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Environmental Ethics

Volume 2, Issue 4, Winter 1980

J. Baird Callicott
Pages 311-338
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19802424

Animal Liberation
A Triangular Affair

The ethical foundations of the “animal liberation” movement are compared with those of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic,” which is taken as the paradigm for environmental ethics in general. Notwithstanding certain superficial similarities, more profound practical and theoretical differences are exposed. While only sentient animals are moraIly considerable according to the humane ethic, the land ethic includes within its purview plants as weIl as animals and even soils and waters. Nor does the land ethic prohibit the hunting, killing, and eating ofcertain animal species, in sharp contrast to the humane ethic. The humane ethic rests upon Benthamic foundations: pain is taken to be the ultimate evil and it is reductive or atomistic in its moral focus. The land ethic, on the other hand, is holistic in the sense that the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community is its summum bonum. A classical antecedent of some of the formal characteristics of the land ethic is found in Plato’s moral philosophy. Special consideration is given to the differing moral status of domestic and wild animals in the humane and land ethics and to the question of moral vegetarianism.

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