2nd Edition

The Spirit of the Soil Agriculture and Environmental Ethics

By Paul B. Thompson Copyright 2017
    264 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    264 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In this second edition of The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics, Paul B. Thompson reviews four worldviews that shape competing visions for agriculture. Productionists have sought increasing yields—to make two seeds grow where only one grew before—while traditional visions of good farming have stressed stewardship. These traditional visions have been challenged by two more worldviews: a call for a total cost accounting for farming and an advocacy for a holistic perspective. Thompson argues that an environmentally defensible systems approach must draw upon all four worldviews, recognizing their flaws and synthesizing their strengths in a new vision of sustainable agriculture. This classic 1995 study has been thoroughly revised and significantly expanded in its second edition with up-to-date examples of agriculture’s impact on the environment. These include extensive discussions of new pesticides and the effects of animal agriculture on climate and other areas of the environment. In addition, a new final chapter discusses sustainability, which has become a dominant idea within environmental studies and agrarian political philosophy.


    Chapter 1: The ethics of soil

    Chapter 2: The environmental critics of agriculture

    Chapter 3: The productionist paradigm

    Chapter 4: Agricultural stewardship and the good farmer

    Chapter 5: Calculating the true cost of food

    Chapter 6: The holistic alternative

    Chapter 7: Sustainable agriculture

    Chapter 8: The agrarian vision

    Appendix 1: 2015 Preface to the Japanese edition

    Appendix 2: Deleted agricultural biotechnology section from the 1st edition



    Paul B. Thompson has done research and teaching on the environmental ethics of agriculture and food systems for over 35 years. He was a founding member and former President of the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, and a two- time winner of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association’s Award for Excellence in Communication. Prior to assuming his present post at Michigan State, he held faculty positions in philosophy at Texas A&M University and Purdue University.

    "Paul Thompson’s The Spirit of the Soil has long been the go-to book for readers seeking a balanced and penetrating analysis of the ethics of food production. Now in this Second Edition he has updated his analyses to account for the mini-explosion of inter-disciplinary research and writing in the field. In a world of degraded agricultural landscapes and a steadily growing human population, Thompson’s reflections are indispensable."

    --Norman Wirzba, Duke University

    "Paul Thompson is unquestionably among the most important philosophers of agriculture working today. The Spirit of the Soil is still among the only works in philosophy that accords agriculture the weight it deserves within the field of environmental ethics. The Second Edition of this now-canonical work usefully updates it, while leaving the its central arguments intact. The clarity of Thompson’s arguments, the depth and carefulness of his historical scholarship, and the attentiveness with which he takes up the arguments of critics make it impossible for me to do anything other than reexamine and reconstruct my own position. This work is valuable for anyone seriously interested in considering agriculture (and food) philosophically; the new edition smoothly brings the work into the 21st century conversation."

    --Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College

    "Paul Thompson’s Spirit of the Soil was ground-breaking when it appeared, and still stands among the most important works in agricultural philosophy and policy. It has been a central reading in my course, Foundations of Sustainable Agriculture, for more than a decade.  This revised and updated edition could not be more welcome!"

    --Clark Wolf, Iowa State University

    "When it first appeared, The Spirit of the Soil broke new ground (appropriately enough) with its focus on the agrarian dimension of environmental ethics.  In this new edition, Thompson updates and expands his discussion to consider the rapid evolution of sustainability thinking over the past two decades.  In the process he introduces Spirit to a new generation of scholars and professionals wrestling with the changing demands of environmental responsibility in the 21st century.  A most welcome -- and timely -- revision of an environmental classic."

    --Ben A. Minteer, Arizona State University

    "In this Second Edition, Thompson sharpens his agenda to re-center agricultural ethics in the discourse on environmental philosophy. His four worldviews framework provides the guide to move beyond positivist and consequentialist assumptions about the relationship between humans and the natural world. This book is, more than ever, essential reading for all students of agrifood sustainability."

    --Douglas H. Constance, Sam Houston State University