Callicott also believe that the simplistic Utilitarian approach to ethics – aimed at a net reduction in pain and increase in pleasure – is unnatural or “biologically preposterous” to use his words. Pain is used by nature for animal survival while pleasure is brief and confined to eating and mating. “If nature as a whole is good, then pain and death are also good.”4 Land ethics asks us to “play fair in the natural system.” Conversely, he thinks humanism and humane moralism are ‘world-denying’ or ‘life-loathing’ philosophies.”

Callicott then offers some guidance on societal and personal conduct compatible with the land ethic. Modern people should not alienate themselves from nature, but reaffirm their participation in it by accepting her biologic laws, principles, and limitations. He offers the example of tribal peoples who manage population through abortion, sexual continence, even infanticide and stylized warfare. If we can abstract and integrate this ethos into modernity, we can achieve a viable mutually beneficial relationship with nature. Personal, societal, and environmental health trumps comfort, self-indulgence, and insulation from pain. In short he urges a reappraisal of the contemporary values of civilization.5

In this context he disparages vegetarianism as perhaps unnatural for humans, but also conducive to further development of farm land at the expense of natural environments and permissive of increased human population at the expense of animals – in his opinion a future ecologic catastrophe. Moreover the land ethic discourages “transmogrification of plants by mechanochemical means.”6 Our concern should not be animals versus plants, but rather organic versus factory-originated food. He concludes with the warning that land ethics requires discipline, sacrifice, and economic reform “tantamount to a virtual revolution in prevailing attitudes and life styles.”7

Next we will entertain an alternate vision of ethical environmentalism as espoused by Steven F. Hayward. Join me then.


4Arthur, John (editor), Morality and Moral Controversies. Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2005. ISBN 0-13-184404-0, page 174.   Interesting as this mirrors Christian theodicy.

5Ibid., page 175.

6Ibid., page 176.

7Ibid., page 177.

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