A communitarian moral philosophy might provide a coherent sense of self and world without compromising the richness and complexity of our moral lives or attempting to derive all ethical actions from a single principle. Suppose that ethics, as Darwin argued, is correlative to society; that at this stage of human social evolution, we are simultaneously members of many communities or societies, including families, neighborhoods, towns or cities, nation-states, the global human community, the mixed human-domestic animal community, and the biotic community; and that a spectrum of different and not always compatible duties and obligations grow out of our various social relationships—for example, to provide our children with affection, to watch our neighbors' houses when they are away on vacation, to donate old clothes to the Salvation Army, to pay our taxes, to relieve world hunger, to boycott factory-farmed meat, and to help preserve biodiversity.

Right and wrong behavior in respect to family and family members, humanity and human beings, the biotic community and wild animals and plants, grows out of the very different kinds of communal relationships that we bear in these very different cases. Hence what is right in the context of one kind of community (feeding domestic animals, who are members of the "mixed community," for example) may be wrong in another (feeding wild animals, who are members of the biotic community). A multiplicity of community-generated principles guides our actions, but this multiplicity is united and coordinated by a single general understanding of how our various duties arise and to whom they apply. A coherent moral outlook like this certainly does not automatically determine the best course of action when one's multiple duties conflict. But one can at least hope rationally to decide, in circumstances of hard choice, which of several relevant but conflicting duties is the most pressing because they can all be expressed in comparable and commensurable terms.


SEE ALSO: Animal Welfare and Rights; Environmental Health; Environmental Policy and Law; Population Ethics; and other Environmental Ethics subentries

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