Environmental ethics is a part of philosophy that deals with the moral views between humans and the environment. It is concerned with the way humans impact their natural environment and it seeks to help people become more aware of how the earth is slowly deteriorating. Philosophers have made numerous attempts to reveal the moral status of animals but there are too many valid arguments to be considered to get the real answer. The theories of anthropocentrism and biocentrism contrast each other and both are relevant when studying environmental ethics.
Anthropocentrism is a worldview that considers humans to be placed at the center of the universe as their own primary concern. It states that everything else in existence, including the environment, is meant for the human race and nothing else. However, this theory is not necessarily the basis of reality. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza argues that we tend to assess things wrongly for their usefulness to us. This means that if we were to look at the universe through an objective point of view we can see that everything has it’s own individual value. I agree with his argument stating that humans are not the center of everything in existence; we are a part of this universe but we may not understand from a human perspective that there is a bigger picture we must be concerned with. The view that humans have superiority over other species influence their interactions with other organisms, making them act in ways that motivate their own interests and putting themselves before everything else. When it comes to the environment and the wildlife, humans interpret their relationships and actions with other species and nature in a number of implications from the anthropocentric view. Humans, taking advantage of their greater intrinsic value over other species, use ethical judgments that are influenced by this superiority. These ethics are often used to legitimize treating other species in ways that would be considered morally unacceptable if humans were similarly treated. (Anthropocentrism) For example, if an animal can be used as a resource for a human, like food, the human will eat it. This decreases the animal population sometimes even to the point of extinction. In contrast to anthropocentrism, biocentrism is the belief that puts man within nature. Biocentrists look at the human species as being a part of nature and that everything has its own value. Philosopher Peter Taylor, writer of Respect for Nature, states that the status of human beings is equal to that of animals and wildlife. He argues that they should all share the earth and live equally. (Biocentrism) He also states that every living creature is unique and lives in its own way for its own good, meaning that one species cannot know more about what is good for another species that that species itself. If humans acted in a biocentric way, rather that anthropocentric, our environment would be much cleaner, flourished and harmonious.
The moral status of animals and wildlife in our environment can be argued in many reasonable ways. A question one might ask about this topic would be, “Which animals deserve moral consideration?” People who love animals would quickly say that all animals are equal and deserve full moral consideration. Philosophers answer this question with a human bias in which they involve human values and judgments in some cases. One approach to this question is called consequentialism. This theory is based on a moral hierarchy in which the lowest group of organisms deserves no moral consideration and the top deserves the most. At the top of the hierarchy there are the “sentient organisms” that are aware of their own existence and would prefer to continue to exist, the second level are the sentient organisms that are not self-aware and don’t have any idea of continuing to exist in the future and at the bottom are inanimate objects and insentient organisms. The top group includes most human beings and the higher animals, the second one contains animals such as fish or rodents and the last group includes insects and simple animals, plants and inanimate objects. (Ethics Guide) The major problem with this approach, philosophers argue, is that young babies, people in comas and people with certain types of brain defects do not show the same characteristics as humans do at the top of the hierarchy, making it seem like these people have less of a moral status than normal people do. This is where the theory of speciesism comes in, which states that all humans should be in the highest moral category deserving full moral consideration.
Human beings have a huge impact on the environment. We use it for basic social and economic life, as a resource for food, energy, recreation, medicines, industrial products, etc. Because humans depend on the environment so much, it is increasingly deteriorating and being destroyed. The most noticeable indications of the breakdown of nature are the reduction of habitats and landscapes and the extinction of species. Due to humans taking over the environment for their own needs are causing these problems. Clear cutting forests, hunting, and other human activities are all ethical decisions made by humans with respect to the environment to promote consumption for economic and social means. (Environmental Philosophy) Humans decide to exploit nature for themselves and society. Besides hunting, human activities like environmental pollution and deforestation has led to the extinction of a large number of animals and plants due to the loss of their habitats. (How do Humans Affect the Environment) Despite the exploitations of nature by some people, there are a numerous amount of people who are desperately working to reverse these damaging activities on the environment.
As a branch of philosophy, environmental ethics is based on the right and wrong of human actions as they affect the natural environment. The environment as we know it plays an active role in shaping human society. Environmental ethics shows humans what we are doing to deteriorate our environment as it will continue to play its role shaping our planet. I believe that all living organisms in the environment have equal moral status. In terms of our economic and social society, the environment helps the human world thrive. The theory of biocentrism puts humans and all other organisms in the same moral status; this will not necessarily help our society thrive because there would no longer be actions taken against the environment (ie. clear cutting forests) used for our consumption.
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- Taylor, Peter. “Biocentrism.” The Environment: A Global Challenge. N.p. Web. May 7th, 2010.
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- Belshaw, Christopher. Environmental Philosophy: Reason, Nature and Human Concern. Acumen Publishing Limited, 2001. Print.
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