From Anthropocentrism to Biocentrism and Ecocentrism
Humans are complex creatures. We can observe a plethora of different behaviors in babies and young children. Sometimes they are caring and generous; other times they are inconsiderate and selfish. There is certainly nothing wrong with being self-interested. The problem lies in how much we care about the well-being or suffering of others. As humans mature, our care and consideration for others increases: this is when we begin to think ethically. This does not mean that we should not think about ourselves and our own well-being; it means that when we do not consider the impacts that our actions have on others, then we are not acting ‘ethically’. So, we gradually learn to care about others: our family members, our friends, our cohorts, our communities. As we learn and grow, the extent of our concern extends further and further.
When considering environmental justice issues, we thought about the effects of our lifestyles and choices on other people in our ‘local’ communities: on those of other economic classes and on racial minorities. We also considered extending our concern over the effects of our lifestyles and choices on countries that have been historically disadvantaged, what is now known as the “Global South” (sometimes referred to as ‘developing nations’; formerly: the ‘third world’).
When considering climate change, we also thought about the effects of our actions on future generations: those currently alive, and whoever will be born, in the near future and the distant future. But throughout all this we have been placing humans at the centre of our concern. This emphasis on humans as the primary locus of value is known as anthropocentrism. And anthropocentrism can take many forms. We may take ourselves to be superior, or take human interests to be more important than those of other creatures, or of rivers, forests, and oceans. We may think that value only arises with humans and for humans, or that actions should best be justified primarily considering the interests of humans.