When it comes to the question of non-human rights and the value of nature, there are adamant advocates, those who completely disagree with particular values and rights for the ecosystem, and those could care less. For myself, I believe I have fallen somewhat in between these extremes and have honestly never really considered the idea of intrinsic value and certain rights for the non-human natural world.
Singer, Baxter, Steinbock and Callicott (with the words and ideas of Leopold) each have very different ideas about animal rights and the concept of the non-human natural world having a value by itself, regardless of human interests. I will briefly go over the ideas of Baxter and Callicott and add my own views to their ideas and my thoughts on their respective points of view.
Baxter’s focus and main idea in the essay “People or Penguins” is to say that the only value the natural world has lies in regard to how it benefits human interests. He says that only human interests should determine our obligations to the environment. The human interests he specifies include freedom, avoiding waste (not for the sake of the environment, but for human’s sake), regarding others as ends rather than means, and the each person should have the opportunity and incentive to improve his/her life.
Baxter defends his views by saying that people truly think in these terms; it’s within human interests to preserve the environment and what’s good for us is good for them; only humans can participate in collective policy decisions and it would be nearly impossibly to appoint someone to represent animal interests and to decide how much, in relation to human interests, animal interests would count; and that because only human beings can raise these moral questions, they are the only ones worthy of making such decisions.
His main belief centers around the fact that because animals and plant life have no ability to reason, they have no moral standing. Baxter believes that animal interests don’t and should not count and that the natural world has no intrinsic value beyond human interests. In response to Baxter’s idea, I would first ask him exactly who the people are he’s talking to in his defense of this being the way people really think. I think it’s a bit of a rash assumption to say that because he thinks this way, many others must agree (as I sincerely doubt he has done any research on the subject).
Although I do agree with Baxter that it is in human’s interests to preserve the environment, but this is because there are many essential functions that humans cannot perform themselves. For instance, the example of bees pollinating flowers, is it a viable probability that humans would be able to find a way to perform this function? Also, the internalization of carbon dioxide and the regeneration of oxygen that trees perform, is it possible for humans to perform such a function?
In Baxter’s essay, he says that it would be difficult if not impossible to designate representatives to focus on non-human interests, however, I think it would rather simple. There are people who make it their life’s work to study everything there is to know about animals and plant life; wouldn’t it be fairly simple to appoint them? In short, although I understand Baxter’s view and his rationale, I think he defends it in a rather pompous un-thought out type of way.
Callicott, in using the theory thought out by Leopold, “the Land Ethic,” proposes a much different way of looking at the rights and value of the non-human natural world. Callicott believes that all land has value aside from human interests. “The Land Ethic” states that having a function within the biotic community bestows value and a thing, which to him, does not include domestic animals. He believes that because domestic animals are a human creation produced to meet human needs, and because they cannot survive without human aid, they do not apply to “the Land Ethic.
Callicott says that the highest good lies in health, rather than the ability to reason or the capacity for suffering, both of which, in relation to the biotic community, are debatable. Callicott believes that because pain and death are an inescapable part of life, which we invariably consider good, so pain and death must also be good. He also says that a thing is right as it tends to promote the beauty, integrity, and stability of the biotic community. Callicott’s basic assumption and belief is that all things in the biotic community do have an intrinsic value, aside from human interests, because their function bestows that value.
In many aspects I agree with “the Land Ethic” and Callicott’s views. As I mentioned in regards to Baxter’s ideas, there are certain functions that animals and plants serve that as of yet, humans have been unable to replicate. The fact that they have these abilities proves to me that without them, we would cease to be able to survive. This goes along somewhat with Baxter’s view that the non-human natural world does hold value because of how it relates to human interests, but more so to Callicott’s view that their value lies in their function.
I agree with Callicott in the idea that a thing is right that preserves the integrity and beauty of the environment. This also goes somewhat with Baxter’s view that what’s good for us is good for them. It seems that despite entirely different focuses and ideas about the rights and value of the biotic community, Baxter and Callicott perhaps have a bit more in common than it may seem at first glance. As far as my own personal opinion, I seem to fall somewhere in between the views of Baxter and Callicott.
Although I do believe that the non-human natural world does have value aside from human interests, I also think that it is nearly impossible to measure because it’s difficult to assess what would happen to the biotic community without humans in it. Although it is pretty safe to assume that it would probably go on in its normal manner, because humans have been proven to destroy it, it is impossible to ever really know for sure. Perhaps humans serve some function that has yet to have been identified.