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The reshaping of conventional farming: a North American perspective. (Special Issue: Two systems - one world.)

By P. B. Thompson

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Debates over the future of agriculture in North America establish a dialectical opposition between conventional, industrial agriculture and alternative, sustainable agriculture. This opposition has roots that extend back to the 18th century in the USA, but the debate has taken a number of surprising turns in the 20th century. Originally articulated as a philosophy of the left, industrial agriculture has utilitarian moral foundations. In the USA and Canada, the articulation of an alternative to industrial agriculture has drawn upon 3 central themes: the belief that agriculture is, in some way, tied to democracy; the belief that complex bureaucratic organizations are inherently opposed to human interests; and the belief that the family farms characteristic of 19th century North America tend to produce people of superior moral character. It has proved difficult to weave these themes into a coherent vision of agriculture for the 21st century. Often, risk and health-based concerns are the basis for public criticism of conventional agriculture, but these do not conflict with the utilitarian orientation of the industrial model, and are easily incorporated into it. If there is to be a philosophical debate over the future of agriculture, we must find some way to rehabilitate the quasi-Aristotelean view of agriculture that emerges from the 3 critical themes noted above.

Date 2001
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 14
Issue 2
Pages 217-229
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1023/A:1011388424793
Language English
Author Address Department of Philosophy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Alternative methods
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Canada
  5. Commonwealth of Nations
  6. Developed countries
  7. Ethics
  8. History
  9. Intensive farming
  10. North America
  11. OECD countries
  12. Philosophy
  13. Social psychology and social anthropology
  14. sustainability
  15. United States of America