20 June 2008

J. Baird Callicott on Value

Some suspicion may arise at this point that the land ethic is ultimately grounded in human interests, not in those of nonhuman natural entities. Just as we might prefer a sound and attractive house to one in the opposite condition so the "goodness" of a whole, stable, and beautiful environment seems rather to be of the instrumental, not the autochthonous, variety. The question of ultimate value is a very sticky one for environmental as well as for all ethics and cannot be fully addressed here. It is my view that there can be no value apart from an evaluator, that all value is as it were in the eye of the beholder. The value that is attributed to the ecosystem, therefore, is humanly dependent or (allowing that other living things may take a certain delight in the well-being of the whole of things, or that the gods may) at least dependent upon some variety of morally and aesthetically sensitive consciousness. Granting this, however, there is a further, very crucial distinction to be drawn. It is possible that while things may only have value because we (or someone) values them, they may nonetheless be valued for themselves as well as for the contribution they might make to the realization of our (or someone's) interests. Children are valued for themselves by most parents. Money, on the other hand, has only an instrumental or indirect value. Which sort of value has the health of the biotic community and its members severally for Leopold and the land ethic? It is especially difficult to separate these two general sorts of value, the one of moral significance, the other merely selfish, when something that may be valued in both ways at once is the subject of consideration. Are pets, for example, well-treated, like children, for the sake of themselves, or, like mechanical appliances, because of the sort of services they provide their owners? Is a healthy biotic community something we value because we are so utterly and (to the biologically well-informed) so obviously dependent upon it not only for our happiness but for our very survival, or may we also perceive it disinterestedly as having an independent worth? Leopold insists upon a noninstrumental value for the biotic community and mutatis mutandis for its constituents. According to Leopold, collective enlightened self-interest on the part of human beings does not go far enough; the land ethic in his opinion (and no doubt this reflects his own moral intuitions) requires "love, respect, and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value." The land ethic, in Leopold's view, creates "obligations over and above self-interest." And, "obligations have no meaning without conscience, and the problem we face is the extension of the social conscience from people to land." If, in other words, any genuine ethic is possible, if it is possible to value people for the sake of themselves, then it is equally possible to value land in the same way.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 325-6 [italics in original; footnote omitted])

Note from KBJ: I quote this long passage because it shows, in the context of environmental ethics, how one can distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic value while being a value subjectivist. There are two distinctions that should not be conflated (but that often are). The first is between two types of value: objective and subjective. Objective value inheres in the world outside of subjects and would exist without them; subjective value is conferred by subjects (such as human beings) and would not exist without them. The second distinction is between two ways of valuing: intrinsically and extrinsically. To value a thing intrinsically is to value it for its own sake, as an end in itself, because of the kind of thing it is (i.e., because of its properties). To value a thing extrinsically is to value it for the sake of something else one values, as either a part of or a means to that other thing (i.e., because of its relations). Callicott is a value subjectivist, but he values land ("the biotic community") intrinsically as well as extrinsically. I'm a value subjectivist, but I value land only extrinsically.

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