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Any realistic and achievable environmental ethic must be based on a ‘weak anthropocentrism’ Essay

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Updated: Apr 10th, 2019

Introduction

Effective maintenance of environmental ethics is one of the main pillars that support harmonious existence of organisms within an ecosystem. However, this view has been affected by the practice of anthropocentrism which purports that human being is the most valuable and important factor in the universe.

It is without doubt that while anthropocentrism is widely supported as a major resource for human beings, it has significant implications.1

I fully agree with the latter perspective since the attitude which the idea of anthropocentrism creates gives human beings the potential to exploit resources.

This is perhaps the main reason why there is widespread and unsustainable system of resource exploitation which has resulted into massive extinction of animals such as Great Auk and Dodo among others.

In addition, this form of exploitation has led to massive degradation of biological resources.

In spite of the general consensus that anthropocentrism is unacceptable, it is agreeable that weak anthropocentrism is quite critical since it provides a platform that enables attainment of robust environmental ethics.

In addition, it eliminates the incongruity of ascribing intrinsic worth on non-human subjects as explored in this paper. It is against this backdrop that this paper seeks to critically analyze the perceived inconsistencies of both strong anthropocentrism and weak anthropocentrism.

Additionally, the paper will discuss alternative paradigms of weak anthropocentrism and explain how it enables realistic achievement of environmental ethics.

Anthropocentrism

It is a fact that the past, present and future welfare of human beings can never be separated from their relationship with the natural environment bearing in mind that both of these two aspects are interdependent.

The current practice that supports the implementation of anthropocentrism has raised numerous concerns and questions on how best human beings should relate with their environment.

McNab indicates that this creates multiple ethical frameworks.2 It is important to highlight that anthropocentrism offers an approach which suggests that human beings should be in control of nature.

This goes against non-anthropocentric paradigms and related conceptual counterparts that suggest that there is need to appreciate nature.

Moreover, according to the arguments posed by Pluhar, it can be attained through the processes of deep ecology, ecocentrism and biocentism.3

Pluhar further indicates that there are ardent supporters of non-anthropocentrism and anthropocentrism who espouse those that critic, point out their flaws and oppose their tenet flaws.

It is indeed plausible to mention the fact that anthropocentrism exclusively adheres to human perspective of pleasure and happiness.

According to an analysis by conducted by Wolloch, it is evident that non-human animals as well as the non-human world are largely concerned with the production of human resources and factors of instrumental value.4

One would agree with the widespread and strong rejection of this view by animal liberation groups led by Tom Regan, Peter Singer and others. This group views and compares anthropocentrism to sexism, prejudice and filled with unwarranted bias.

My view is that anthropocentrism might be objectionable since it gives humans the opportunity to exploit animals and other resources for the sake of trivial gains. In fact, some even use animals for experiments with little regard to the suffering which animals go through.

Besides, various views held on anthropocentrism by businesses have caused major environmental issues and concerns.

Over the last two decades, unacceptable business ethics have turned out to be a major facet in assimilation of a competitive advantage at the local and global market.

This has been assimilated as a major shenanigan by the business managements even as the understanding of the resultant impacts on the environment and resources become more evident.

As a result, the economic effects have been very profound with analysts predicting future doom if the problem is not addressed promptly. Poor business ethics form one of the most important factors that negatively affect the national and global economy.

This has been especially evident in the recent past whereby more business units tend to assimilate unethical operational practices that largely promote their short term gains while inducing long term dents to the economy.

The last two decades have seen some of the most remarkable destructions of the natural systems in the history of the globe. Equally important have been the heightening calls for greater efforts to reduce the negative impacts of environmental degradation.

Whereas many individuals as well as business enterprises understand the role played by the natural systems in facilitating their overall production capacity, little efforts have been put in place to counter the same problem.

According to Pluhar, the modern market place has forced most of the businesses to view environmental resources as being free and therefore indefinite in nature.5

However, this is not true as exhibited by the current revelation of the finite status of the petroleum resources. As a result, there has been a strong withdrawal of resources from the natural environment with little focus to their resilience capacities.

Though it has been viewed as a minor shenanigan under the business practices of minimizing their overall costs, the economic growth is highly unsustainable in the long term bearing in mind that there is no guarantee of the same products in future.

In addition to the above facts, many industries have been directly associated with vast pollution of the natural environment.

In a complex tie up, the US has over the years failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a notion that has been interpreted to give the business units a direct leeway to act unethically on the same line.

Due to the trans-boundary nature of the air pollutants, the impacts are felt on a global scale with US equally included.

Global warming, resilience of the tropical diseases, and harsh climatic conditions has prompted the need for many nations to shift their resources towards addressing these disasters as opposed to concentrating on its economic development.

According to the observations made by Sztybel, pollution of the environment has been a major player in reducing the ability of the economic resources that are needed to holistically support the fast enlarging economies of the various countries across the world.6

For instance, water pollution usually interfere with the stable nature of water resources since it reduces the usability of water resources for domestic purposes as well as the demand and pre-treatment processes before being put to industrial use.

Consequently, there have been further increases in the overall cost of production and subsequent poor competition of the manufactured products at the market place.

Weak anthropocentrism

It is agreeable that anthropocentrism is a disaster to environmental ethics. However, my view concurs with that of Sztybel. The latter author is of the opinion that discarding this process to embrace non- anthropocentrism for satisfactory environmental ethics is not the solution.7

Rather, we can adopt a weak anthropocentrism. Boesch uses Henry David Thoreau’s view on nature and posits that it has more than a simple instrumental value. In fact, it is independent of human consciousness.8

In my perspective, this perspective has a direct correlation to certain religious beliefs and practices especially those drawn from Jainism and Hinduism. these two religions value nature and explicitly advocate for safe practices that may not harm the environment.

Utilitarianism

While this theory has been concerned with pain and pleasure, animal liberation members such as Peter Singer use it to indicate that animals, just like human beings, are capable of experiencing pleasure and pain and as such, should be treated with the much needed respect9.

A redefinition can also be made on the central principle of the theory to include non-animal entities. However, critics of the theory are of the view that some of the species in an environment neither experience negative nor positive effects.

While considerations should be made to determine the balance of interests and pleasure between human beings and the environment, weak anthropocentrism is critical since it provides the rule of utilitarianism.

In other words, it allows human activities to continue, but encourages sustainable development and organic farming among other practices.

Aggreably, my view is that conceptual approaches which weigh the consequences of human actions on the immediate environment should be embraced.

Kant’s ethical theory

While Kant perceives nature as a phenomenon that has no intrinsic value, one cannot fail to see the areas in his theory that support weak anthropocentrism.

It is true from his perspective that trees and other non-human animals do not have any inherent worth.10 Kant’s perspective can largely be used as a hypothetical model of evaluating actions and determining whether they are good or bad.

By being categorically imperative, we are tasked to universalize actions by answering questions whether others would act in a similar manner if faced with similar situations.

Categorical imperative as Kant argued should be driven out of motivation and intent for one to be considered dutiful.

Deontological ethics

The philosophy was developed in early 1930s by Broad. D. who emphasized that people’s actions should be judged according to their obligation to duty.11

In particular, the philosophy contrasts the previous consequentialist perspective by emphasizing that an action should be considered good if only the underlying will is fine.

It is important to mention that Broad’s consideration of deontological ethics was greatly shaped by the previous work of Emmanuel Kant who brought out the first tenet of deontological philosophy of categorical imperative.12

Under this consideration, individuals should always act in a manner that quantifies their actions into universal laws.

This notion has made the philosophy to be of great importance in the practice of weak anthropocentrism and conservation of the environment because people tend to review their actions to ensure that the outcome is positive and based on acceptable virtues.

Deontological ethics further advocate for non-aggression principle by indicating that the ultimate intent of such actions is to cause harm and therefore the actions are wrong. This is in line with the natural law which encourages conservation and rejects environmental abuse.

According to the ideas presented by Acampora, deontological philosophy give exceptions to this non aggressive orientation by pointing towards weak anthropocentrism in the sense that it is acceptable to use resources when in need and for whatever reasons.13

The tenet which elicited greatest debate in the 20th century is the consideration of categorical imperative when dealing with the environment.

Under this tenet, Andrew reports that people are allowed to implement anthropocentrism if its intention is to cause greater good.14

A good example is the felling of trees to provide fuel for energy. However, the perspective sharply contrasts with existentialism which refers to nature as unique and therefore important.

This philosophy greatly informed and guided leaders, managers and workers on the need to develop the correct values and attitudes towards the environment.

Viable ethical approaches

Libertarian extensions

Libertarian extension is an important approach that calls for equal rights to everything existing in a community. In an environmental understanding, human and non human aspects are part of a community and have an ethical worth.

The social movements and civil liberty approach which requires harmony to be established between the products considerations of reality appears to be more promising in the sense that it factors the demands of human beings and non-human animals.

Andrew agrees with the social movements’ consideration that indeed anthropocentrism presents a high level of uncertainty to the environment and therefore the need to take effective precaution. In addition, their emphasis on ecological sustainability presents their inter-generational concerns for mankind.

On the other hand, though governments have the overriding forces in influencing the use of biotechnology, it is no doubt that their supporters are fast becoming highly polarized and may eventually face mass resistance as more people through unions and social movements join the fight.

Ecological extensions

All abiological and biological entities have a fundamental interdependence which largely calls for the recognition of their rights.15

While addressing the problem of strong ecological extensions, Serpell argues that there is great omission of environmental ethical concerns.16 Serpell further argues that though feeding people is indeed very crucial, it is more dangerous to threaten the survival of animals and resources because of two core factors.

First, the expected negative results are unclear and therefore making it even harder to prepare for it. Then the resulting problem may indeed obscure the benefits that had been accrued and perhaps form an expanded basis.

For example, the act of deforestation results to ecological breakdown. The resulting implication could include climate change, irregular weather patterns, and loss of biodiversity which are very hard to restore.

Conclusions

I have held the opinion over the years that embracing weak anthropocentrism is the best way to go and that opponents of this notion are not genuine. In particular, the reports and pictures of environmental destruction strengthen my conclusion.

As a result, my mind became highly polarized towards anthropocentrism as opposed to holistically analyzing it and its possible negative implications.

However, this study has effectively revealed new insights on related problems that should be considered simultaneously if the current environmental problems are to be addressed effectively. There is need to assess the possible future impacts of strong anthropocentrism in society before it can be considered safe.

In addition, it is crucial to involve all the stakeholders in the society by incorporating their concerns to gather greater support at all levels of environmental conservation. In order to effectively address this perspective, it must be viewed from the global point of view as opposed to the localized outlook.

Finally, I will seek to create a forum that can bring together major stakeholders who will dialogue on key issues and therefore harmonize their understanding on the problem.

From this forum, I will seek to expand the involvement of the different professionals and consequently make key recommendations that can address environmental issues.

Bibliography

Acampora, R, “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 44, no. 3, 2006, pp. 480-481.

Boesch, C, “Away from ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism: Towards a scientific understanding of “what makes us human””, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 33, no. 2-3, 2010, pp. 86-87.

Coward, M, “Against anthropocentrism: the destruction of the built environment as a distinct form of political violence”, Review of International Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, 2006, pp. 419-420.

Gabriel, AK, “Beyond Anthropocentrism in Barth’s Doctrine of Creation: Searching for a Theology of Nature”, Religious Studies and Theology, vol. 28, no. 2, 2009, pp. 175-187.

McNab, K, “Anthropocentrism: are humans the centre of existence?” Peace Research, vol. 34, no. 1, 2002, pp. 113-116.

Pluhar, EB, “Non-Obligatory Anthropocentrism”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2000, pp. 329-330.

Serpell, JA, “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy”, Bulletin of the history of medicine, vol. 82, no. 1, 2008, pp. 219-220.

Sztybel, D, “Taking Humanism Seriously: ”Obligatory” Anthropocentrism”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2000, pp. 181-203.

Wolloch, N, “Animals, Extraterrestrial Life and Anthropocentrism in the Seventeenth Century”, The Seventeenth Century, vol. 17, no. 2, 2002, pp. 235-253.

Footnotes

1 K McNab “Anthropocentrism: are humans the centre of existence?”, Peace Research, vol. 34, no. 1, 2002, pp. 113-116.

2 McNab pp. 115

3 EB Pluhar “Non-Obligatory Anthropocentrism”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2000, pp. 329-329.

4 N Wolloch “Animals, Extraterrestrial Life and Anthropocentrism in the Seventeenth Century”, The Seventeenth Century, vol. 17, no. 2, 2002, pp. 235-253.

5 Pluhar pp. 329

6 D Sztybel “Taking Humanism Seriously: ”Obligatory” Anthropocentrism”, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 2000, pp. 181-203.

7 Ibid

8 C Boesch “Away from ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism: Towards a scientific understanding of “what makes us human””, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 33, no. 2-3, 2010, pp. 86-7.

9 R Acampora “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 44, no. 3, 2006, pp. 480-481.

10 R Acampora, pp.48—481.

11 Boesch pp. 87

12 R Acampora “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy”, Journal of the History of Philosophy, vol. 44, no. 3, 2006, pp. 480-481.

13 Acampora pp. 480

14 AK Gabriel, “Beyond Anthropocentrism in Barth’s Doctrine of Creation: Searching for a Theology of Nature”, Religious Studies and Theology, vol. 28, no. 2, 2009, pp. 175-187

15 M Coward, “Against anthropocentrism: the destruction of the built environment as a distinct form of political violence”, Review of International Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, 2006, pp. 419-419.

16 JA Serpell , “Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents: The Moral Status of Animals in the History of Western Philosophy”, Bulletin of the history of medicine, vol. 82, no. 1, 2008, pp. 219-220

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