On Callicott's second-order principles

Environmental Ethics 27 (4):411-428 (2005)
Abstract
J. Baird Callicott has proposed two second-order principles which he believes can be used to settle conflicts between his land ethic and traditional human morality. The first of these proposes that ethical obligations arising from “more venerable and intimate” communities should take precedence over those arising from “more recently emerged and impersonal” communities, while the second proposes that “stronger” interests should take precedence over “weaker” ones. Callicott’s first second-order principle fails to specify unambiguously which communities’ obligations should take precedence because he has failed to provide a clear description of how we are to identify and compare communities. In order for his second second-order principle to be useful, a good deal more work needs to be done to spell out what is meant by describing certain interests as “stronger” than others, particularly with respect to holistic entities. While the project of fleshing out a description of the strengths of interests for holistic entities may present an interesting and fruitful challenge, the prospects for providing a description of community identification of the sort that Callicott requires are much dimmer
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