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The word Anthropocentrism comes from the combination of two words. Anthropology, the study of mankind, and centrism, keeping in the centre of. Anthropocentrism thus means keeping Humans at the epicentre of all existence. It is to interpret everything as being of service, use, or interest to humanity. It is an egocentric assumption, and privileges human existence over other kinds. 

Biocentrism is the opposite of Anthropocentrism. This is the view that all life is valuable, not just human life. Biocentrism lies at the heart of environmental and ecological movements and animal rights activity. Espousers of such views blame forms of anthropocentrism that see the world as the possession, resource, playground and rubbish-bin of humanity for the harm they have done to the natural environment.

The two categories are not always so distinct. One form of biocentrism is anthropocentric, for example. Arguing that the chief reason for safeguarding the natural world is that doing so protects the interests of future people. 

Further, it is only when anthropocentrism couples with disregard for the rest of nature that it merits the charges laid against it by environmentalists. You can be anthropocentric and not want to destroy the planet.


Value Assumptions

Debate on these matters is sometimes cast with three levels of value assumptions. The Sole Value Assumption, the Greater Value Assumption, and the Equal Value Assumption.

The Sole Value Assumption postulates mankind is the only valuable asset on earth. That this is a flawed standpoint is obvious when we consider the easy argument that plants and animals have value in service of humanity.

This in effect is the Greater Value Assumption, saying that humanity has greater value than the rest of nature, but that the latter also have value.

A problem that now arises is that it matters what kind of value is given to nature. If it is only instrumental value, then if any part of nature stands in the way of human interests, or some perception of what these are, it is dispensable. But if the value is intrinsic, then questions arise about what the exact entitlement of humanity is.


Equal Value

The Equal Value Assumption theorizes the equality of all species of animals, nature and mankind. This argument has few takers, as the value we allot ourselves is higher than all other species.

Rather than equality of value, there have been suggestions of equality of consideration. This is a more acceptable logic as it takes into account the level of interest of each species. Vegetarianism exemplifies this.

Under equal value of consideration, a human should not eat meat. This is because the life of an animal has greater consideration than that of a human’s desire for eating meat in meal. Not least with numerous healthy alternatives available.

In theory humanity seems to have settled on the intrinsic Greater Value Assumption. Humanity has greater value than nature, but nature has intrinsic value and needs protecting for it’s own sake.

In practice economic needs dictate that nature is used much more instrumentally, and population growth and development continue to strain the planet.


This essay draws on the of professor A.C. Grayling.  For an example of his work see The Reason of Things: Living with Philosophy. 


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