Ethics is about what one ought to do. Ethical analysisinvolves analysis of what one does and attempts toprovide reasons to show why one’s actions are theright thing to do. It must probe stated and unstatedgoals and the values presupposed by them. A goodanalysis will try to develop a rational way of decidinghow an individual ought to live and how a professionought to proceed toward realization of its goals(Singer 1994). Such an analysis might lead onetoward a set of “rules, principles, or ways of thinkingthat guide, or claim authority to guide, the actions of a particular group” (Singer 1994). It will makeexplicit what is valued and may lead to action onthose values.This paper argues that those engaged in agricul-ture, whether practitioners, research scientists,extension agents, technology developers, or technol-ogy suppliers, share an unexamined moral confi-dence about the goodness of their activity. The paperalso argues that the basis of that moral confidence isnot obvious to those who have it or to those notinvolved in, but who may be curious about, agricul-ture and its technology. In fact, the moral confidencethat pervades agricultural practice is potentiallyharmful because it is unexamined by most of itspractitioners.Perhaps the best that can be sought in the moralrealm is not absolute certainty but the best availableoption, which many defenders of agricultural practiceappear to believe is what we now have. We live in aworld of moral ambiguity, but it is also a worldwhere some moral values seem to have been ac-cepted by all cultures (Kroeber and Kluckhohn1952). No culture tolerates indiscriminate, harmfullying, stealing, or violence; incest is universallyforbidden; no culture values suffering as a desirablegoal; all cultures have death rituals; protectingchildren is universally regarded as good in civilizedsocieties; and all societies despise cowardice andapplaud bravery.
Moral Confidence in Agriculture
Robert L. Zimdahl
Those engaged in agriculture possess a definite but unexamined moral confidenceor certainty about the correctness of what they do. This paper examines the originsof that confidence and questions its continued validity. The paper argues that thoseengaged in agriculture are morally confident about the rightness of their activity. Thebasis of the moral confidence is not obvious to those who possess it or to the public.In fact, the moral confidence that pervades agricultural practice is potentially harm-ful because it is unexamined. Suggestions for expanding agriculture’s moral scopeare made to approach the question of where moral values originate, and what are or ought to be the moral standards for agriculture in our postindustrial, information-agesociety. Part of expanding agriculture’s moral scope will be giving up some of our hubris about the goodness of our culture and its agriculture. The paper advocatesanalysis of what it is about our agriculture and our society that thwarts or limits our aspirations for agriculture and needs modification. We must strive to nourish andstrengthen those features of our agriculture that are beneficial and change thosethat are not. To fit ourselves to this task, we must be sufficiently confident to studyourselves and our institutions and dedicated to the task of modifying both.
A slightly longer version of this paper will appear in Vol. 17, issue 1, 2002, of the
American Journal of Alternative Agriculture
, owned by CAB International.