Anthropocentrism is (/ˌænθroʊpoʊˈsɛntrɪzəm/; from Greek
Ancient Greek: ἄνθρωπος, ánthrōpos, "human being"; and
Ancient Greek: κέντρον, kéntron, "center") is the belief that
human beings are the most significant entity of the universe.
Anthropocentrism interprets or regards the world in terms of human
values and experiences. The term can be used interchangeably with
humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or
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 action within the ecosphere.
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.
1 Environmental philosophy
2 Judeo-Christian tradition
3 Human rights
4 Cognitive psychology
5 In popular culture
6 See also
8 Further reading
Anthropocentrism, also known as homocentricism or human
supremacism, has been posited by some environmentalists, in such
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 claims of a systematic bias in traditional Western attitudes
to the non-human world.
Val Plumwood has argued 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
One of the first extended philosophical essays addressing
environmental ethics, John Passmore's Man's Responsibility for
Nature has been criticised by defenders of deep ecology because of
its anthropocentrism, often claimed to be constitutive of traditional
Western moral thought. Indeed, defenders of anthropocentrism
concerned with the ecological crisis contend that the maintenance of a
healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for human well-being as
opposed to 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." In turn, Plumwood in Environmental
Ecological Crisis of Reason argued that Grey's
anthropocentrism is inadequate.
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." Such a concern for human flourishing amidst the
flourishing of life as a whole, however, is said to be
indistinguishible from that of deep ecology and biocentrism, which has
been proposed as both an antithesis of anthropocentrism. and as a
generalised form of anthropocentrism.
Maimonides, a scholar of the
Torah who lived in the 12th century AD,
was noted for being decidedly anti-anthropocentric.
man "a mere 'drop of the bucket" and "not 'the axle of the
world'". He also claimed that anthropocentric thinking is what
causes humans to think that evil things exist in nature. According
to Rabbi Norman Lamm,
Maimonides "thus deflate[d] man's extravagant
notions of his own importance and urge[d] us to abandon these
In the 1985 CBC series "A Planet For the Taking", Dr. David Suzuki
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:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and
let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of
the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every
creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
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.
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
Mortimer J. Adler
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?"
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?"
In cognitive psychology, anthropocentric thinking can be defined as
"the tendency to reason about unfamiliar biological species or
processes by analogy to humans". Reasoning by analogy is an
attractive thinking strategy, and it can be tempting to apply our own
experience of being human to other biological systems. For example,
because death is commonly felt to be undesirable, it may be tempting
to form the misconception that death at a cellular level or elsewhere
in nature is similarly undesirable (whereas in reality programmed cell
death is an essential physiological phenomenon, and ecosystems also
rely on death). Conversely, anthropocentric thinking can also lead
people to underattribute human characteristics to other organisms. For
instance, it may be tempting to wrongly assume that an animal that is
very different from humans, such as an insect, will not share
particular biological characteristics, such as reproduction or blood
Anthropocentric thinking has predominantly been studied in young
children (mostly up to the age of 10) by developmental psychologists
interested in its relevance to biology education. Although relatively
little is known about its persistence at a later age, evidence exists
that this pattern of human exceptionalist thinking can continue
through young adulthood, even among students who have been
increasingly educated in biology.
The notion that anthropocentric thinking is an innate human
characteristic has been challenged by study of American children
raised in urban environments, among whom it appears to emerge between
the ages of 3 and 5 years as an acquired perspective. Children's
recourse to anthropocentric thinking seems to vary with experience and
cultural assumptions about the place of humans in the natural
world. Children raised in rural environments appear to use it less
than their urban counterparts because of their greater familiarity
with different species of animals and plants. Studies involving
children from some of the indigenous peoples of the Americas have
found little use of anthropocentric thinking. Study of
children among the
Wichí people in South America showed a tendency to
think of living organisms in terms of their taxonomic or perceived
similarities, ecological considerations, and animistic traditions,
resulting in a much less anthropocentric view of the natural world
than is experienced by many children in Western societies.
In popular culture
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In fiction from all eras and societies, there is fiction treating as
normal the actions of humans to ride, eat, milk, and otherwise treat
animals as separate species. There are occasional exceptions, such as
talking animals, but they are generally treated as exceptions, as
aberrations to the rule distinguishing people from animals.[citation
In science fiction, humanocentrism is the idea that humans, as both
beings and as a species, are the superior sentients. Essentially the
equivalent of racial supremacy on a galactic scale, it entails
intolerant discrimination against sentient non-humans, much like race
supremacists discriminate against those not of their race. A prime
example of this concept is utilized as a story element for the Mass
Effect series. After humanity's first contact results in a brief war,
many humans in the series develop suspicious or even hostile attitudes
towards the game's various alien races. By the time of the first game,
which takes place several decades after the war, many humans still
retain such sentiments in addition to forming 'pro-human'
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.
Mark Twain mocked the belief in human supremacy in Letters from the
Earth (written c. 1909, published 1962).
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, according to the film, combined with a
received sense of comfort and an excuse for exploitation of non-humans
cause anthropocentrism to remain in society.
Anthropocentric embodied energy analysis
Great ape personhood
Great chain of being
Intrinsic value (animal ethics)
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