love,
respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value. By value, I of
course mean something far broader than mere economic value; I mean value in
the philosophical sense.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is
the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather
40

12_SHE_67650_&K12_887_1004.indd 912 6/18/12 3:13 PM

LEOPOLD THE LAND ETHIC 913
than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated
from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has
no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow.
Turn him loose for a day on the land, and if the spot does not happen to be a golf
links or a scenic area, he is bored stiff. If crops could be raised by hydroponics
instead of farming, it would suit him very well. Synthetic substitutes for wood,
leather, wool, and other natural land products suit him better than the originals.
In short, land is something he has outgrown.
Almost equally serious as an obstacle to a land ethic is the attitude of the
farmer for whom the land is still an adversary, or a taskmaster that keeps him in
slav ery. Theoretically, the mechanization of farming ought to cut the farmers
chains, but whether it really does is debatable.

One of the requisites for an ecological comprehension of land is an under-
standing of ecology, and this is by no means co- extensive with education; in

fact, much higher education seems deliberately to avoid ecological concepts. An

understanding of ecology does not necessarily originate in courses bearing eco-
logical labels; it is quite as likely to be labeled geography, botany, agronomy, his-
tory, or economics. This is as it should be, but whatever the label, ecological

training is scarce.
The case for a land ethic would appear hopeless but for the minority which
is in obvious revolt against these modern trends.
The key- log which must be moved to release the evolutionary process for
an ethic is simply this: quit thinking about decent land- use as solely an economic
problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically
right, as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to
preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong
when it tends otherwise.
It of course goes without saying that economic feasibility limits the tether of
what can or cannot be done for land. It always has and it always will. The fallacy
the economic determinists have tied around our collective neck, and which we
now need to cast off, is the belief that economics determines all land-use. This is

simply not true. An innumerable host of actions and attitudes, comprising per-
haps the bulk of all land relations, is determined by the land- users tastes and

predilections, rather than by his purse. The bulk of all land relations hinges on
investments of time, forethought, skill, and faith rather than on investments of
cash. As a land- user thinketh, so is he.
I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution

because nothing so important as an ethic is ever written. Only the most super-
ficial student of history supposes that Moses wrote the Decalogue; it evolved in

the minds of a thinking community, and Moses wrote a tentative summary of it
for a seminar. I say tentative because evolution never stops.
The evolution of a land ethic is an intellectual as well as emotional process.
Conservation is paved with good intentions which prove to be futile, or even
914 CHAPTER 12 THE ENVIRONMENT
dangerous, because they are devoid of critical understanding either of the land, or
of economic land- use. I think it is a truism that as the ethical frontier advances
from the individual to the community, its intellectual content increases.
The mechanism of operation is the same for any ethic: social approbation for
right actions: social disapproval for wrong actions.
By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements. We are
remodeling the Alhambra5

with a steam- shovel, and we are proud of our yardage.
We shall hardly relinquish the shovel, which after all has many good points, but
we are in need of gentler and more objective criteria for its successful use.

 

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