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Choosing a Non-Anthropocentric Value Theory for Environmental Ethics Term Paper

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Updated: May 21st, 2018

In this paper, I will briefly set up Callicott’s project by highlighting his main arguments in his article. Further, I will argue that Callicott is right in preferring the Hume/Darwin/Leopold Land Ethic value theory for environmental ethics over Theism and Holistic Rationalism.

I will do this by arguing that human activities cause major environmental destructions and thus, man must have ‘land ethics’ so as to preserve the biotic community. This can only be achieved if human beings accept to be mere members of biotic community and stop using land as ‘their’ commodity.

In his article, “Non-Anthropocentric Value Theory and Environmental Ethics“, Callicott starts by informing that the implication of the term ‘environmental ethics’ varies considerably. As such, certain authors analyze environmental ethics as a function of existing philosophical thoughts in connection to the environment while others present it as an exceptional ethical entity.

According to Callicott (300), when environmental ethics is taken to be more hypothetical than an applied discipline, then, “most important philosophical task for environmental ethics is the development of non-anthropocentric value theory”.

‘Anthropocentric value theory’ is described as any conjecture that consigns natural values to mankind and views other living organisms as important creatures that enhance human survival (Callicott 299). Therefore, the application of utilitarian calculus to determine the degree of correctness or unfairness of acts that have certain implications on the environment is undoubtedly anthropocentric. On the other hand, non-anthropocentric theories view all living things as equal beings.

Non-anthropocentric theories contest the conviction that only humans can enjoy intrinsic values. One such theory is ‘animal liberation theory’ (ethical hedonism) which is highly convectional. It is said to be conventional since it only has a slight variation from the condemned anthropocentric and utilitarian theories.

It only calls for reliable implementation of anthropocentric theories. Its pros squabble that the belief that human beings are only creatures that undergo soreness and gratification was not included in the original ideologies of utilitarian theories.

However, the tribulations incurred from ethical hedonism are the same as those of utilitarianism. As such, animal liberation theorists would permit the obliteration of forests to acquire feed for cattle since trees are unconscious beings. Furthermore, the theory fails to acknowledge the importance of maintaining equilibrium between species so as to realize a sustainable ecosystem.

Callicott also takes time to elaborate on ethical conativism and give his verdict. The theory was coiled from Schweizerian respect for existence. Ethical conativism describes interest using the “will-to-live” (conatations) and also describes natural values “in terms of interests”.

As such, living organisms possess inherent importance when interests are comprehensibly consigned to them. This theory considers plants in environmental ethics by arguing that, plant, in addition to other life forms, have interests despite the fact that they lack consciousness.

Nevertheless, the theory is criticized as it fails to show the distinction between household and untamed animals as well as the importance of marvelous organismic entities. Besides, if the theory is followed to the letter, individuals would be forced to consume dead foods like fruits and vegetables.

As a result, Callicott (55) thinks of useful options like theistic axiology as well as holistic realism. According to theistic theories, every living organism is good and it possesses natural values since it’s created by the Almighty God. Accordingly, God gave human beings control over world and therefore, human race should take maximum responsibility for God’s creatures rather than taking advantage of them. Holistic realism views all living organisms as possessing intrinsic values depending on their integrity. Nevertheless, Callicott abandons these theories due to their lack of appeal in scientific world.

Thus, he establishes four important attributes of any value theory in regard to environmental ethics. As such, all living things as well as super organismic entities ought to be assigned inherent value and a difference should be established between tamed and untamed animals. In addition, such theories should be in line with modern biology concerning advances in the fields of ecology and evolution. Further, theories of environmental ethics must assign intrinsic values to every component and group found in the ecosystem.

Thus, I tend to argue that Callicott’s support for Leopold’s ‘Land Ethics’ deserves credit. The best thing about land ethics is that it cautions human beings against using land as ‘their’ commodity. Instead, it requires man to view land as a community where he belongs so that he can express love and affection to other community members. By respecting the land, man will not interfere with flow of energy between the soil, trees and animals.

Energy flow is sustained by food chains as well as death and decay of living organisms. The relationship between living things is influenced by evolution and human beings. However, human activities are the most catastrophic. Callicott agrees with Leopold’s view that we must have ‘land ethics’ in order to maintain the interactions occurring in the land. By doing this, we accord moral value to the land instead of acknowledging particular members.

However, a number of scholars have disputed the rationalization of land ethics. They argue that the author of Land Ethics directly shifted from describing the land to prescribing what human beings ought to do in the land. Here, Callicott may wonder if such individuals read the initial pages of “A Sand County Almanac”. Their possible reply would be yes but argue that there is no real justification of Leopold’s claims.

Though the cons may have a point, Callicott may argue that the book has great arguments supported by evidence resulting from acute observations just as Darwin observed the course of evolution. Callicott would say that such criticisms are uncalled for since Leopold gave moral recognition to the land on grounds of ethical attitudes and affection rather than specific characteristics.

The opponents may then have some questions; (a) ‘why must human beings preserve the land?’ and (b) what is unique about living things that we should preserve the land? Callicott would like to use common sense and argue that we all know the importance of a healthy environment. Our well being is linked to the well being of the ecosystem. We must show love to the land so that it can have joy and produce food.

Otherwise, we shall destroy our own good. Therefore, according to Callicott, the main question should be based on our feelings towards the land rather than basing it on land qualities. This would enable human beings to have moral respect for the entire biotic community and eliminate the disparities between prescriptive and descriptive opinions.

However, Callicott opponents may argue that attitudes and emotions are inappropriate bases for environmental ethics. More so, there are many individuals who lack affection for biotic factors in any case whatsoever.

So, the cons may wonder if Callicot would quit campaigning for environmental conservation if these individuals disregard the principles of land ethics. In this case, Callicott would provide a different case for assigning ethical consideration according to holistic entities. People should realize that interests are not necessarily linked to conscious skills.

There is an opportunity for non-conscious objects to express their interests as well. It can be argued that respiration is in the interest of young kids even though they do not understand the importance of fresh air in addition to lacking conscious need for the same. As such, even unconscious organisms have a need to fulfill their interests. The children and the animals “have a good of their own” necessitated by their developmental needs and their interests must be given ethical considerations.

The opponents may agree with the explanation of giving moral consideration to holistic entities. However, they may question on how to exercise this moral duty while trying to protect the environment. Why should proponents of land ethics allow killing of ‘other’ over populous biotic factors and save human beings who cause major environmental destruction?

As a reply, Callicot would argue that giving moral value on basis of holistic entities should not be used as a basis of taking away human rights as well as human interests. He would argue that biotic community is just one of the many associations in the land which should be valued. Animals may be killed and people must not be murdered because human community is tighter than human-animal community. Thus, community promise would allow killing of animals only.

Callicott support for Leopold’s work is a good step forward. Land ethics may help people to accept their position in the community of biotic system thus enabling them to care for other community members. Through this, the flow of energy in the land will be uninterrupted and this will help man to achieve his goods such as food. The senior rank of humans in the biotic community confers upon them a responsibility of preserving the ecosystem but not to destroy it.

Work Cited

Callicott, Baird, J. “Non-Anthropocentric Value Theory and Environmental Ethics”. American Philosophical Quarterly 21.4 (1984): 299-309. Print.

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