Katie McShane

Anthropocentrism vs. Nonanthropocentrism:

Why Should We Care?


1.      Overview/abstract

         a.      Even if Norton’s convergence thesis is true

                   i.       That is, both ethics recommend the same env responsible behaviors/policies

         b.      Still good reasons to be worried about anthropocentric ethics

         c.      Ethics concerns how to feel, not just what actions to take or what policies to adopt

         d.      Anthropocentrism vs nonanthropocentrism have practical differences in how we should feel

         e.      Anthropocentrism undermines common attitudes (love, respect, awe) that people think appropriate to take toward nature


2.      Definition of anthropocentrism

         a.      The nonhuman world has value only because and insofar as it serves human interests

3.      Definition of non-anthropocentrism

         a.      Denies the above

4.      Note non-anthropocentrism is not (need not be) committed to intrinsic value of nature

         a.      Could deny anthropocentrism and

                   i.       Claim value of organism depend on contribution it makes to health of ecosystems

                   ii.      Claim that the value of every nonconscious being depends on whether conscious beings happen to care about it

                   iii.     Claim no such thing as IV at all


5.      Non-anthropocentrism argue that

         a.      The view that “its really all about us” got us into these env messes and so to solve them and avoid them in future we need to reject self-centered anthropocentric theory and develop an ethic that respects nature rather than one that just uses it

         b.      See anthropocentrism as wrongheaded once take seriously what ecology has taught us about our relation to nature

                   i.       We are one species among many

                   ii.      Live interdependently with other parts of nature

                   iii.     Aren’t as different from rest of nature as might have thought


6.      Anthropocentrism argues

         a.      Problems isn’t thinking that only human interests matter but an ill informed and short-sighted understanding of our interests

                   i.       If take interests of future humans seriously

                   ii.      Get clear about all ways health of natural env improves quality of human lives

                   iii.     We’d have all the arguments we’d ever need to justify env responsibility

         b.      Anthropocentric approaches have many advantages over non-anthropocentrism

                   i.       Nonanthropocentric ethics may not be philosophically viable (interests or intrinsic value for nature are problematic ideas)

                   ii.      Anthropocentric ethics been around a long time and has well worked out theories that can be used to protect nature (human rights, etc)

                   iii.     *Most policy makers and social scientist are anthropocentric

                            (1)    Anthropocentric assumptions underlie their work

                            (2)    By adopting their assumptions this allows for more collaborative relationship with people who shape env policy

                            (3)    Think this is true?

                   iv.     Anthropocentrism can undermine the harmful people versus nature view:

                            (1)    If what is good in nature is ultimately a matter of what is good for people, then there is no deep conflict here

         c.      Summary case for anthropocentrism

                   i.       Nonanthropocentrism recommends env responsible behavior, but is fairly radical, unpopular and theoretically problematic

                   ii.      Anthropocentrism recommends same env responsible behaviors but requires only minor changes in ethical beliefs that are already widely accepted and is theoretically well worked out

                   iii.     Only fool choose anthropocentrism


7.      Anthropocentrism provides norms for action and for feeling

         a.      It is a claim about what makes nature valuable–only serving human interests

         b.      This is to give us a reason for why we should care about nature and why nature is worth caring about (solely because it is instrumentally valuable to humans)

         c.      These claims about why we should care lead to two types of norms

                   i.       About action (what we ought to do)

                   ii.      About feeling (what we ought to feel)

8.      Because McShane accepts convergence hypothesis for sake of argument, she does not question anthropocentric norms for action (as same conclusions as nonanthropocentrism)

         a.      Does question anthropocentrism’s norms for feeling


9.      Why questions of how we feel are important

         a.      How we feel can affect how we act

         b.      How people feel matters for own sake (apart from acts it leads too)

                   i.       Want your friends to really like you and not just to act in a way they would if they liked you

                   ii.      Someone who feels superior to others is problematic even if she never acted on those feelings

         c.      In trying to be morally good I’m worried not just about how I act but how I should feel

                   i.       Jimmy Carter’s I have sinned in my heart

         d.      How we should feel not reducible to what feelings best serve my interests

                   i.       But rather which feelings are deserved or fitting

                   ii.      May be in my best interests to admire my boss but that feeling may not be deserved



11.    Some feelings toward things are incompatible with our thinking that the thing’s value is entirely dependent on its satisfaction of our interests

12.    For example, feelings of love, awe, and respect and religious attitudes not compatible with seeing their object as solely valuable in serving our interest

13.    Love your friend but insist her value is solely reducible to how she serves your interests?

         a.      Love is an other-centered emotion

         b.      To love her is in part to deny her value is solely instrumental to your interests.

14.    Respect something means you see it as making a claim on our moral attention in its own right

15.    To be in awe is to see something as having a greatness beyond your needs, interests, attitudes

16.    Same with religious attitudes toward nature


17.    Central claim of anthropocentrism is incompatible with certain common attitudes towards nature

18.    For anthro to love the land, respect nature, and feel awe of the vastness of the universe, are mistakes


19.    Worry: I worry that the incompatibility is between loving and respecting and awing something and seeing its value as reducible to one’s own interests,

         a.      But the anthropocentrist is claiming not that nature is of value only to the individual (not an egoist) but to all humans

         b.      Is this enough to block the claim that these attitudes towards nature are disallowed by anthropocentrism

         c.      Might not the fact that nature is of value to all humans actually generate love and respect and awe?



21.    Well clearly to love one’s dog makes sense and a dog is nonhuman nature

22.    Love of land: many environmental writers talk about loving particular places and grief they felt when destroyed/polluted

         a.      Not just a heightened state of enjoyment like when say “I love this chocolate”

         b.      Describing an emotional bond like what they have with family and friends

23.    Many env writers also write about their feelings of respect and awe toward nature

24.    Not proven these feelings toward nature appropriate or argued we should have them

25.    But shown that many people have them

26.    Should avoid theories (anthropocentrism) that reject the possibility of such attitudes

         a.      That insist that love of nature is a mistake



28.    Thus in terms of feelings toward nature, anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism have very different practical implications

29.    A difference we have reason to care about