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Anthropocentric Perspectives on Environmental Ethics

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Joshua Russell

on 22 September 2014

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Transcript of Anthropocentric Perspectives on Environmental Ethics

anthropocentric perspectives
environmental ethics

Anthropocentrism --
the belief that human beings are the "centre" of existence (Oxford Dictionary)
the interpretation of reality only through the human perspective
Humanity --
from Latin (humanus, - of or belonging to men)
15th Century -- in contrast with "divinity" and the less-than-human, whether animal or "barbarian"
16th Century -- an increased range from "cultivated achievement" to "natural limitation"
18th Century -- "neutrally, a set of human characteristics or attributes"
mid-20th Century (and today?) -- "general and abstract; warmth and congeniality (i.e., a humanist); but also 'condoned fallability' as in 'human error'
(from Raymond Williams, 1983)
Is the field of "ethics" necessarily concerned only with humanity?
some considerations:
are we capable of talking about ethics outside of the domain of human language?
to what extent does ethical theory (generally) or morality (in particular situations) require two conscientious, responsible, response-able agents?
is it possible to truly be concerned with the welfare, life, livelihood, or being of an "other"? or do we always act for "our" own benefit?
Virtue Ethics
Who: Plato and Aristotle (~400-200 BCE)
MacIntyre, Nussbaum (20th century)

Three central concepts:
arete (virtue) -- a "character trait", a matter of degree (i.e., honesty, generosity, trustworthiness)
phronesis (practical wisdom) -- a matter of experience, the knowledge of how to act virtuously in certain situations
eudaimonia (flourishing) -- a moralised, or “value-laden” concept of happiness, “the sort of happiness worth seeking or having"
(Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Who: Kant (1724-1804)
Rawls, Nagel (20th century)

Main concepts:
deon (Gr. for "duty") -ology ("study of")
morality concerned with "right action," mostly in universalizable conditions (universalizability test)
there is room for special concern (i.e., family members)
agent-centred, patient-centred, contractualism
categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."
Who: Bentham (1789), Mill (1861)
Singer (20th century)

Main approach is Utilitarianism -- "Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do... (Jeremy Bentham)
Hedonism -- the value of the consequences depends only on the pleasures and pains in the consequences (as opposed to other goods, such as freedom, knowledge, life)
Act Consequentialism -- an act is morally right if and only if that act maximizes the good, that is, if and only if the total amount of good for all minus the total amount of bad for all is greater than this net amount for any incompatible act available to the agent on that occasion
Liberalism (People are "egoistic, coldly calculating, essentially inert and atomistic")
Who: Locke (1688), Smith (1776)
"By pursuing his own interest he (the individual, "sic") frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." (Smith, 1759)

Communitarianism (Values and beliefs are formed in public space, in which debate takes place.)
Who: MacIntyre (1981), Taylor (1991)
"It is most often to others that we owe our survival, let alone our flourishing..." (MacIntyre, 1999)
Anthropocentric "roots"
Genesis 1:26 -- "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth."

Socrates -- "the care the gods have taken to furnish man with what he needs"

Descartes -- "Animals are Machines"
2 tests to show that animals/brutes are not men:
cannot use speech as we do (language)
cannot act through the use of reason

Epistemological/Ontological differences
"although all animals easily communicate to us, by voice or bodily movement, their natural impulses of anger, fear, hunger and so on, it has never yet been observed that any brute animal reached the stage of using real speech... something pertaining to pure thought and not to natural impulse" -- Descartes
"Anthropocentrism vs. Non-Anthropocentrism: Why Should We Care?"
-- Katie McShane (2007)
Darwinian Anthropocentrism (Murdy)
"natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in a species exclusively for the good of another species" (Darwin, 1872)

Species exist as ends in themselves
A scientific teleology
Nepotism vs. altruism
Reductionistic science

Man, "the cultural species"
Human Exceptionalism --
belief that human beings have special status in nature based on their unique capacities
Arises out of Western philosophy, and fails to consider or take seriously Eastern/Indigenous philosophies (Naess, 1993)
Has a parallel history, mutual implications with ethnocentrism and androcentrism (Val Plumwood, 1994/2002)
Proof as a result of "extensionism" (Smith, 2001)
There is a need to de-centre or universalize moral considerability (Cheney & Weston, 1999)
Axiological Extensionism --
The expansion of formal systems of allocating values, based on the recognition that previous boundaries of moral consideration are wrong/mistaken
(Mick Smith, 2001)

Anthropocentrism (boundary: strict considerations of humanity)
Pathocentrism (boundary: pain)
Biocentrism (boundary: having a life, being alive)
Holism (boundary: contributing to the existence of life, or mere existence)
Personhood & Subjectivity --
Person (from Latin, "persona" meaning "mask")
Naturalistic/Cartesian epistemology: (1) possesses continuous consciousness over time; and (2) who is therefore capable of framing representations about the world, formulating plans and acting on them.
"Theory of Mind" and the Great Ape Personhood Project: (1) rationality and self-awareness; (2) self-control; (3) a sense of the future; (4) a sense of the past; (5) a capacity to relate to others; (6) concern for others; (7) curiosity; (8) communication.

that which thinks, feels, perceives, intends as contrasted with the objects of thought, feeling, etc.
the self or ego
generally, a being that has subjective experiences, subjective consciousness or a relationship with another entity (or "object")
Obligations to Future Generations?
(Paul Gilding Video)
Moral Standing?
What do they NEED (the problem of uncertainty)?
Who ARE future people (the problem of identity)?
What have they done FOR US lately (the problem of reciprocity)?
taken from "News Real Blog"
Norton's 'convergence hypothesis'
Difference between norms of "action" and norms of "feeling" -- normative ethics and moral psychology are mutually implicated?
How should we feel about non-human nature? Can anthropocentrism get us there?
Full transcript