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Ó Springer 2008
Why CallicottÕs Ecological Communitarianism Is Not Holistic
Philosophy, Texas A&M University, Galveston, TX 77550, USA; e-mail: domskyd@ tamug.edu
1. Introduction As part of his overall environmental ethic, J. Baird Callicott advances a normative theory he terms communitarianism.1 On this theory, there are exactly two criteria for moral standing, shared kinship and shared community. CallicottÕs is speciﬁcally an ecological communitarianism, because kinship and community are understood broadly to include not just human communities but evolutionary and ecological communities as well. This allows a whole host of natural entities to be allotted moral standing, and makes communitarianism a compelling force in non-anthropocentric environmental philosophy. What makes CallicottÕs theory particularly appealing, though, is its ecological holism. Unlike many competing normative theories, it secures moral standing not just for individual natural entities but for ecological wholes as well, including such wholes as ecosystems and species as species.2 Ecological holism of this sort is a seductive nectar. If communitarians can successfully attain it, environmental philosophers will no doubt come buzzing. But can communitarians actually attain it? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no. When we examine the theoretical structure of the theory carefully, we discover two things. First, it is far from clear that communitarians can lay any claim at all to ecological holism. Second, it is highly doubtful, even if they can lay some claim to it, that they will have any distinctive advantage over non-communitarians in doing so. In the end, ecological holism is simply nectar out of reach. If communitarianism is to be appealing, it will have to be on its non-holistic merits. 2. Kinship and Community Clariﬁed In order to assess how holistic communitarianism is, we ﬁrst need to understand exactly how communitarians mark an entity as having moral
It secures moral standing not just for groups of kin and community members but for distinctly ecological wholes as well. People. Particular entities do not need to be directly dependent on each other in order to share a bond of community. when they are ‘‘descendants of a common paleontological parent stock. communitarianism is holistic in a simple. members of biotic communities rely on each other ecologically. To his credit. and it is not clear what it really amounts to. Understood this way. of non-living lands and waters. If it is none of these things. on the whole. but they are nothing . and cannot. Individuals count as web occupants when they rely on at least one other occupant and when they are relied on by at least one other occupant. it will require something more. Kinship and community are not only suﬃcient for moral standing: they are also disjunctively necessary for it. put another way. and any fellow occupants qualify as fellow community members. They are fundamentally tied to particular sets of individuals. Interdependence exists in webs. then it has none. the most charitable way to understand interdependence is to do so broadly. They are kinds.’’4 When entities have an ancestor in common with us.390 DARREN DOMSKY standing.5 Just as members of human or animal communities rely on each other socially. Any web that we ourselves occupy qualiﬁes as our community. in part.3 In order for this explanation to be useful. Still. kinship and community need to be clariﬁed. made up. such as ecosystems and species qua species. Callicott does so. Given all of this. the community concept can apply very broadly. dogs. Ecological communities are just like biotic communities except that they include non-living entities as members. holism of this sort is not diﬃcult to attain. is ecologically holistic.’’ or. and pine trees can have moral standing not just individually but altogether. then it has moral standing. exist independently of each other. our community. Entities share a bond of community when they are mutually interdependent. no matter how distant the ancestor is. Callicott promises more. CallicottÕs answer is that entities have moral standing if and only if they share a bond of kinship or community with us. the entities are our kin. Species as species are also not groups of valuable individuals. though. or our fellow community member. Ecosystems are not mere groups of intrinsically valuable individuals. This would make bonds of community intolerably rare. Entities share a bond of kinship when they share a ‘‘common ancestry. Communitarianism.6 Though Callicott is somewhat unclear on this matter. If communitarianism is to have any distinctive appeal. restricted sense. They are complex and dynamic wholes. Kinship and especially community apply to not only individuals but groups of individuals as well. he insists. If an entity is our fellow kin.
ﬂuids or gases could possibly be community members. this will clearly be a distinctive and alluring theoretical accomplishment. 3. In particular.’’ and as a result an ecosystem has moral standing for just the same reason that any other community or society does. non-holistic reasons. ﬂuids. waters.’’7 Ecology represents the ecosystem ‘‘as a society of plants. the nectar is a mirage. and if environmental philosophers are to come buzzing. Non-living things simply cannot occupy a node on any web of interdependence. serious diﬃculties arise. As a result. how soils. it will have to be for other. as long as biotic community is taken ‘‘in its most expansive sense’’ to include ‘‘all living things (Ôplants and animalsÕ) and even nonliving things (Ôsoils and watersÕ). With ecosystems and then again with species as species. Also. Despite CallicottÕs claims. Though Callicott rarely deals with this directly. even by CallicottÕs own deﬁnition of community. Is Communitarianism Ecologically Holistic At All? In order to see how under-justiﬁed the communitarian claim to ecological holism is in the ﬁrst place. and they can even be depended on by community members. With ecosystems. diﬃculties which reveal serious explanatory gaps. it is a biotic community. in part. the key diﬃculty has to do with how exactly the communitarian can assign moral standing to ecosystems when they are made up. Ecological holism cannot in fact be derived from communitarian normative principles.ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITARIANISM IS NOT HOLISTIC 391 like the sets themselves. If communitarians can secure moral standing for either sort of ecological whole. and gases. we need only observe what happens when communitarians attempt to accommodate ecological wholes. or how wholes consisting of these things could possibly be communities. but they cannot depend on . securing moral standing for ecosystems or species as species does not go well for communitarians. even if ecological holism can somehow be derived from communitarian principles. and as a result the claims are seriously undermined. there is no reason to think that it cannot just as easily be derived from the normative principles of alternative theories. of nonliving components. But communitarians cannot secure moral standing for ecological wholes. They can be physically enmeshed within interdependent communities.8 The problem with this explanation is that it is diﬃcult to understand. There are fundamental explanatory gaps between CallicottÕs holistic claims and his theoretical justiﬁcation for them. his explanation seems to be that an ecosystem has moral standing because it is a community just like any other community. animals.
on the other. species holism is neither coherent nor attainable for a communitarian. kinds remain. it cannot be because we have extended a pattern of valuing greater and greater numbers. It is extinct. With species holism. Even if it were possible and meaningful for species as kinds to have moral standing. even greater diﬃculties arise. Non-living things can be needed. The ﬁrst interpretation is generally confusing. but it is just as problematic for them to have intrinsic value. There are two possibilities: on the one hand. Allotting moral standing to species as kinds borders on incoherence.’’9 Certainly it is problematic for species as kinds to have rights. on its more abstract interpretation. even if it can be done. . and as Callicott frankly admits in saying: ‘‘ÔIntrinsic valueÕ is no less mysterious a notion than Ônatural rightsÕ. if not persons. it is mysterious to go from valuing more and more human kin or community members to valuing the human species as an abstract kind. But the term ÔspeciesÕ traditionally designates a class or kind. by deﬁnition. and for two reasons. it is unclear how the moral standing of a kind could ever be defended. and so mutual dependence cannot apply to them. No matter how broadly we apply them. The dodo is just as much a species as it ever was. Even where just human beings are concerned. Callicott gives us a blueprint for this concern in his parallel concern about how species as species could have rights: ‘‘The ÔgrammarÕ of the term ÔrightsÕ appears to require that those possessing them be. especially considering. it is unclear how kinds could have moral standing. but as an abstract kind it still has the properties it has always had. Kinds are abstract. communitarian normative criteria do not apply to abstract kinds. conceptually odd if not logically contradictory. is not an individual or localizable thing. How then could it possibly have rights? The proposition itself seems. it might mean that species as minimal instantiations of kinds have moral standing. There is no need to defend them. Thus. and as such unassailable. Even if all their tokens disappear. at least localizable things of some sort. but they cannot need.392 DARREN DOMSKY anything.’’10 Kinds of any sort cannot have moral standing. of kin or community members. First. In order to see why. The notions of kinship and community just do not apply. and communitarian quicksand to boot. it is not clear what the moral standing can amount to. A class. upon its face. it would still be unclear how communitarian principles could secure it for them. it is ﬁrst necessary to sort out what it might mean for species as species to have moral standing. Attributing moral standing to kinds is puzzling because. it might mean that species as kinds have moral standing. As a result. Second. it is a mystery how a communitarian can grant moral standing to ecosystems. Even if we do value the human species as an abstract kind. or larger and larger sets.
and the only question that might be relevant is how distant it is.’’11 He also explains that ‘‘species preservationists set a much higher value … on an individual furbish lousewort (a ÔmereÕ plant. if anything. Callicott tells us that the value of diversity also stems from these communitarian criteria. An entity either sits on our web of interdependency or it does not. Rare species are less likely than common species to be ecologically inﬂuential. but clearly it does not. mutual dependence can only seem to penalize rareness. her life is a precious instrument for the salvation of her kind.ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITARIANISM IS NOT HOLISTIC 393 A second interpretation of species holism is that the minimal instantiations or representations of species as kinds have moral standing. It is unclear how a theory built strictly on more and more generally applied kinship and community could make instantiated diversity intrinsically valuable. a commonplace mammal. not the abstract kinds themselves. CallicottÕs response to this problem . but because a fertile whooping crane carries a signiﬁcant fraction of the genetic material of her species. but at odds with CallicottÕs normative theory. as a state of the world. Shared ancestry gives no bonus whatsoever to rareness of species. He tells us that ‘‘an individual whooping crane. communities have moral standing because communities are made up of entities with such things in common. Mutual dependence also gives no bonus to rareness of species. Understood this way. species holism is coherent. matters morally. It is at odds with communitarianism because communitarian normative criteria are focused exclusively on sameness. The problem of ecofascism is the problem of how actions such as killing individuals to preserve instantiated diversity of kinds can be acceptable at the ecological level when they are clearly prohibited at the human.’’14 If rare organisms are less likely to be missed on our web of interdependence. social level. for example.’’12 Comments like these imply that the sustained representation of a kind. It is coherent because instantiated diversity. If the DevilÕs Hole pupﬁsh goes extinct. can be meaningfully valued and protected. but a precious custodian of unique genetic material) than on an individual whitetailed deer. and not the abstract kind itself. Similarly. our biosphere ‘‘will function not one iota less serviceably. An entity is either a distant relative or it is not. or because it occupies a same web of interdependency that we occupy.13 Callicott admits as much. Callicott seems to have this second interpretation of species holism in mind. An entity has moral standing because it has the same ancestor as us. is no more or less valuable than a sandhill crane qua individual. In fact. then it seems they will have less moral standing than common ones. Callicott only highlights how unclear this is in his recent response to the problem of ecofascism. and all that might matter is how distant it is from us on the web.
He needs to caution us against the assumptions that what is wrong will stay the same across levels and that the determinants of wrongness will stay the same. First. such that what is wrong correlative to one stage of social development. CallicottÕs introduction of the value of species diversity at the ecological level is undefended. even at every level of social organization. It is another for it to be justiﬁed for a new and unprecedented reason. &c. … in all human communities–from the savage clan to the family of man–the ÔinfamyÕ of murder. namely kinship and community. but clearly it is reasonable. and in fact are at fundamental odds with it. Second. we may ask why it is not suddenly all right to kill to protect organisms with rare traits. CallicottÕs claim to species holism is as ungrounded and problematic as his claim to ecosystemic holism. including the ecological context. CallicottÕs response is undefended and incomplete. is wrong for one fellow member of the biotic community to do to another. There are many equally plausible alternatives. It is also our set of reasonable moral considerations. We do not just kill deer but not people. This is a great deal not to assume. If it is suddenly all right to kill to protect rare species. may not be wrong correlative to the next. We kill deer to protect diversity.394 DARREN DOMSKY is unhelpful: ‘‘as ethics evolve correlatively to social evolution. always stems from the application. it seems a mistake to say that a communitarian should not assume that what is wrong will remain the same across diﬀerent social levels. then there is no reason why we cannot assume that what is wrong will remain the same across levels. and for two reasons. however broad. treachery. Callicott does not address how arbitrary it is for a communitarian to count diversity of species as a new determinant of wrongness. remains Ôeverlasting. we might suddenly place a value bonus on diversity of traits within a species. of the same two normative criteria.Õ But the multispecies biotic community is so diﬀerent from all our human communities that we cannot assume that what is wrong for one human being to do to another. robbery. not only do they widen their scope. Callicott implies that this would be a hasty assumption. . As a result. and allow individuals with dominant genes to be lost or even culled in order to protect precious custodians of recessive genes. For instance. However we interpret species holism. they change in content. and arbitrary. If moral standing in all contexts. unprecedented.’’15 This is unhelpful. It is not just our standards of wrongness that suddenly change. It is one thing for an action to be unjustiﬁed at one level but justiﬁed at another. communitarian normative principles neither motivate nor support it.
(Albany: State University of New York Press. Neither ecosystems nor species as species have conative features. He has not done this. organisms are only conative insofar as they defend the good of their species. See J. Thus. Similarly. there is no reason to think that it would have a special advantage over competing normative theories. In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Conativists allot moral standing to entities in virtue of their having interests. on the grounds that the big bang produced conative entities. but it is not more diﬃcult than it is for a communitarian.17 There are gaps in RolstonÕs account of why these wholes have intrinsic value and not just instrumental value. as Callicott is also aware. although ecosystems are not conative.’’ American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984). Let us compare the situation of a communitarian to that of a conativist. In fact. or goods of their own. but neither do they have communitarian features. even if ecological holism is somehow attainable for a communitarian. Beyond the Land Ethic: More Essays in Environmental Philosophy. although neither species nor minimal instantiations of species are conative. organisms and species have moral standing together. . As a result. Holmes Rolston III is a conativist who actually does lay claim to ecological holism. we have no reason to think that it is any less attainable for competing theorists. they produce things that are. J. On this approach. Baird Callicott. wills. 1999). and it is unclear how he could. and because of this they too have moral standing. Rolston explains that. In order to lay any special claim to ecological holism. but the gaps will be just like the gaps of a communitarian. As Callicott is aware. Baird Callicott.18 Notes 1. and J.16 He recognizes only conativist criteria for moral standing but allots moral standing to ecosystems and species as species as well as individuals. a conativist who attributes moral standing to them will leave explanatory gaps. Baird Callicott. Is Communitarianism Distinctively Ecologically Holistic? Even if CallicottÕs theory could support ecological holism.ECOLOGICAL COMMUNITARIANISM IS NOT HOLISTIC 395 4. (Albany: State University of New York Press. it may be diﬃcult for a conativist to account for ecosystems or species as species having direct moral standing. ‘‘Non-anthropocentric Value Theory and Environmental Ethics. but there are similar gaps in CallicottÕs account. 1989). RolstonÕs theory is even more holistic because Rolston attributes value to the big bang itself. Because of this. Callicott must somehow show that his own explanatory gaps are smaller than the gaps of a conativist.
‘‘Intrinsic Value in Nature: A Metaethical Analysis.: National Academy Press. 39. 146–147 & 151. 11. 6.. p. p. D. 171– 186. I am grateful to Robert Myers. 212–216. 135. Ibid. 2002). ‘‘Do Deconstructive Ecology and Sociobiology Undermine the Leopold Land Ethic?’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. and J. ed. 17. See Wayne Ouderkirk. ‘‘The Case Against Moral Pluralism.’’ in In Defense of the Land Ethic. 8. Esteve Morera. p. ‘‘Why Put a Value on Biodiversity?’’ In Biodiversity. p. 10. Peters. Wayne Ouderkirk and Jim Hill. 72. O. 4.: Rowman and Littleﬁeld.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. 16. Community: Callicott and Environmental Philosophy. ‘‘Moral Considerability and Extraterrestrial Life. See Callicott. ‘‘On the Intrinsic Value of Nonhuman Species. p. E. 1997). pp. ‘‘Moral Monism in Environmental Ethics Defended. ‘‘Holistic Environmental Ethics and the Problem of Ecofascism. 12. 227. p.’’ p. 261. See Callicott.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. 7. ‘‘Introduction: Callicott and Environmental Philosophy. pp. ed. See David Ehrenfeld. pp. ‘‘Introduction: Compass Points in Environmental Philosophy. Md. p.’’ in In Defense of the Land Ethic. (Lanham. (Washington. 18.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. ‘‘The Case Against Moral Pluralism. Value. Ibid. See also Eric Katz.. Callicott. 243. 3.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. Callicott. 147. Callicott. pp. 69.. 135. (Albany: State University of New York Press. ‘‘On the Intrinsic Value of Nonhuman Species. See Callicott. pp. 130–131. Baird Callicott. Ingrid Stefanovic. 15. Ibid. ‘‘Rolston on Intrinsic Value. ‘‘Elements of an Environmental Ethic: Moral Considerability and the Biotic Community. Wilson and F. pp.’’ in In Defense of the Land Ethic. pp. Nature as Subject: Human Obligation and Natural Community. 9–14. . p. 6. Callicott. 14. p. J. p.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. 136. Baird Callicott. Wayne Sumner. M.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic.’’ in Land. 1988). Callicott. 5. Ibid. 9. Callicott.396 DARREN DOMSKY 2. 13. Thomas Magnell and an anonymous referee of the Journal of Value Inquiry for their extensive and helpful comments.’’ in Beyond the Land Ethic. Callicott.C. 143–170. 152– 153.
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