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.