What Is Biocentrism?

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?

History of Biocentrism in Environmental Ethics

What Is an Example of Biocentrism?

What Are Biocentrism’s Main Claims?

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.

what is biocentrism
A biocentric view believes all living beings have equal intrinsic value.

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.

Boots on tree stumps - biocentrism in environmental ethics

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. 

Conclusion 

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?

What Is Ecocentrism in Philosophy and Environmental Ethics?

ecocentric philosophy viewpoint - image of ecosystem

Understanding the Concept of Ecocentrism in Philosophy

Ecocentrism is the idea that all things, living and nonliving, have intrinsic value. Ecocentrism is a philosophy within environmental ethics, as it organizes human moral standing in relation to other life and things; in the case of ecocentrism, all is equal.

Ecocentrism is often considered an “ecosystem-based” system of environmental ethics, as it believes that all parts of the ecosystem, including non-living things like rivers or mountains, deserve moral standing.

Today, we will share with you what ecocentrism is, some examples of ecocentrism, and how the ecocentrist philosophy impacts our relationship with nature.

What Is Ecocentrism?

Ecocentrism focuses primarily on the ecosystem in its entirety, rather than looking at the environment from a perspective of human interest or need fulfillment. It is the focus on the interests and moral value of all species, as well as abiotic (nonliving) features of Earth’s ecosystems. Ecocentrism, unlike biocentrism, does not focus on all living organisms having equal value, but instead, on the Earth, or “ecosphere” as the most important central value.

Ecoscentrism is a philosophy that does not place another ecosystem above others. Ecocentrists focus on the fundamental value of all these entities in their own right, whilst still noticing their instrumental value to one another as part of the natural process. For example, bees can be harmful to some people but they play a key role in pollination. Without bees, our natural environment would not be sustainable. Thus, bees are not valued (or disvalued) for their use or relationship to humans, but for their intrinsic value, as well as their role in natural processes.

ecocentrism in environmental ethics - ecocentrism in philosophy example
Ecocentrism believes all parts of an ecosystem have intrinsic value, not just humans or living things.

Origins of Ecocentrism

The central tenets of ecocentrism have existed for centuries. Many indigenous cultures prescribed to an ecocentric view of the world around them. However, ecocentrism emerged in the academic Western world in the early 1940s. Aldo Leopold’s 1937 collection of essays, A Sand County Almanac, is considered to be the basis of modern ecocentrism, as he writes about a “land ethic” that extends the concept of “community” to include land, in addition to living species.

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Alamanac 1937

In 1973, philosopher Arne Naess coined the term ‘deep ecology,” a collection of principles that describes a similar philosophy to ecocentrism. He argues that nature must be valued not for its usefulness to humans, but for its inherent value.

Why Is Ecocentrism Important?

Ecocentrism is important for several reasons. If you look at it from an ethical point of view, ecocentrism expands the moral population and allows and encourages human beings to worry about more than just themselves. When you adopt an ecocentric philosophical outlook, you are not only concerned about humanity or about how other things can provide for human needs. You also respect and care for all life and parts of ecosystems.

Ecocentrists also value the idea of conservation, and some argue that ecocentrism is a crucial philosophy to achieve sustainable living (Cryer et al. 2017). This theory argues that all life is sustained by geological, nonliving processes, so we must extend moral consideration to its widest point to include the ecosystem. From an ecocentrist viewpoint, every being has a purpose to help sustain and grow all ecosystems on the planet. 

What Is an Example Of Ecocentrism?

A great example of ecocentrism is opposition to mining that causes damage to the environment. Strip mining is the process whereby one can obtain ore or coal by opencast mining. This process harms the environment but it can open the door to more natural resources for the human population to use. An ecocentric point of view is that since this process harms the environment, it is immoral. 

It is because of this argument that environmentalist policies are often ecocentric in nature. There needs to be a balance between preserving all ecosystems as well as sustaining humankind. 

Mining - ecocentric philosophy ecocentrism in environmental ethics

Final Thoughts 

We end this discussion of ecocentrism with quotes from its “godfather,” Aldo Leopold. Aldo used the term land when he was referring to the entire ecological community. He summed up the concept of ecocentrism beautifully, writing: ”That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics.”

Ecocentrism looks at the world as a whole and ensures that all systems live and thrive as a unit. 

What Is Anthropocentric Environmental Ethics?

Alisdair Cochrane is a British ethicist. He wrote for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “environmental ethics concerns human beings’ ethical relationship with the natural environment. What duties do humans have with respect to the environment, and why?” 

We are going to look into the concept of Anthropocentric Environmental Ethics, the effects that it has had on our human rights bill, and some of the dangers that could come with this belief system. 

What Is Anthropocentric Environmental Ethics?

To be anthropocentric means “human first”; it is the belief that humans come before all other plants, animals, and the environment.

When it comes to the environment, this means humans regard the environment to be in service of the wellbeing of humans. This is opposed to ecocentrism, in which the environment is the primary focus and humans are secondary.

Anthropocentric Environmental Ethics: Prioritizing humans first when evaluating what is ethical (within the scope of the environment).

According to link.springer, Anthropocentrism, in its original connotation in environmental ethics, is the belief that value is human-centered and that all other beings are means to human ends. Some also refer to the concept as human exceptionalism. 

In other words, taking on this belief means that you consider human beings to be the most significant entity of the universe. You see humankind as a separate entity from nature and that humans are superior. Other entities such as animals, plants, and minerals are viewed as resources for humans to use and consume. 

On the other hand, Wesley J. Smith has stated in his book A Rat Is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Right Movement that, “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?”

Anthropocentric Contribution to Human Rights:

Some might argue that Anthropocentrism is the grounding for some of the concepts that we base our human rights on. 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.”

One could argue that it was this belief that made one realize that one has to be treated with respect because we are not better than each other. We need to treat people like equals but the argument comes in that if we all have the right to be equal, then why was there enslavement, discrimination, racism amongst humans, and so on. The answer to this question has not yet been answered clearly by a Philosopher or other professional in the field of human behavior. Every person has a different approach to the question and reason behind the answer but nothing has been proven. 

What Are The Dangers of Being Anthropocentric?

Focusing mainly on the definition, the dangers of being an anthropocentric person is that your main concern is for humankind and the rest of the living organisms on this earth to come second. If you take this ideology to heart, people look after people and the rest of the living beings on this earth do not matter because people are superior. 

Conclusion 

In conclusion, the basis of anthropocentricity allows humans to realize the important role we play on this earth. 

As humans, we can learn right from wrong. Burning a tree for fun or injuring an animal because we can, is not a positive representation of what we as humans are capable of. There should be a balance between understanding that humans are more intelligent and can grasp the concept of ethics and looking after the beings that are not as superior.