Anthropocentrism

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Anthropocentrism ( /ˌænθrpˈsɛntrɪzəm/ ; [1] from Greek Ancient Greek : ἄνθρωπος, ánthrōpos, "human being"; and Ancient Greek : κέντρον, kéntron, "center") is the belief that human beings are the most important entity in the universe. Anthropocentrism interprets or regards the world in terms of human values and experiences. [2] The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or human exceptionalism. Anthropocentrism is considered to be profoundly embedded in many modern human cultures and conscious acts. It is a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy, where it is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human action within the ecosphere [ citation needed ].

Ancient Greek Version of the Greek language used from roughly the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE

The Ancient Greek language includes the forms of Greek used in Ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BCE to the 6th century CE. It is often roughly divided into the Archaic period, Classical period, and Hellenistic period. It is antedated in the second millennium BCE by Mycenaean Greek and succeeded by medieval Greek.

Universe all of space and time and their contents

The Universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. While the spatial size of the entire Universe is unknown, it is possible to measure the observable universe.

Environmental ethics is the part of environmental philosophy which considers extending the traditional boundaries of ethics from solely including humans to including the non-human world. It exerts influence on a large range of disciplines including environmental law, environmental sociology, ecotheology, ecological economics, ecology and environmental geography.

Contents

However, many proponents of anthropocentrism state that this is not necessarily the case: they argue that a sound long-term view acknowledges that a healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for humans and that the real issue is shallow anthropocentrism. [3] [4]

Environmental philosophy

Anthropocentrism, also known as homocentricism or human supremacism, [5] has been posited by some environmentalists, in such books as Confessions of an Eco-Warrior by Dave Foreman and Green Rage by Christopher Manes, as the underlying (if unstated) reason why humanity dominates and sees the need to "develop" most of the Earth. Anthropocentrism is believed by some to be the central problematic concept in environmental philosophy, where it is used to draw attention claims of a systematic bias in traditional Western attitudes to the non-human world. [6] Val Plumwood has argued [7] [8] that anthropocentrism plays an analogous role in green theory to androcentrism in feminist theory and ethnocentrism in anti-racist theory. Plumwood calls human-centredness "anthrocentrism" to emphasise this parallel.

Supremacism is an ideology which holds that a particular class of people is superior to others, and that it should dominate, control, and subjugate others, or is entitled to do so. The supposed superior class of people can be an age, race species, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, language, social class, ideology, nation, or culture, or any other part of a population.

Environmentalist someone who supports the goals of the environmental movement

An environmentalist is a supporter of the goals of the environmental movement, "a political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities". An environmentalist is engaged in or believes in the philosophy of environmentalism.

Confessions of an Eco-Warrior is a book written in 1991 by Dave Foreman.

One of the first extended philosophical essays addressing environmental ethics, John Passmore's Man's Responsibility for Nature [9] has been criticised by defenders of deep ecology because of its anthropocentrism, often claimed to be constitutive of traditional Western moral thought. [10] Indeed, defenders of anthropocentrism concerned with the ecological crisis contend that the maintenance of a healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for human well-being as opposed to for its own sake. The problem with a "shallow" viewpoint is not that it is human-centred but that according to William Grey: "What's wrong with shallow views is not their concern about the well-being of humans, but that they do not really consider enough in what that well-being consists. According to this view, we need to develop an enriched, fortified anthropocentric notion of human interest to replace the dominant short-term, sectional and self-regarding conception." [11] In turn, Plumwood in Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason argued that Grey's anthropocentrism is inadequate. [12]

John Passmore AC was an Australian philosopher.

Deep ecology ecological and environmental philosophy

Deep ecology is an ecological and environmental philosophy promoting the inherent worth of living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus a restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.

It is important to take note that many devoted environmentalists encompass a somewhat anthropocentric-based philosophical view supporting the fact that they will argue in favor of saving the environment for the sake of human populations. Grey writes: "We should be concerned to promote a rich, diverse, and vibrant biosphere. Human flourishing may certainly be included as a legitimate part of such a flourishing." [13] Such a concern for human flourishing amidst the flourishing of life as a whole, however, is said to be indistinguishible from that of deep ecology and biocentrism, which has been proposed as both an antithesis of anthropocentrism. [14] and as a generalised form of anthropocentrism. [15]

Biocentrism, in a political and ecological sense, as well as literally, is an ethical point of view that extends inherent value to all living things. It is an understanding of how the earth works, particularly as it relates to biodiversity. It stands in contrast to anthropocentrism, which centers on the value of humans. The related ecocentrism extends inherent value to the whole of nature.

Antithesis is used in writing or speech either as a proposition that contrasts with or reverses some previously mentioned proposition, or when two opposites are introduced together for contrasting effect.

Judeo-Christian tradition

Maimonides, a scholar of the Torah who lived in the 12th century AD, was noted for being decidedly anti-anthropocentric. Maimonides called man "a mere 'drop of the bucket’" and "not 'the axle of the world'". [16] He also claimed that anthropocentric thinking is what causes humans to think that evil things exist in nature. [17] According to Rabbi Norman Lamm, Maimonides "thus deflate[d] man's extravagant notions of his own importance and urge[d] us to abandon these illusions." [16]

Maimonides rabbi, physician, philosopher

Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides, and also referred to by the acronym Rambam, was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer and physician. Born in Córdoba, Almoravid Empire on Passover Eve, 1135 or 1138, he worked as a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt. He died in Egypt on December 12, 1204, whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias.

Torah Jewish religious text

Torah has a range of meanings. It can most specifically mean the first five books (Pentateuch) of the 24 books of the Tanakh, and is usually printed with the rabbinic commentaries. It can mean the continued narrative from the Book of Genesis to the end of the Tanakh (Malachi), and it can even mean the totality of Jewish teaching, culture and practice, whether derived from biblical texts or later rabbinic writings. Common to all these meanings, Torah consists of the origin of Jewish peoplehood: their call into being by God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of moral and religious obligations and civil laws.

Norman Lamm American rabbi

Norman (Nachum) Lamm is an American Modern Orthodox rabbi, scholar, author and Jewish communal leader. He was the Chancellor of Yeshiva University until he announced his retirement on July 1, 2013.

In the 1985 CBC series "A Planet For the Taking", Dr. David Suzuki explored the Old Testament roots of anthropocentrism and how it shaped our view of non-human animals. Some Christian proponents of anthropocentrism base their belief on the Bible, such as the verse 1:26 in the Book of Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The use of the word "dominion" in the Genesis is controversial. Many Biblical scholars, especially Roman Catholic and other non-Protestant Christians, consider this to be a flawed translation of a word meaning "stewardship", which would indicate that mankind should take care of the earth and its various forms of life.

Human rights

Anthropocentrism is the grounding for some naturalistic concepts of human rights. Defenders of anthropocentrism argue that it is the necessary fundamental premise to defend universal human rights, since what matters morally is simply being human. For example, noted philosopher Mortimer J. Adler wrote, "Those who oppose injurious discrimination on the moral ground that all human beings, being equal in their humanity, should be treated equally in all those respects that concern their common humanity, would have no solid basis in fact to support their normative principle." Adler is stating here, that denying what is now called human exceptionalism could lead to tyranny, writing that if we ever came to believe that humans do not possess a unique moral status, the intellectual foundation of our liberties collapses: "Why, then, should not groups of superior men be able to justify their enslavement, exploitation, or even genocide of inferior human groups on factual and moral grounds akin to those we now rely on to justify our treatment of the animals we harness as beasts of burden, that we butcher for food and clothing, or that we destroy as disease-bearing pests or as dangerous predators?" [18]

Author and anthropocentrism defender Wesley J. Smith from the Discovery Institute has written that human exceptionalism is what gives rise to human duties to each other, the natural world, and to treat animals humanely. Writing in A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy, a critique of animal rights ideology, "Because we are unquestionably a unique species—the only species capable of even contemplating ethical issues and assuming responsibilities—we uniquely are capable of apprehending the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, proper and improper conduct toward animals. Or to put it more succinctly if being human isn't what requires us to treat animals humanely, what in the world does?" [19]

Cognitive psychology

In cognitive psychology, anthropocentric thinking can be defined as "the tendency to reason about unfamiliar biological species or processes by analogy to humans". [20] Reasoning by analogy is an attractive thinking strategy, and it can be tempting to apply our own experience of being human to other biological systems. For example, because death is commonly felt to be undesirable, it may be tempting to form the misconception that death at a cellular level or elsewhere in nature is similarly undesirable (whereas in reality programmed cell death is an essential physiological phenomenon, and ecosystems also rely on death). [20] Conversely, anthropocentric thinking can also lead people to underattribute human characteristics to other organisms. For instance, it may be tempting to wrongly assume that an animal that is very different from humans, such as an insect, will not share particular biological characteristics, such as reproduction or blood circulation. [20]

Anthropocentric thinking has predominantly been studied in young children (mostly up to the age of 10) by developmental psychologists interested in its relevance to biology education. Although relatively little is known about its persistence at a later age, evidence exists that this pattern of human exceptionalist thinking can continue through young adulthood, even among students who have been increasingly educated in biology. [21]

The notion that anthropocentric thinking is an innate human characteristic has been challenged by study of American children raised in urban environments, among whom it appears to emerge between the ages of 3 and 5 years as an acquired perspective. [22] Children's recourse to anthropocentric thinking seems to vary with experience and cultural assumptions about the place of humans in the natural world. [20] Children raised in rural environments appear to use it less than their urban counterparts because of their greater familiarity with different species of animals and plants. [20] Studies involving children from some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas have found little use of anthropocentric thinking. [20] [23] Study of children among the Wichí people in South America showed a tendency to think of living organisms in terms of their taxonomic or perceived similarities, ecological considerations, and animistic traditions, resulting in a much less anthropocentric view of the natural world than is experienced by many children in Western societies. [23]

In fiction from all eras and societies, there is fiction treating as normal the actions of humans to ride, eat, milk, and otherwise treat animals as separate species. There are occasional exceptions, such as talking animals, but they are generally treated as exceptions, as aberrations to the rule distinguishing people from animals.[ citation needed ]

In science fiction, humanocentrism is the idea that humans, as both beings and as a species, are the superior sentients. Essentially the equivalent of racial supremacy on a galactic scale, it entails intolerant discrimination against sentient non-humans, much like race supremacists discriminate against those not of their race. A prime example of this concept is utilized as a story element for the Mass Effect series. After humanity's first contact results in a brief war, many humans in the series develop suspicious or even hostile attitudes towards the game's various alien races. By the time of the first game, which takes place several decades after the war, many humans still retain such sentiments in addition to forming 'pro-human' organizations.

This idea is countered by anti-humanism. At times, this ideal also includes fear of and superiority over strong AIs and cyborgs, downplaying the ideas of integration, cybernetic revolts, machine rule and Tilden's Laws of Robotics.[ citation needed ]

Mark Twain mocked the belief in human supremacy in Letters from the Earth (written c. 1909, published 1962). [24]

The 2012 documentary The Superior Human? systematically analyzes anthropocentrism and concludes that value is fundamentally an opinion, and since life forms naturally value their own traits, most humans are misled to believe that they are actually more valuable than other species. This natural bias, according to the film, combined with a received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans cause anthropocentrism to remain in society. [25] [26] [27]

See also

Related Research Articles

Speciesism special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership

Speciesism is a form of discrimination based on species membership. It involves treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species even when their interests are equivalent. More precisely, speciesism is the failure to consider interests of equal strength to an equal extent because of the species of which the individuals are a member.

A land ethic is a philosophy or theoretical framework about how, ethically, humans should regard the land. The term was coined by Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) in his A Sand County Almanac (1949), a classic text of the environmental movement. There he argues that there is a critical need for a "new ethic," an "ethic dealing with human's relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it".

J. Baird Callicott Philosopher and professor

J. Baird Callicott is an American philosopher whose work has been at the forefront of the new field of environmental philosophy and ethics. He is a University Distinguished Research Professor and a member of the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies and the Institute of Applied Sciences at the University of North Texas. Callicott held the position of Professor of Philosophy and Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point from 1969 to 1995, where he taught the world's first course in environmental ethics in 1971. From 1994 to 2000, he served as Vice President then President of the International Society for Environmental Ethics. Other distinguished positions include visiting professor of philosophy at Yale University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of Hawai’i; and the University of Florida.

Ecocentric is a term used in ecological political philosophy to denote a nature-centered, as opposed to human-centered, system of values. The justification for ecocentrism usually consists in an ontological belief and subsequent ethical claim. The ontological belief denies that there are any existential divisions between human and non-human nature sufficient to claim that humans are either (a) the sole bearers of intrinsic value or (b) possess greater intrinsic value than non-human nature. Thus the subsequent ethical claim is for an equality of intrinsic value across human and non-human nature, or 'biospherical egalitarianism'.

Ecocriticism is the study of literature and the environment from an interdisciplinary point of view, where literature scholars analyze texts that illustrate environmental concerns and examine the various ways literature treats the subject of nature. Some ecocritics brainstorm possible solutions for the correction of the contemporary environmental situation, though not all ecocritics agree on the purpose, methodology, or scope of ecocriticism. In the United States, ecocriticism is often associated with the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), which hosts biennial meetings for scholars who deal with environmental matters in literature. ASLE publishes a journal—Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (ISLE)—in which current international scholarship can be found.

Systems ecology A holistic approach to the study of ecological systems

Systems ecology is an interdisciplinary field of ecology, a subset of Earth system science, that takes a holistic approach to the study of ecological systems, especially ecosystems. Systems ecology can be seen as an application of general systems theory to ecology. Central to the systems ecology approach is the idea that an ecosystem is a complex system exhibiting emergent properties. Systems ecology focuses on interactions and transactions within and between biological and ecological systems, and is especially concerned with the way the functioning of ecosystems can be influenced by human interventions. It uses and extends concepts from thermodynamics and develops other macroscopic descriptions of complex systems.

Ecological humanities

The ecological humanities is an interdisciplinary area of research, drawing on the many environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged in the humanities over the past several decades. The ecological humanities aim to help bridge traditional divides between the sciences and the humanities, and between Western, Eastern and Indigenous ways of knowing the natural world and the place of humans in it.

Environmental philosophy branch of philosophy

Environmental philosophy is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the natural environment and humans' place within it. It asks crucial questions about human environmental relations such as "What do we mean when we talk about nature?" "What is the value of the natural, that is non-human environment to us, or in itself?" "How should we respond to environmental challenges such as environmental degradation, pollution and climate change?" "How can we best understand the relationship between the natural world and human technology and development?" and "What is our place in the natural world?" As such, it uniquely positions itself as a field set to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century. Environmental philosophy includes environmental ethics, environmental aesthetics, ecofeminism, environmental hermeneutics, and environmental theology. Some of the main areas of interest for environmental philosophers are:

Val Plumwood Australian philosopher

Val Plumwood was an Australian philosopher and ecofeminist known for her work on anthropocentrism. From the 1970s she played a central role in the development of radical ecosophy. Working mostly as an independent scholar, she held positions at the University of Tasmania, North Carolina State University, the University of Montana, and the University of Sydney, and at the time of her death was Australian Research Council Fellow at the Australian National University. She is included in Routledge's Fifty Key Thinkers on the Environment (2001).

Theocentricism is the belief that God is the central aspect to our existence, as opposed to anthropocentrism or existentialism. In this view, meaning and value of actions done to people or the environment are attributed to God. The tenets of theocentrism, such as humility, respect, moderations, selflessness, and mindfulness, can lend themselves towards a form of environmentalism. In modern theology, theocentricism is often linked with stewardship and environmental ethics or Creation care. It is the belief that human beings should look after the world as guardians and therefore in the way God wants them to. Humans should be considerate to all, from animals to plants to humans themselves. It maintains that human beings are merely here for a short time and should be looking after the world for future generations.

The ethics of terraforming has constituted a philosophical debate within biology, ecology, and environmental ethics as to whether terraforming other worlds is an ethical endeavor.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to ecology:

Ecological self is central to the school of Experiential Deep Ecology, which, based on the work of Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, argues that through the process of self-actualisation, one transcends the nations of the individuated "egoic" self and arrives at a position of an ecological self. So long as one is working within the narrower concept of self, Næss argues, environmentally responsible behaviour is a form of altruism, a "doing good for the other", which historically has been a precarious ethical basis, usually involved in exhorting others to "be good". Næss argues that in his Ecosophy, the enlargement of the ego-self to the eco-self results in environmentally responsible behaviour as a form of self-interest.

Ecological literacy is the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible. To be ecoliterate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities and using those principles for creating sustainable human communities. The term was coined by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra in the 1990s- thereby a new value entered education; the “well-being of the earth”.

Anthony Weston American logician

Anthony Weston is an American philosopher, teacher, and writer. He is author of widely used primers in critical thinking and ethical practice and has written a variety of unconventional books and essays on philosophical topics.

Wild animal suffering suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature through causes such as disease, injury, starvation, natural disasters, and killings by other animals

Wild animal suffering is the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature through causes such as disease, injury, starvation, natural disasters, and killings by other animals. Wild animal suffering has historically been discussed in the context of philosophy of religion as an instance of the problem of evil. More recently, a number of academics have considered the suspected scope of the problem from a secular standpoint as a general moral issue, one that humans might be able to take action towards preventing.

Clare Palmer is a British philosopher, theologian and scholar of environmental and religious studies who is currently a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. She has previously held academic appointments at the University of Greenwich, the University of Stirling, Lancaster University and Washington University in St. Louis, among others. Palmer is known for her work in environmental and animal ethics.

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Further reading