Dr. Baird Callicott is a Distinguished Research Professor at the University of North Texas whose work has been at the forefront of the new field of environmental philosophy and ethics. He began as an academic philosopher, but early in his career was motivated by the intellectual challenges posed by the environmental movement.
"I specialized in ancient Greek philosophy and still am actually quite interested in it," Baird says. "But in the early 1970’s, I began to think that philosophers need to be able to make both a creative contribution to an intellectual community and a practical difference in the world. Around that time, we came to a very sudden realization of an environmental crisis—and this seemed to me to be an opportunity to do philosophy like the ancient Greeks did it, because the relationship of humans to nature was totally unexplored territory. Ethics had always been confined to interpersonal relationships, person-to-person, and the idea of having any kind of ethical obligations to nature was completely unexplored in the Western tradition of philosophy."
This fall, Baird is visiting SESYNC as a sabbatical fellow. He’s leading an interdisciplinary group that integrates philosophical, ecological, legal, economic, and ethical perspectives to using an ecosystem services approach to ecological restoration.
"We can talk about why we as human beings have rights and intrinsic value, but to be able to provide a persuasive account of that where nature is concerned is a creative philosophical endeavor," says Baird. "That’s been a constant theme in environmental philosophy since its inception. So, I hope to be able to bring that dimension to the table where ecosystem services are concerned and explore how what I call transcendent value interacts with the kinds of value that we can actually express in economic terms and monetary metrics."
While at SESYNC, Baird is available as a resource to researchers who are interested in incorporating philosophical and ethical dimensions into their own work. The PowerPoint available below and at sesync.org is a brief overview of both the spectrum of environmental philosophy and ethics and what types of questions Baird may be able to help with.
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to solving complex problems at the intersection of human and ecological systems.