Bridging compassion and justice in conservation ethics

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Francisco J Santiago-Ávila, William S Lynn
Biological Conservation
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‘Traditional conservation’ customarily engages in the dismissal of individual non-human animal claims when these conflict with human interests or prevailing ideas of biodiversity. Emerging conservation paradigms, compassionate conservation (CC) and multispecies justice (MJ), concerned with the prevalence of harm to animals are challenging the normative and practical standards underlying this dismissal. We place these two emerging conservation paradigms in dialogue, highlighting their potential for convergence for appropriately considering nonhuman animal claims. We focus on some theoretical and practical tensions within both paradigms that may hinder their independent application. While we agree on the practice of compassion towards individuals as indispensable to ethics, we demonstrate how questions of harm ubiquitous in ethical dilemmas (situations of conflict) within conservation are inevitably intertwined with evaluations of competing human-animal claims potentially unsolvable only through compassion. Drawing on Mary Midgley’s concept of the ‘mixed-community’ of species, we propose MJ as a complementary value promoting animal respect, dignity, and their appropriate consideration through the establishment of baseline duties to others. We recommend justice-promoting principles focused on recognizing different yet equitable sources of moral value (geocentrism), observing equitable consideration, evaluating harm and comparability of claims, among others. We proceed to discuss the limitations of justice, compassion and how we can correct for them, highlighting the indispensability of their simultaneous deployment. We conclude that a comprehensive conservation ethic should promote an ethics-of-care together with the codification and enforcement of animal claims so as to provide explicit ethical guidance in our mixed-community.


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