Callicot, John Baird (1941 – ) American Environmental Philosopher

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John Baird Callicot (1941 )
American environmental philosopher

J. Baird Callicott is a founder and seminal thinker in the modern field of environmental philosophy. He is best known as the leading contemporary exponent of Aldo Leopold's land ethic , not only interpreting Leopold's original works but also applying the reasoning of the land ethic to modern resource issues such as wilderness designation and biodiversity protection.

Callicott's 1987 edited volume, Companion to A Sand County Almanac, is the first interpretive and critical discussion of Leopold's classic work. His 1989 collection of essays, In Defense of the Land Ethic, explores the intellectual foundations and development of Leopold's ecological and philosophical insights and their ultimate union in his later works. In 1991 Callicott, with Susan L. Flader, introduced to the public the best of Leopold's remaining unpublished and uncollected literary and philosophical legacy in a collection entitled The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold .

Since his contribution to the inaugural issue of the journal Environmental Ethics in 1979, Callicott's articles and essays have appeared not only in professional philosophical journals and a variety of scientific and technical periodicals, but in a number of lay publications as well. He has contributed chapters to more than twenty books and is internationally known as an author and speaker. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Callicott completed his Ph.D. in philosophy at Syracuse University in 1971, and has since held visiting professorships at a number of American universities. In 1971, while teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Callicott designed and taught what is widely acknowledged as the nation's first course in environmental ethics . He is currently associate professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of North Texas. With respect to the major value questions today in environmental ethics, Callicott's position can best be illustrated by his claim that there can be no value without valuers. He thus recognizes the legitimacy of both instrumental and intrinsic valuation on the part of a democracy of valuers, human and nonhuman.

Callicott perceives that we live today on the verge of a profound paradigm shift concerning human interactions with and attitudes toward the natural world. Much of his current work aims at distilling and giving voice to this shift and at articulating an ecologically accurate and philosophically valid concept of sustainability. This concept abandons dualistic (man versus nature ), ethnocentric (modern Euroamerican), and static (e.g., wilderness frozen in time) elements of current thought in sustainability in favor of those emphasizing dynamic human/nonhuman mutualism , both in ecosystem conservation and in restoration. Through careful management consistent with the best ecological information and theories, Callicott believes, humans can not only protect but can and should enhance ecosystem health . His ideas challenge modern conventional wisdom and could radically alter much current theory in environmental philosophy as well as affect practice in wilderness management and economic development planning.

As one of a handful of scholars who launched the field of environmental ethics as we know it today, and as one of even fewer philosophers who have made their works accessible and pertinent not only to other academicians but to the general public, J. Baird Callicott occupies an important place in the history of modern philosophy. His work will undoubtedly continue to shape thinking on the ethical dimensions of resource management decisions for generations to come.

[Ann S. Causey ]

RESOURCES

BOOKS

Callicott, J. B. Companion to A Sand County Almanac. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

. In Defense of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

. Nature in Asian Tradition of Thought: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.