Understanding the Term Biocentrism in Environmental Ethics
As environmentalism becomes more popular, many people are becoming more aware of the lives around them, as well as the claim that we need to protect nature. There are many different environmental ethics, or philosophies, that can help us examine and understand the human relationship with the natural world.
Biocentrism is the idea that we need to protect nature not because it provides resources, but because all living beings have intrinsic value. Unlike anthropocentrism, which believes humans are more important and worth of value than other beings, biocentrism places all life at the center of its value system. In fact, the term biocentrism comes from the Greek word, ‘βίος bios’, which means ‘life’, and ‘κέντρον kentron’, which means ‘center’.
Today, we will explain the meaning of biocentrism, discuss a brief history of biocentrism and give you some examples of biocentrism in order to provide a better understanding of biocentrism, its main claims, and how the concept affects us as human beings.
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What Is Biocentrism?
First, how does biocentrism relate to environmental ethics? Environmental ethics is the study of how humans relate to other beings in nature, both living and nonliving. There are a number of different environmental ethics, each of which argues for a different moral relationship between humans and other things. Biocentrism is an environmental ethical philosophy that extends the status of a “moral object,” something worthy of moral consideration, from human beings to all other living things in nature.
So, what is biocentrism and what are its main claims? At its core, biocentrism believes that all living beings are worth of respect simply for existing, rather than because they provide any value to humans. In other words, biocentrism emphasizes the intrinsic value and rights of all living individuals. It is the belief that moral priority should be given to the survival of all living beings on earth, not just humans.
Under a biocentric view, all life deserves equal consideration and equal moral standing. No life is worth more than another life, no matter how big or small the being might be. In this way, biocentrism argues against causing harm to any other living being for any reason.
A Brief History of Biocentrism
The concept of extending moral value to animals and living things dates back centuries, although it was not an official scholarly philosophy until the 20th century. For example, Buddhism teaches the principle of ahimsa, doing no harm to any living thing, and many Native American cultures believe that all living things are sacred.
Modern biocentrism first originated in the Western academic world with Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” theory, which argues that all life should be valued equally, rather than distinguishing between high or low forms of life. This philosophy was one of the first in academic history to extend moral standing to species other than humans.
Peter Singer continued with this theory in his book Animal Liberation, arguing choosing human life as the only beings worthy of moral importance is arbitrary. Why should only humans be worthy of moral value? Instead, Singer argues, the real characteristic that “deserves” moral standing is sentience, so all sentient beings deserve equal moral consideration.
What Is an Example Of Biocentrism?
Biocentrism does not value other living things for their usefulness to humans, but rather, believes that every living thing has an intrinsic, inherent value. This leads to an argument against harming other living things.
One example of biocentrism is vegetarianism or veganism. While an anthropocentric viewpoint (one in which humans are considered of higher moral value) considers it acceptable for humans to take the life of another animal in order to feed themselves, a biocentric one argues that because all living things are valued equally.
Another example of a biocentric viewpoint is the concept of stopping deforestation out of a simple desire not to harm trees, as they are a living being with moral value, or to preserve biodiversity (Rottman et al. 2014). A more anthropocentric view might argue that trees should be cut down to supply humans with resources, or that we should stop deforestation because of the negative effects deforestation is having on human life. Biocentrism argues simply that trees should not be cut down because they’re living things.
What Are Biocentrism’s Main Claims?
One of the main claims of biocentrism is that the only non-random way to assign moral value is to assign moral standing for life itself. This means that it extends value and moral standings about as far as it can go, excluding only inanimate objects from having moral standing.
All living beings should be valued simply for existing. However, because humans are the only beings on the earth that can understand and practice morals, it is our duty to ensure that all living beings are treated with the same respect.
Biocentrism is the environmental ethical belief that all living organisms must be allowed to pursue their own good, in the sense that each individual is pursuing a unique path for their own good in their own way. This may mean a tree pursuing growth or a snake pursuing food or reproduction. Every life is equal, deserves to be valued equally, and should be treated with the same respect.
Learn more: What Are Environmental Ethics?