Animal Studies Bibliography

Callicott, J. Baird. 1992. Rolston on Intrinsic Value: A Deconstruction. Environmental Ethics 14(2): 129-143.

The main goal of environmental ethics has been to validate an objective, intrinsic value for “nonhuman natural entities and nature as a whole” (129). Value in nature is important because value produces duties on our part. The standard view is that value comes from a valuer--a subject that places value on an object. Some environmental philosophers attempt to make an argument for truncated intrinsic value: nonhuman natural entities and natural as a whole should be valued not for their use to us but should be valued as we value family members--for their own sakes. Rolston refuses to accept such a middle ground and instead argues for completely intrinsic value for nature. He argues that “all organisms defend their ‘own kind as a good kind'” (133)--both animals and plants work hard to stay alive and reproduce. It then follows that each organism has a telos and must therefore be morally respected as an end in itself. Taylor takes this proposition to mean that human, animals, and plants have equal intrinsic value but that nonliving things (ecosystems, oceans, etc.) have no intrinsic value, since life is the telos of all the others. Rolston, however, recreates the standard hierarchy from this premise, ranking the sentient above the non-sentient because they “ feel the good that they defend” [emph. in original] (134) and humans above other sentients because of our self-awareness. This hierarchy means that humans can use animals and plants (more than animals) as long as we respect them and do not endanger a species or cause great damage. Rolston's system also gives intrinsic value to species (because it is a “kind” from the original proposition), as well as ecosystems and natural processes, all of which helped produce the life that has intrinsic value and should therefore have some intrinsic value of its own. We have the duty to respect other things with intrinsic value because we claim the same value for ourselves, and to not respect them would be a logical break. This duty-based approach leaves out the basis some people prefer, which is based on feelings for and connections to nature. The problem with Rolston's argument is that it is inconsistent with the modern science postulates that underlie it. Descartes distinction between res extensa and res cogitans , Galileo's between primary and secondary qualities, and Hume's between fact and value all lead to modern science's notion that nature is necessarily value-free because value, like color, depends on the observer. To make his argument hold, Rolston would have had to find a different basis than the assumptions, but instead, he affirmed them. There is a possible grounding for intrinsic value, however, in postmodern science. All our thought, in science and in social thought, tends to follow the pattern set by physics, and we are currently undergoing a shift of ethical and social thought along the path set by quantum physics. [pp. 139-140 give an inkling of what intrinsic value based on this new pattern might look like, but I did not understand it because I don't know any physics.] It is also possible, however, for those who'd still like to base the theory on the modern view of science to do so. Darwin said that as societies grew, moral beliefs were extended to cover “useless members of society” (143) and animals. Our caring and affection for such creatures, as well as for plants and the environment as a system, can be the basis for the extended moral consideration within the axioms of modern science.



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