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Social Philosophy Today

Volume 19, 2003

Environmental Philosophy as Social Philosophy

Brian K. Steverson
Pages 65-77

Evolutionary Emotivism and the Land Ethic

In developing the metaethical foundation for the Land Ethic, J. Baird Callicott has relied on the cognitive plasticity and directionality of the moral sentiments in order to argue for an extension of those sentiments to the environment. As he sees it, reason plays a substantial role in determining which objects we direct those sentiments toward, and ecology has now shown to reason’s satisfaction that we are part of larger, land communities. In this essay, I would like to develop the claim that we should be careful not to overemphasize the cognitive nature of the “moral sentiments” at the expense of their biological basis as an ecological adaptation. I hope to show that this is of special importance for the Land Ethic, where the metaethic involved is entirely dependent on a “felt” sense of community to generate the extension of moral consideration to the environment.

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