J. Baird Callicott, The Land Ethic



2.      Leopold claims the extension of ethics is part ecological evolution

         a.      Leopold takes this idea from Darwin

3.      Darwin on origin of ethics

         a.      Darwin argued that “all things human” (including ethics) can be understood as having evolved by natural selection from traits possessed by closely related species

4.      Ethics seems problematic from an evolutionary perspective

         a.      Ethics requires moral agents to selflessly consider interests other than their own

         b.      Theory of evolution would seem to predict that the selfish would out-compete the selfless in struggle for existence

                   i.       Those who are selfish would do better, live longer, have more offspring than those who were willing to sacrifice own interests

                   ii.      Result is that there would be more and more selfishness, not an evolution toward more selfless, ethical behavior (which is what we actually find)

         c.      How could ethics evolve through evolution (rather than divine intervention)?

5.      How ethics evolved by evolutionary natural selection

         a.      For many animals, survival and reproduction is better achieved in cooperative groups

                   i.       As individuals, humans fair poorly

                   ii.      Working together, they can protect themselves from predators and successfully prey on larger animals

                   iii.     Those individuals that were part of collective groups did better (had more offspring) than solitary individuals

         b.      Without ethics, groups can’t stay integrated

                   i.       Darwin: “no tribe could hold together if murder, robbery, treachery were common”

         c.      Started within the family: Altruistic parents sacrificing own self-interest for children and with children wanting to be in company of their parents

                   i.       Huge relative survival advantage

         d.      Ethical affections (social impulses and sentiments) spilled over to siblings and close kin who formed groups that were more successful at survival and reproduction

         e.      Because of humans capacity for imagination and intellect, we were able to turn these helpful emotions and behaviors into moral rules

6.      Extension of ethics to all humans

         a.      Since bigger and better organized groups out-compete smaller less well organized groups

         b.      First get clans, then tribes, then nations

         c.      Each involves an extension of ethics to all those in the group

         d.      Eventually get universal human rights ethic

7.      Leopold suggested a land ethic as next evolutionary extension of ethics

         a.      Humans are also part of biotic communities and so ethics needs to be extended to the land as well

         b.      Land ethic, says Leopold

                   i.       “Simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively: the land”

                   ii.      “When we see land as a community to which we belong” and not “a commodity belonging to us” a land ethic can emerge

                   iii.     And this “Changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it”

8.      Leopold developed the land ethic by adding an ecological ingredient to Darwin’s evolutionary account of origin and development of ethics



10.    Holism vs individualism in ethics

         a.      Individualism: Concern for this person, animal, plant,

         b.      Holism: Concern for this family, team, group, nation, species, ecosystem

11.    Individualistic ethic and holistic ethic can conflict (though often need not)

         a.      Often when individuals on a team do well, the team does well, but not necessarily: team members might have to sacrifice their own interests for the team to win

         b.      Environmental examples: California condors, restored Yellowstone wolves, shooting goats to protect endangered species of plants

12.    Leopold’s land ethic has a holistic dimension; in fact, it is strongly holistic

         a.      “A land ethic implies respect for ...fellow members and also for the community as such”

         b.      Leopold’s ethical maxim is holistic: “A thing is right when it preserves the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community, it is wrong when it tends otherwise”

13.    Leopold’s holism is what appeals to the conservation (environmental) community

         a.      They are worried about biological and ecological wholes–populations, species, communities, ecosystems” not individual constituents

         b.      Conservation concerns are often at odds with concern for individuals

                   i.       Protecting the integrity, stability and beauty of biotic community by “chopping down, gunning down, setting fire to” individual members of the biotic community

         c.      Holism is the land ethics’ principle asset

14.    Can one respect individual members and kill them for the sake of the community?

         a.      How can we reconcile Leopold’s respect for members of the biotic community with his insistence that the integrity of the biotic community takes precedence (and this often involves killing off individual members)?

         b.      As ethics evolve, their content changes so that what is wrong at one stage of social development not wrong at others

                   i.       In all human communities, murder continues to be wrong

                   ii.      But multi-species biotic community is so different that we can’t assume what is wrong for one human to do to another is wrong for one biotic community member to do to another.

                   iii.     Can’t apply the ethics between humans to humans’ relation to the nonhuman individuals

         c.      Since the biotic community functions in large part by one organism killing another (competition, predation), can’t argue that it is land-ethically wrong for a human to kills a fellow-member of the biotic community (p. 210)

                   i.       That animals and plants compete and kill each other does not justify human behavior (certainly toward other humans and perhaps toward animals and plants)

         d.      There can be respectful killing of fellow biotic community members (e.g., natives killing of animals for food)



16.    Critics claim that land ethic is a version of fascism as it allows sacrificing individuals for the sake of the great social good

17.    Land ethic applied to humans suggests we wipe them (us) out:

         a.      Since humans are a grave threat to the integrity, stability, beauty of biotic community, we eradicate them like we eradicate other threats to ecosystems

18.    Callicott’s reply: Leopold’s land ethics is an addition to, not replacement of our human ethic

         a.      With each new stage in the evolutionary development of ethics, the old stages are not replaced but added to

                   i.       Sometimes they are, an ethic of universal human rights replaces the earlier racist and sexist ethic...

         b.      That we are citizens of a nation and owe it duties does not cancel our duties to our family members

         c.      That we are biotic citizens and owe duties to the land does not cancel or replace our duties to respect human rights as members of the global human community



         a.      How to rank duties that arise and conflict from different levels of community membership

20.    Ranking principle one (SOP-1): The older and closer the stronger

         a.      Obligations coming from older and more close communities outweigh obligations coming from more recently and impersonal communities

         b.      Duties to family outweigh duties to the broader community

                   i.       Caring for aged parents and young children more important than working at the local soup kitchen

21.    Ranking principle two (SOP-2): Stronger interests count more

         a.      Stronger interests (more at stake) generate duties that outweigh duties generated by weaker interests

                   i.       It is more important to save a person’s arm, than a person’s little toe

         b.      Duties to help feed and cloth the children in one’s municipality take precedence over duty(?) to benefit one’s own children by “showing them with luxuries”

22.    Examples

         a.      Sartre: Should the young Frenchman join the resistance (in WWII) or stay home and take care of his mother?

                   i.       Callicott’s answer: #2 takes precedence and he should join the resistance

         b.      Stay home with one’s mother or join the peace Corps and go to Africa?

                   i.       Callicott’s answer: #1 takes precedence and he should stay with his mother

         c.      Nazis kill the mother unless the Frenchman stays at home;

                   i.       Callicott’s answer: Stay at home and help one’s mother

         d.      Old growth forests, spotted owls, and loggers

         e.      Vote to pass a referendum to stop old growth logging to save the spotted owl, thereby putting thousands of loggers out of work?

                   i.       Callicott’s answer: P. 213: vote for the referendum, because principle 2 (greater interests at state for nature) takes precedence over 1 (closer interests of he loggers)

         f.       If choice was cutting down millions of 400 year old trees or cutting down thousands of 40 year old loggers

                   i.       Callicott: Cut the trees (#1 takes precedence)



24.    When Leopold wrote the land ethic, paradigm in ecology was “balance of nature;” Now it is the flux of nature

25.    Need to revise the land ethic in response to this change

         a.      Asking us to “preserve the integrity and stability” of the biotic community does not help when ecologists are claiming ecosystems are chance juxtapositions of species (and hence lacking integrity) and characterized by disturbance as much as stability

26.    Humans are “plain members and citizens” of the land community

27.    “Thus human (anthropogenic) changes of nature are no less natural than any other change

28.    But because humans are moral creatures, these changes need to be evaluated (using the land ethic)

29.    We should evaluate human induced change of nature in terms of “appropriate scale”

         a.      Anthropogenic (human-caused) disturbance of nature is wrong when it is at an inappropriate (abnormal?) scale

                   i.       Too fast

                   ii.      Too large a spacial event


30.    Evaluating the ongoing human caused mass extinction

31.    Although mass extinction occurred in evolutionary past (4 or 5 times), they are abnormal

         a.      Normally speciation out-paces extinction.

32.    Causing species extinction is perfectly natural, even if people cause it

33.    But human caused rate of extinction is wildly abnormal

         a.      First biological agent in 3.5 billion year history of life on earth to cause a geologically significant mass extinction


34.    Evaluating anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change

         a.      Climate has warmed up and cooled off in the past

         b.      Since humans are part of nature, can’t object to human “recycling of sequestered carbon” as unnatural

         c.      Can object on the basis of temporal scale and magnitude

         d.      We may be causing a big increase in temperature at an unprecedented rate

35.    In general, what is wrong with anthropogenic disturbances is they are at an inappropriate scale (too rapid and too spatially massive)

         a.      Violent disturbance occurs regularly in nature, even w/o humans

                   i.       Volcanos bury biota of whole mountains

                   ii.      Tornadoes rip through forests

                   iii.     Hurricanes erode beaches

                   iv.     Rivers drown flood planes

                   v.      Lightning fires sweep through forests and savannahs

         b.      Strip mining, clear cuts, costal development, dams are morally problematic not because they are unnatural, but because they are “far more frequent, widespread and regularly occurring than non-anthropogenic occurrences”

36.    Other examples of the inappropriate scale human activities

         a.      Human caused, continent wide elimination of large predators

         b.      Human introduction of exotic species that wipe out natives and ecologically homogenize the planet

         c.      Ubiquitous human polluting of water and obstructing rivers with dams

37.    Callicott’s reformulation of land ethic moral maxim

         a.      “A thing is right when it tends to disturb the biotic community only at normal spacial and temporal scales. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”



39.    While it seems true and exceedingly important that the massive scale of human changes of nature are a significant part of the problem, it is not clear this is the only problem

40.    Notice that the content of the changes does not matter on Callicott’s account, but it does seem relevant

         a.      For example, restoration is exceedingly rapid and might be practiced on an enormous spacial scale (if environmentalists got their way) but this seems morally right

         b.      What if we changed nature (massively) for the better?

41.    Human caused extinction of elephants and tigers, or destruction of unique geological features of the globe (strip mining the top of Mount Everest, or drilling for oil in Arctic Refuge?)

         a.      These would be wrong even if they were relatively isolated events and occurred on a scale “normal” for nature