Taylor (1983). In defense of biocentrism.

Taylor, P. W. (1983). In defense of biocentrism. Environmental Ethics, 5(3), 237–243.

[Biocentrism is defined and seen to be reasonable …]

“… the biocentric outlook on nature, which underlies and supports the moral attitude of respect for wild living things, can be accepted as not only a possible, but also a reasonable world view.” (p 237)

[All living things seek their own well-being …]

“… central to the biocentric outlook, that each animal and plant in the natural world pursues its own good in its own way and therefore is similar, in that respect, to a human.” (p 237)

[Human values define human well-being …]

“With regard to humans, the fact that we pursue our own good in our own way does not imply a form of egoism. Our own good is a matter of the fulfillment of our self-chosen value system (which we might call ‘pursuing the kind of life we judge to be most worth living’), and that value system can well include such other-regarding relations as love and friendship. … The relevant point, however, is that humans and nonhumans share a fundamental characteristic. We each have a good of our own, and each of us, human and nonhuman alike, can be helped or hindered in the realization of that good. This characteristic has great ethical significance because it makes it possible for us to take another living thing’s standpoint and judge how well or poorly it is being treated by moral agents.” (p 238)

[Extinction of humans may have little effect on other species …]

“_Homo sapiens_ could become an extinct species without any serious detrimental effect on the good of other species.” (p 238)

[Human recognition of interconnectedness of all life is crucial to human well-being …]

“Unless we maintain sound ecological relations with other forms of life and with our physical environment, we cannot survive. And without our survival as animals we will be unable to exist as moral, aesthetic, intellectual, political, and religious beings. … ecological interdependence is a condition that obtains for human existence just as it does for nonhuman existence.” (p 239)

[Human values do not necessarily reflect the values of other living things …]

“Spitler … argues that we are restricted to our own human interpretations of nature and can consider our treatment of the natural world only within the framework of human desires and needs.” (p 239)

[Anthropocentric ideas …]

“All beliefs, attitudes, perspectives, and values which humans adopt are, in this sense, anthropocentric, since they are the beliefs, attitudes, perspectives, and values of human beings.” (p 239)

[Ascribe value to other species …]

“The moral commitment which is associated with that outlook is a disposition to ascribe to wild animals and plants the same inherent worth which we attribute to our fellow humans, and so regard them as deserving of equal consideration with ourselves.” (p 240)

[Inter-human impartiality can be indicative of inter-species impartiality …]

“An anthropocentric viewpoint gives either exclusive or primary consideration to human interests above the good of other species. Now just as it is possible for human beings to be genuinely impartial between themselves and other humans, giving equal consideration to each person’s good, so it is possible for humans to be impartial between themselves and other forms of life, giving equal consideration to the good of a being regardless of its species membership. It is quite true that such impartiality is itself a human stance, or [page break] more accurately, a moral stance that only humans are capable of, but the moral commitment involved requires humans to treat other creatures in such a way that there is no bias in favor of humans just because they are human.” (p 240-241)

[Though only humans may be capable of making ethical choices, ethics are not necessarily anthropocentric …]

“A rational human being will then take that attitude because it is seen to be the only justified or suitable one to take toward such creatures. The attitude is a uniquely human attitude in the sense that only humans are capable of having it, but it is not an anthropocentric attitude.” (p 241)

[The following argument is ineffective in that it assumes that a belief in a supernatural deity does not serve selfish purposes, eg salvation of one’s soul. These beliefs are anthropocentric and human-centred. Above all, mythologies are human inventions. …]

“Consider belief in a transcendent God and the attitude of worship. The belief is about a nonhuman or superhuman Being, and the attitude is justified (to those who accept such a belief) as the only appropriate one to take toward such a Being. Neither the belief nor the attitude is human-centered. Nevertheless, if we were to try to explain (account for) the fact that humans have such a belief and take such an attitude, we would have to appeal to human needs and desires. This in no way transforms the religious belief or the attitude that goes along with it into an anthropocentric viewpoint.” (p 241)

[The ethics are not on the act but in its intention …]

“What justifies an act of killing an animal or plant may be a reason of quite a different kind from that which would justify the taking of a human life. … The principle of species impartiality no more precludes a fair resolution of conflicts between species than the principle of impartiality in human ethics precludes a fair resolution of conflicts among persons.” (p 242)

[Fair consideration, not undue sacrifice …]

“It does not follow from an egalitarian type of biocentrism that humans have a duty to sacrifice themselves to other forms of life. The ethics of respect for nature does not dictate that we are to further the good of wild creatures at whatever cost to ourselves. It demands only that we give the same moral consideration to their good as we do to the good of humans.” (p 243)

[Assumption of human supremacy as barrier to acknowledging interconnectedness of living things …]

“… anthropocentrism, in my view, is a cultural bias that prevents many people from taking biocentric egalitarianism seriously.” (p 243)

Selected References

  • Gene Spitler, “Justifying a Respect for Nature,” Environmental Ethics 4 (1982): 255-60.
See this page at https://kinasevych.ca/index.php