Jamieson 1998

Jamieson, D. 1998. Animal liberation is an environmental ethic. Environmental Values 7: 41 -57.

In the 1980s several authors including Callicott (1980) and Sagoff (1984) emphasized the differences between the animal liberation and environmental ethics movements. These arguments formed part of a pervasive Weltanschauung that assumed that a new environmental ethics was necessary. Central to this Weltanschauung was the conservation of biodiversity in all its manifestations. That includes, above all, the preservation of species and the ethical imperative for that goal included the active management for recovery of at-risk species. Common measures included the removal of harmful other species that were harming at-risk species, for instance, feral cats on islands. Such a policy is presumably anathema to animal liberationists (and, presumably, any animal welfare ethics with teeth).

At the foundational (meta-ethical) level, this dispute remains apparently irresoluble and was recognized as such by many environmental philosophers by the late 1980s. Bryan Norton (e.g., 1994) pioneered an avoidance mechanism by arguing that the foundational dispute could be set aside by environmentalists who would still, by and large, agree about specific policies to be pursued (that is, at the level of normative ethics.) This approach to environmental ethics eventually came to be known as environmental pragmatism and Jamieson’s paper (intended or not) falls squarely within that tradition.

Jamieson is writing from within the persepective of animal liberation which, broadly following the work of Singer, Regan, and others, attempts to broaden the moral circle by including all sentient beings beyond humans. In fact, Jamieson’s views are quite extreme in this respect since he excludes all nonsentient beings from having what he calls “primary” value: “Nonsentient entities are not of primary value because they do not have a perspective from which their lives go better or worse” (p. 47). This is obviously question-begging: can we not say that a tree suffering from a fungal disease that is killing it is objectively worse off and, unless we tie “perpective” to higher cognitive faculties, the tree is worse off from its own perspective?

Little wonder then that Jamieson rejects views such as those of Callicott, Sagoff, Naess, or Routley. So, how is an animal liberation ethic supposed to be an environmental ethic? On the positive side, and as environmental pragmatism demands, Jamieson’s answer consists of presumed agreement at the normative level. Animal liberationists and environmental ethicists have the same enemies. That, at least, should be obvious.

Of course, Jamieson does not stop there. Some parts of the paper are also dedicated to showing that there is also potential theoretical agreement between the two schools. These arguments do not appear as impressive. He correctly points out that nothing prevents animal liberationists from valuing nonsentient entities as deeply as their environmental ethicist counterparts, or event intrinsically valuing these entities (however, that mode of valuing is construed). And, according to him, some animal liberationists are also willing to allow tradeoffs to embrace wider envioronmental goals such as therapeutic hunting.

One wonders where we are left. Or why this paper needed to be written in a period when, after Norton’s environmental pragmatism became popular (and Callicott at least retreated from his strongest position), there began to emerge widespread normative convergence on environmental issues. After all, by 1998, Deep Ecology was already dead and most environmental ethicists were willing to consign many of its tenets (including claims of intrinsic value) to the dustbin of history.



Callicott, J. B. 1980. Animal liberation: A triangular affair. Environmental Ethics 2: 31 1-338.

Norton, B. G. 1994. Toward Unity among Environmentalists. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sagoff, M. 1984. Animal liberation and environmental ethics: Bad marriage, quick divorce. Osgoode Hall Law Journal 22: 297 -307.


23 September 2019

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