Anthropocentrism vs. Ecocentrism

How, then, do I seek to contribute to the development of our understanding of the two concepts-phenomena of “anthropocentrism” and “ecocentrism”? The second chapter is devoted to explicating the meaning of “anthropocentrism” with the assistance of scholars who have identified it, studied it, and critiqued/ criticized it. A first thing to note is that I employ a constellation of words and phrases as synonyms for anthropocentrism, both to further clarify our understanding and to minimize lexical repetition: “human-centeredness,” “homocentrism,” “human chauvinism/racism,” and so on. My favored synonym is “human supremacist!}” because it clearly stipulates how anthropocentrism is a prejudice rather than merely the inescapable human perspective (the distinction is discussed as we proceed).

In order to develop our understanding of human-centeredness, I then provide what might be a rather novel way of elaborating the notion: I identify five key ways in which anthropocentrism is concretely expressed or manifested in situations -what I call situational “expressions.” The names I employ for these anthropocentric expressions are: “hyper-instrumentalism,” “hyper-consumption,” “hyper-production,” “eco-colonization,” and “ecocide.” Going by their names, one may already begin to intuit their character, but we leave their exposition for the second chapter.

Now, the discussion of these five situational expressions not only proves useful for furthering our understanding of homocentrism. They provide the kind of specificity we require when developing our model of environmental leadership: rather than postulating in a general way whether given situations might be “anthropocentric,” we may explore whether they’re characterized by one or more of these expressions, and if so, then it may be reasonable to assume that the situations are predominantly human-centered. And whenever this is the case, then truly environmental leadership could target these particular expressions, and in doing so, facilitate their efforts of transforming existing situations into (more) ecocentric ones and preserving contested ecocentric situations.

Our sustained description and analysis of “ecocentrism” in the third chapter develops in a similar fashion to our investigation of human-centeredness. A key first feature of the third chapter is my emphatic differentiation of “ecocentrism” from “biocentrism” - the latter refers to “life-centeredness,” whereby living things are now included in a center formerly reserved for humans. As much as biocentrism is a radical leap beyond anthropocentrism, I argue that it remains restricted. Drawing on a small handful of cutting-edge scholars - primarily prominent Australian eco-philosopher Freya Mathews, but also quasi-/proto-ecocentrists like German physicist-philosopher Klaus Michael Meyer-Abich - I contribute to the task of extending the center to include everything. And when everything is included, nothing is excluded, so there is technically no longer any “center” or “periphery” - only a radical egalitarianism. As I noted in my grand narrative, ecocentrism or Earth-centeredness includes both the biotic and the abiotic, both natural environments and built ones. (This is the reason I don’t refer to the ecocentric or environmental as “green”: my “expanded” sense of these terms also includes the “gray” that might represent the manufactured -and every “color” in-between.) No doubt, this concept-practice appears strange and even ridiculous to our homocentric sensibilities: how could a rock, a computer, or a building be construed as somehow “equal” to humans and other living beings?

In the third chapter, I explain how ecocentrism - a thoroughgoing, consistent ecocentrism - is a sophisticated egalitarianism. First of all, I employ the Maslowian (1943) schema of reasonable human “ends” (inclusive of both necessary material needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter, as well as “higher” needs, such as education, creativity, love, etc.) in contrast to unreasonable human wants (such as the gratuitous destruction of the non-human). I posit that an uncompromising eco-centeredness endorses the satisfaction of proper human ends and proscribes the satisfaction of unreasonable human wants. So while the non-human might be appropriated to meet human needs, it is not appropriated to meet unreasonable human wants. Such an imperative would allow more non-humans to freely unfold rather than be used, abused, and eradicated. One may already intuit how ecocentrism involves an ethos/ethic of letting-be. (My “preference” here is “ethos” because an ethos is a kind of habitual/habituated way-of-being, while an “ethic/s” often connotes a rigid and even “moralistic” behavioral code or system.) So we can already glean how Earth-centeredness seeks to maximize the free unfolding of all things, minimizing our intrusions for the sake of meeting our reasonable basic-higher needs and also intermittently intervening on behalf of non-human others in exceptional circumstances (e.g., when the intervention might be more beneficial for an ecosystem). In the third chapter, I also comprehensively address a range of objections against ecocentrism. As with my brief introduction to anthropocentrism above, if/to the extent that this compacted summary is somewhat unclear, the extensive third chapter aims to offer clarity and a compelling case for Earth-centeredness.

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