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Domestic Animals And The Land Ethic: A Response To J. Baird Callicott

3257 words - 13 pages

Domestic Animals and the Land Ethic: A Response to J. Baird Callicott


Both “Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics: Bad Marriage, Quick Divorce” by Mark Sagoff and “All Animals Are Equal” by Peter Singer seem to ignore a fundamental defining characteristic of animals, namely their level of domestication. These two essays’ assumptions and exclusions inspired me to think more about domestication. Partially through the process of brainstorming and outlining my arguments, I read “Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair” by J. Baird Callicott, which at the very least dealt with domestication, but I found that his version of the land ethic dealt with wild animals better than with domesticated animals.


A certain state of nature existed for much of the history of the earth where ecosystems and species competed and selected for/against each other, causing evolutionary change. At the point where humans started to domesticate other creatures (by selecting based on simplified understandings of characteristics which was different from those previously selected for), a new era began. This new era created new ethical questions because we developed an inter-species relationship previously non-existent. J. Baird Callicott’s extension of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic addresses a possible ethic toward wild and domestic animals, but doesn’t sufficiently examine why we should treat domestic animals differently than humans and wild animals. Accepting Callicott’s ethic toward wild animals, I argue that domestic animals have evolved to become members in the human ecosystem and should be treated in that way, rather than eliminated (Callicott), treated poorly (factory farms), or liberated (animals liberationists).

A Short Perspective on History

Earth’s history is huge, and much of it is unknown to the human species. Pre-historically, there was a natural order of life where species and ecosystems operated on competition, adaptation, and natural selection, which caused evolution on multiple scales. In many cases, these species or systems co-evolved, that is, were symbiotically related through competition, parasitism, mutualism, or predation. It’s important to note that individuals’ characteristics were selected by natural conditions and by other species. However, these actions as a whole can be considered natural selection, a more abstract generalization surely, but observed nonetheless.

Human hunting fell into this class of relationships (however technologically advanced it became, which is another matter entirely). Humans hunted much like other predators, whom we have no doubt learned from over a long time scale. So when a human chased down a deer and killed it for food, this was still natural selection, but humans didn’t remain content to hunt and gather food. At the evolutionary point when humans started to domesticate animals, things all changed.

Domestication: A New Science


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