Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How Many Ethicists Does It Take To . . .

Back in the late 90s, I bought twenty years worth of the journal Environmental Ethics. One of my many projects for the next few months is to skim through them all because I don't intend to ship them with the items I'm sending to storage before I leave here.

Last night, I read one of the most famous essays from the field's early days: Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair by J. Baird Callicott. He compares the values of a land ethic such as Aldo Leopold's with the values of animal rights and humaneness, and wild and domestic animals. At the time, he was teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point (a town I almost moved to before visiting Duluth) and like many folks in these parts worshiped at the altar of the hunter-ecologist. Being from Massachusetts, I belong to the older church of the vegetarian-ecologist.

In any case, I thought this made a good follow-up to my recent post on Rogue Primate (while actually predating that book by about 15 years). I searched a bit to see if I could find the text online. I found several sites offering to sell college papers on the essay--how ethically ironic is that? Then I found this, which offers most of the essay with some pages removed--maybe you can find the entire piece elsewhere. What I found most interesting was a new preface by Callicott, written 15 years later, which largely repudiated everything from his original essay which I was going to argue against in this post and touted the compatible aspects rather than the differences between the two lines of thinking. And if you're really interested in the subject, here's an essay by Dale Jamieson which replies to Callicott's views.


Allan Stellar said...

I just got around to reading Aldo Leopold. A beautiful book! But I must admit, the hunting references bugged me. Also, since the book was written in 48, Aldo still had memory of species long gone from most states: Grizzlies and Wolves in Arizona. We have lost much.

As for Vegans (and all their subspecies)? I respect them. I'm not one. Probably should be. But I also eat bananas and drink coffee. To be totally consistent, one should probably be a Vegan Localvore.

But I make it a practice to never trust someone who is totally consistent. Or says they are. Because the task itself is impossible.

greentangle said...

Well, I think it's important to decide what your values are and to try to live consistently with them. For instance, I certainly respect Abbey less for having, what, 5 or 6 kids? while complaining about the effects of human overpopulation.

From an eco perspective, I suppose the vegan and local combo might be best, but eco wasn't my reason for not eating animals and I don't think it is for most of the people who are vocal about it. It's just a side benefit to a strong personal belief.

Certainly purity is unattainable, but I still admire the tendency to aspire to it.