Anthropocentrism (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
For anthropocentrists human lives have greater value than do the lives of any other species. Anthropocentrists often point out that humans are the only beings that possess certain capacities. They note that, unlike other animals, humans are typically intelligent, self-aware, autonomous, language users, and moral agents; humans engage in play and make art, among other complex cognitive tasks. For anthropocentrists only humans are intrinsically valuable. The rest of nature (including all plant and animal species) has only instrumental value—that is, nature serves only as a means to human ends. From the anthropocentric point of view, biodiversity should be preserved only if it is in the interest of humans to preserve it—any duties that human beings have to preserve biodiversity are owed to other humans, not to any other species.
Anthropocentrism is deeply rooted in most human cultures, but this viewpoint has come under increasing challenges by environmental activists, animal rights advocates, and others. Among the major arguments against anthropocentrism is that it is invidiously perfectionist—that is, logically, those humans who do not display all the characteristics that anthropocentrists assert are uniquely human (intelligence, self-awareness, autonomy, and so on) should be viewed as less valuable than those who do. Some environmental philosophers believe that humans must eradicate both anthropocentrism and the related viewpoint of...
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Anthropocentrism (Encyclopedia of Science and Religion)
Anthropocentrism (human-centered) is a term used to describe certain philosophical perspectives that claim that ethical principles apply to humans only, and that human needs and interests are of the highest value and importance. Anthropocentrism is found in both religious and secular philosophies. In science, anthropocentrism has played an important role in liberating human knowledge from external authorities, and in promoting the interests of humanity as a whole against particular interests. Both scientists and theologians have drawn on anthropocentrism to defend specific views about nature, scientists often on the basis of a perspective on evolution in which humans are considered the highest form of life on Earth, and theologians on the basis of a divinely mandated right for humans to exercise dominion over nature.
Beginning in about 1970, anthropocentrism became common in environmental discourse. Anthropocentric ethics evaluates environmental issues on the basis of how they affect human needs and attaches primary importance to human interests. The term contrasts with various biocentric (lifecentered) perspectives, which assume that nonhumans are also carriers of moral value.
Anthropocentrism in ethics is found in two main forms: consequential ethics and deontological ethics. Basic to both is the perception of a discontinuity between humans and the rest of nature. Humans are considered superior to animals for various reasons, including their ability to think and speak, plan, organize projects, and so on. According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724804), humans alone have self-consciousness. Humans are therefore fundamentally different in rank and dignity from all other beings, while animals can be treated as means to human ends. The moral status of humans is thus awarded on the basis of "excellence." Values are grounded in the fact that something is valuable for humans, and so human actions should be valued on the basis of their usefulness for humans.
The basic idea of consequentialist anthropocentrism is that human actions are valued according to their consequences for other humans. In a market-oriented society, consequentialist anthropocentrism is often linked to the idea that problems in relation to society and nature are technical. Both human and natural resources are considered unlimited and available for human consumption. If there is a shortage, then replacement products will always be made available on the basis of the law of supply and demand. High status is awarded to technical products such as buildings, bridges, dams, and highways. The basic premise is the idea that human interests rule the world, and that nature is considered relevant only as a resource to be exploited by humans. If a crisis arises with regard to available resources, it is primarily a technical problem, which can be solved by adjustments. In its simplest form this could mean that humans need to move to a new place. When no new place is available, other measures can be taken, such as moving pollutants to a different place or using technology to get rid of toxic elements. The ideal is "business as usual" for the benefit of humans, modified by ad hoc measures to prevent discomfort for human society. Consequentialist anthropocentrism is also the central approach in policies of resource management that respond to the problem of limited resources by adjusting production and consumption, and by avoiding extreme pollution. The anthropocentric attitude is expressed through the ideals of wise use and sustainable development. The central concern is to secure the demands of the present without endangering future needs.
Deontological anthropocentrism in ethics deals primarily with rights and duties that are carried by ethical subjects or by those affected by intended actions. An important issue is who or what may count as a moral subject. In deontological anthropocentrism, only humans have ethical duties and rights. A major concern is therefore to find reasons why humans alone have qualities that set them apart from all other creatures. This is a difficult task because it is hard to define qualities that include all humans while at the same time excluding other living beings. In the Kantian tradition, the hallmark of humans has been connected to the ability of human beings to take moral demands upon themselves. To be an authentic human being is to exercise the freedom to accept morally binding restrictions on "free" choices of actions, thus rejecting selfishness for the sake of a higher moral rationality. Humans are by virtue of their possibility of free choice a "moral community," distinct from other communities on Earth. From a Kantian perspective, one may have indirect duties towards nonhumans, but such duties are only relevant in so far as they have instrumental importance and ultimately lead toward the promotion of human freedom.
Anthropocentrism is common in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in Islam, in part because God is perceived in anthropomorphic categories, but also because the primary concern of theology is humanity's relation with God (theological anthropocentrism). With regard to environmental concerns, theistic traditions affirm that humans have an obligation to treat the natural world with respect and care in much the same way as a farmer cultivates the land (stewardship ethics). In some Eastern religions (e.g., Mahayana Buddhism), the salvific interest is more universal. All sentient beings, however, have to reach the level of human existence before they can attain nirvana.
Since the 1960s awakening of ecological consciousness, the anthropocentric attitude has been strongly criticized, especially regarding its role in theology and ethics, and in secular science and public policy making. Some have attempted to "soften" anthropocentrism by correcting the perceived misconception of humanity as distinct and separate from the natural world. They have argued that anthropocentric concerns for human wellbeing should be based on enlightened self-interest in which humans regard themselves as partly constituted by the natural world and pay sufficient attention to sound metaphysics, scientific theories, aesthetic values, and moral ideals. This self-interest will naturally lead to respect for the nonhuman world, thus preventing it from degradation and destruction. Others claim this view to be shallow and assert the need for a total reversal of the anthropocentric perspective, as in biocentrism, in which the biotic community is seen as the central concern.
See also DEEP ECOLOGY; ECOLOGY, ETHICS OF; FREEDOM; KANT, IMMANUEL; VALUE, RELIGIOUS; VALUE, SCIENTIFIC
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ROALD E. KRISTIANSEN