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.

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. 


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 Anthropocentrism in Environmental Ethics?

Environmental ethics is the study of of the human relationship to the environment. While there are many different environmental ethical philosophies, each helps us answer one important question: what is our duty to the environment?

Anthropocentrism is one of the main branches of environmental philosophy. It argues that human beings are more important than other life forms and beings, and ultimately leads to the idea that we should only value nature for the benefits it provides to humankind.

In this article, we’ll look into the concept of anthropocentrism in environmental ethics, including what it means, how it impacts our belief systems, and some of the dangers that may accompany an anthropocentric viewpoint. 

Background information: What Is Environmental Ethics?

What Is Anthropocentrism?

Anthropocentrism comes from the greek work anthropos, meaning ‘human’, and the word kentron, meaning ‘center.’ Thus, anthropocentrism is an environmental philosophy that believes humans are the “center” of the universe, and are thus the only beings worthy of moral standing. This philosophy places humans not only as separate from nature, but as more important than nature.

Under an anthropocentric viewpoint, humans regard the environment to be in service of the wellbeing of humans. When evaluating what is ethical under anthropocentrism, only human beings’ needs and emotional wellbeing must be taken into consideration. Other entities such as animals, plants, and minerals are viewed as resources for humans to use and consume. Some also refer to the concept as human exceptionalism. 

Most modern Western societies operate from an anthropocentric viewpoint, believing it is morally acceptable to use nature for our own purposes. However, many older societies or non-Western societies leaned towards a more biocentric viewpoint, in which all life was valued, or even towards ecocentrism, in which all parts of nature, including non-living things, are valued.

anthropocentrism in environmental ethics
Anthropocentrism believes human beings are superior to all other living and non-living things.

Anthropocentrism and the Environment: What Does This Philosophy Lead To?

Anthropocentrism can lead to exploitation of nature and depletion of natural resources. If we believe that we don’t owe anything to nature, then it follows that we can use it as we like to meet our own needs. For example, anthropocentrists would argue that there is no moral wrong in cutting down trees, as we can use them to keep ourselves warm. Many of today’s environmental crises, including climate change, ultimately stem from an anthropocentric view that humans are entitled to natural resources.

However, anthropocentrists may still value nature and find reasons to protect it that fit within a viewpoint that humans are superior. This way of thinking values nature for its usefulness to people. For example, some might argue that we must protect nature so that humans can continue to rely on it (In other words, we can’t deplete natural resources completely because that would endanger human survival). Anthropocentrists would argue for conservation, the protection of nature so that it may be used in the future, rather than preservation, the protection of nature from any interference at all.

Similarly, anthropocentrists may argue for environmental protection because a healthy environment is crucial to human health. For example, polluting water or air often leads to health problems in humans that drink the polluted water or breathe the polluted air.

Finally, some anthropocentrists argue that because humans have superior intellect, we have a moral responsibility to protect lesser species. According to this viewpoint, the very fact that we’re superior is what compels us to act in the favor of other species. Wesley J. Smith summed up this outlooks well in his book A Rat Is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Right Movement: “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?”


In summary, anthropocentrism is an environmental ethical philosophy that places humans above all other living and non-living beings. While this philosophy can lead to exploitation of nature, it can also lead to valuing nature for its use to humans – in other words, protecting nature so that we can continue to use it.

Learn more about other environmental philosophies: