Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)
Thomas Berry Award & Lecture
Center for Respect of Life and Environment (CRLE)


Towards A New Production Ethic

Tools: The Process of Stating Principles and its Rationale

Ethical Principle Consensus must precede policy renewal and institutional reform
(Why we need "Soul" first!)

The Process of Stating Ethical Principles and its Rationale

Simple Process
Ideally, in a consensus formation workshop, you will have already gotten a list of values organized in some logical fashion, as suggested above in items 4a and 4b above, or just a list in no special order. Suppose they are stated succinctly enough. E.g. "Family farmers provide a continuous and intimate knowledge of their land and can know, over time, which cultural practices will retain its fertility and impact benignly on neighboring lands and water." Then, during the ethics consensus formation, you point to that value (on an over-head or large paper format) and ask what ethical principles could be suggested to preserve that value. For example, someone should suggest: "The society must assure that the economic condition of the farming vocation is attractive to the children of farmers and to other young people." And then you can proceed down the list of values until suitable principles defending each of them have been listed.

Critical Rationale
In introducing this part of the workshop, it might be helpful to repeat the rationale for why the consensus statement must go beyond simply stating the wonderful values associated with family farming. Most of these values are potential values and are sometimes seriously missing in family farms, for example in caring for the local environment, or in communities whose land-use policies, for example, may be a threat to the viability of the family farm. The lack of practical ethical principles will endanger the values cited and make the effort to defend family farms pointless. What we supply below are some clarifications on why we must carefully reflect on the ethical principles we will make the explicit soul of agriculture, drawing those principles from the deepest traditions of family, religion and culture we have at our disposal to secure the role of family farming and the many values it provides to its own families and to the society.

What is Ethics?
Farmers and supporters of a new vision of farming need an explicit consensus statement of the basic and derived ethical principles for the new vision. These principles serve, along with their values, as the "soul" of the new vision. The value of the explicit statement of this soul is laid out above. Ethics is the orderly and consistent expression of the principles and practices which can secure valued ends by good means. We attempt to make explicit from the wealth of implicit moral convictions of reasonable and mature humans some which apply to and secure the values of farming. Given the function of ethical principles to protect the highest values, a reasonable way to organize the following tentative list of principles is around the values toward which they are directed, following the order of the values as laid out above.

Ethical Principles Lead to New Structures
As collaborators in the Soul of Agriculture have pointed out, human and environmental values in farming are principally assaulted and principally defended not by naked ethical principles but by institutions and technologies. They said this to warn that our task will finally be to create new institutions and new or at least newly directed technologies. This is true because, when institutions and technologies are created in a fully conscious way and do not just evolve unreflectively, they embody intentions to act in certain ways to gain certain values, often at the cost of other values. Some of the contradictory institutions and practices of industrial agriculture may have evolved unreflectively, causing unintended but still crushing damage to farmers, their families and communities. This cannot be the case for the new vision. We need explicit ethical commitments, principles which will guide any institutions or policies just as a good building code guarantees the soundness of any building which follows it. We need the "soul" first.

Ethical Principles Will Not Determine the Structures or Policies
New structures must be local. We cannot, in a broad consensus statement stipulate or even tentatively design the needed institutions since these will be, almost on principle, intensely local in character. But because we know some of the values which will be goals of the institutions and policies we can state principles to guide the institutions and policies without predetermining their design. Moreover the principles themselves we suggest for your deliberation are stated deliberately in terms general enough to embrace a wide range of more precise locally conditioned practical principles. The list given here is incomplete and suggestive, meant to get you started and meant to model a format so that final polishing into a national consensus will not be too difficult. In item #5b you will find the list of principles classified to fit the values taxonomy given in #4b.Your task is to fill out this list to fit your group's inspiration and your region's needs and resources. What follows, set up for illustrative use on an overhead projector, are ethical principles suggested by the Minneapolis (November, 1997) consensus formation activity. As noted above, they are organized to correspond to the values listed in the preceding outlines, also organized for use on a overhead projector.


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