12 November 2008

J. Baird Callicott on Wild Life

The land ethic, it should be emphasized, as Leopold has sketched it, provides for the rights of nonhuman natural beings to a share in the life processes of the biotic community. The conceptual foundation of such rights, however, is less conventional than natural, based upon, as one might say, evolutionary and ecological entitlement. Wild animals and native plants have a particular place in nature, according to the land ethic, which domestic animals (because they are products of human art and represent an extended presence of human beings in the natural world) do not have. The land ethic, in sum, is as much opposed, though on different grounds, to commercial traffic in wildlife, zoos, the slaughter of whales and other marine mammals, etc., as is the humane ethic. Concern for animal (and plant) rights and well-being is as fundamental to the land ethic as to the humane ethic, but the difference between naturally evolved and humanly bred species is an essential consideration for the one, though not for the other.

(J. Baird Callicott, "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair," Environmental Ethics 2 [winter 1980]: 311-38, at 332 [italics in original])

Note from KBJ: To understand what Callicott is saying, draw a two-by-two box diagram. On the left side, from top to bottom, distinguish between wild and domesticated organisms. On the top, from left to right, distinguish between (nonhuman) animals and plants. Cell 1 (the northwest quadrant of the diagram) contains wild animals; cell 2 (the northeast quadrant) contains wild plants; cell 3 (the southwest quadrant) contains domesticated animals (e.g., dogs, cats, pigs, cows, and chickens); cell 4 (the southeast quadrant) contains domesticated plants. Peter Singer and Tom Regan, who represent what Callicott calls "the humane ethic," are concerned about the organisms in cells 1 and 3. Leopold and Callicott, who represent what Callicott calls "the land ethic," are concerned about the organisms in cells 1 and 2. Note the overlap: Both Singer and Regan (on the one hand) and Leopold and Callicott (on the other) are concerned about wild animals, but not for the same reason. Singer and Regan care about them because they are sentient (Singer) or subjects of a life (Regan). Leopold and Callicott care about them because they are part of "the biotic community."