Anthropocentrism

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Anthropocentrism (/ˌænθrɵpɵˈsɛntrɪzəm/; from Greek ἄνθρωπος, ánthrōpos, "human being"; and κέντρον, kéntron, "center") is the belief that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet (in the sense that they are considered to have a moral status or value higher than that of other animals), or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective.[1] The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or "human exceptionalism". The mediocrity principle is the opposite of Anthropocentrism. 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 interaction with the environment. 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.[2][3]

Environmental philosophy[edit]

Anthropocentrism, also known as homocentricism or human supremacism,[4] 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 to a systematic bias in traditional Western attitudes to the non-human world.[5] Val Plumwood has argued[6][7] 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.

One of the first extended philosophical essays addressing environmental ethics, John Passmore's Man's Responsibility for Nature[8] has been criticised by defenders of deep ecology because of its anthropocentrism, often claimed to be constitutive of traditional Western moral thought.[9] Defenders of anthropocentrist views point out that maintenance of a healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for human well-being as opposed 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."[10] In turn, Plumwood in Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason argued that Grey's anthropocentrism is inadequate.[11]

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."[12] Biocentrism has been proposed as an antithesis of anthropocentrism.[13] It has also been proposed as a generalised form of anthropocentrism.[14]

Christianity[edit]

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:

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, but is not inherently better than any other form of life.[15] The current Latin Vulgate, the official Bible of the Catholic Christian church, states that God holds man responsible for the care and fate of all earthly creatures.[16][17]


Human rights[edit]

Anthropocentrism becomes problematic in regards to human rights when other humans come to be viewed as not such. When a group of people are conceptually stripped of personhood and come to be viewed as less human by another group, the latter then views the former as a decentralized resource for dominion. This is how various forms for slavery come to be viewed as justified or even righteous.

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]

Critics counter that anthropocentrism has contributed to speciesism and bioconservatism at the expense of the natural environment, animal rights, and individual rights.[20]

In fiction[edit]

In science-fiction, humanocentrism is the idea that humans, as both beings and a species, are the superior sentients. Essentially the equivalent of race supremacy on a galactic scale, it entails intolerant discrimination against sentient non-humans, much like race supremacists discriminate against those not of their race. 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.

Origins[edit]

Some secular proponents of human exceptionalism point to evidence of unusual rapid evolution of the brain and the emergence of exceptional aptitudes. As one commentator put it, "Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes".[21]

Mark Twain mocked the belief in human supremacy in Letters from the Earth.[22]

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, combined with a received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans cause anthropocentrism to remain in society.[23] [24] [25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anthropocentrism - Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Environmental Ethics, See: 1. Introduction: The Challenge of Environmental Ethics". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  3. ^ "Environmental Ethics, See: 1a. Human Beings". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 13 August 2013. 
  4. ^ Plumwood, Val (2002). Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason (Google Books online preview version). ISBN 9780415178778. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Naess, A. 1973. 'The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement' Inquiry 16: 95-100
  6. ^ Plumwood, V. 1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. London: Routledge
  7. ^ Plumwood, V. 1996. Androcentrism and Anthrocentrism: Parallels and Politics. Ethics and the Environment 1
  8. ^ Passmore, J. 1974. Man's Responsibility for Nature London: Duckworth
  9. ^ Routley, R. and V. 1980. 'Human Chauvinism and Environmental Ethics' in Environmental Philosophy (eds) D.S. Mannison, M. McRobbie and R. Routley. Canberra: ANU Research School of Social Sciences: 96-189
  10. ^ Grey, W. 1993. 'Anthropocentrism and Deep Ecology' Australasian Journal of Philosophy 71: 463-475 [1]
  11. ^ Plumwood, Val (2002). "Chapter 6 Philosophy, Prudence and Anthropocentrism" (Google Books online preview version). Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason. pp. (123–) 130–142. ISBN 9780415178778. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  12. ^ http://www.uq.edu.au/~pdwgrey/pubs/anthropocentrism.html
  13. ^ Taylor, Sandra G. (1990). "Naturalness: The concept and its application to Australian ecosystems". In Saunders, Denis Allen; Hopkins, Angus John Malcolm; How, R. A. "Australian ecosystems : 200 years of utilization, degradation and reconstruction". Australian Ecosystems : 200 years of utilization, degradation and reconstruction : a symposium held in Geraldton, Western Australia, 28 August-2 September 1988. Proceedings of the Ecological Society of Australia 16. Chipping Norton, N.S.W.: Surrey Beatty & Sons, for the Ecological Society of Australia. pp. 411–418. ISBN 0949324264. 
  14. ^ http://www.insurgentdesire.org.uk/biocentrism.htm
  15. ^ [2]
  16. ^ [3] - Genesis 1:26 (Original Latin Vulgate)
  17. ^ [4] - Genesis 1:26 (Latin Vulgate as of 12 December 2009)
  18. ^ Mortimer J. Adler, The Difference of Man and the Difference It Makes, (New York, Fordham University Press, 1993), p.264.
  19. ^ A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement [5], (New York, Encounter Books, 2010), pp. 243-244.
  20. ^ Hughes, James (2003) Saving Human Rights from the Human-racists. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies
  21. ^ Starr, Sandy. What Makes Us Exceptional?. Spiked Science
  22. ^ Mark Twain. "Damned Human Race: Mark Twain". skeptically.org. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 
  23. ^ "The Superior Human?" Official Movie Website
  24. ^ Blog of Dr Steven Best
  25. ^ Blog of Professor Emeritus Marc Bekoff

Further reading[edit]

  • Bertalanffy, General System Theory (1993): 239-48
  • Boddice, Rob (ed), Anthropocentrism: Humans, Animals, Environments (Leiden and Boston, Brill: 2011)
  • White, Lynn Townsend, Jr, "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis", Science, Vol 155 (Number 3767), March 10, 1967, pp 1203–1207
  • Seigel, Michael T. (May 2002), "Religion, science, and environment" (PDF), Conference, meeting of the Victorian Medico-Legal Society, Pacifica: Australian theological studies (Brunswick, Australia: Pacifica Theological Studies Association, published Feb 2003) 16 (1): 67–88, ISSN 1030-570X, retrieved 2012-07-22 
  • Chew, Sing C. "Ecology in Command"
  • Chew, Sing C. "Ecological Futures"