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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #302297

Title: Developments and departures in the philosophy of soil science

item Sauer, Thomas - Tom

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/15/2014
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Traditional soil science curriculums provide comprehensive instruction on soil properties, soil classification, and the physical, chemical, and biological processes that occur in soils. This reductionist perspective is sometimes balanced with a more holistic perspective that focuses on soils as natural, interactive, and vital components of the earth’s terrestrial ecosystems. In western culture, all science was once considered a single field of study, which was termed philosophy. This arrangement was consistent with the most inclusive definition of philosophy, i.e. the pursuit of wisdom (philosophy = lover of Sophia, the Greek goddess of wisdom). In the 19th century, however, science and philosophy began to disconnect into mutually exclusive fields of study. The social and natural sciences, chemistry, physics, and medicine became disciplines within science while logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology came under the sphere of philosophy. Today, science and philosophy remain on largely divergent paths with only limited or infrequent interaction, usually restricted to specialists particularly interested in this relationship. One notable exception relevant to soil science began in the mid 20th century with publication of Aldo Leopold’s The Land Ethic. Leopold proposed that there were ethical principles that applied to soil that should affect how we treat soil resources. This view represented a sharp contrast with the prevailing position that ethical treatment is reserved for living, sentient beings. Leopold was influenced by the writings of an eccentric Russian mystic named P.D. Ouspensky, whose book Tertium Organum proposed "A living and rational universe". The concept of soil as a living entity was followed on by Rene Dubos in The God Within and ultimately James Lovelock with The Gaia Hyphothesis. Each author supported a much more holistic view of the earth and soil where everything is connected and distinctions between "living" and "nonliving" and their relative value are much less clear or important. This world view presents an opportunity to take a closer look at the philosophy of soil science and soil scientists beyond the now established field of environmental ethics. Philosophy of soil science in the present context, referring to the fundamental beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of the profession, will be explored.