Essay:Anthropocentrism

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay is an original work by Luminousdawn.
It does not necessarily reflect the views expressed in RationalWiki's Mission Statement, but we welcome discussion of a broad range of ideas.
Unless otherwise stated, this is original content, released under CC-BY-SA 3.0 or any later version. See RationalWiki:Copyrights.
Feel free to make comments on the talk page, which will probably be far more interesting, and might reflect a broader range of RationalWiki editors' thoughts.

Anthropocentrism, an ideology revolving around the belief that humanity is the most important thing in the universe is often criticized as being speciesist, that is ignoring the needs of other species in favor of the needs of humanity. Additionally there is often an element of only recognizing white males as humans. Critics of anthropocentrism argue that the placing of humanity on a pedestal infringes on the rights of animals and paves way for the infringement of the rights of people who are not affluent white males. Anthropocentrism also contributes to the destruction of the natural environment due to the lack of concern for other species which live in the environment alongside humans. The theory being that the liberation of the poor, of women, and of all other marginalized groups in human society in addition to the creation of a sustainable human society can only occur through the acknowledgement of animals as sentinent beings with rights and subjectivity.


This argument is quite problematic though as it portrays anthropocentrism as more of a tora-pluto-euro-androcentrism that is an ideology of the only people who matter being wealthy white male humans in the present rather than an ideology of humans being the central focus of human life.


The social contract although perhaps not unique to humans has been developed far more by humans than any other species and is the basis of human society. Early in human history we realized that if we were to always attempt to benefit at the expense of each other we would end up just harming each other and nobody would be prosperous, and so we agreed to avoid harming each other and even when possible pursue our collective benefit rather than our individual benefits and thus rights were born. This has allowed humans to become the dominant species on earth. The social contract is not unique to europeans but rather it is a universal element of human culture present in every area of the world and coming with it a belief in all cultures of humans being fundamentally different from animals. This is understandable because from an evolutionary point of view humans should only seek to preserve themselves and that humans are incapable of survival outside of the social contract due to our specialized biology. To deny humanity to any particular group could be seen as a violation of anthropocentrism as it is merely a rhetorical device for the placing of a specific group of humans over all others, something that could be seen as a violation of the social contract and perhaps worthy of revolution to resolve if that group becomes influential enough to act upon this ideology.


Animals cannot have rights because rights come from the social contract rather than a higher power and animals are incapable of entering social contracts. A common counterargument to this is that babies and mentally disabled humans have rights therefore rights come from something other than the social contract. Babies can be easily said to not have rights but rather a sort of legal protection designed to keep them safe as society's investments for the future. Mentally disabled humans are an instance of begging the question; the advocates of animal rights assume that mentally disabled humans have rights without giving any evidence to back it up and then use that premise to argue for animal rights. The debate on the treatment of the mentally disabled is full of appeals to emotion, ad hominems and slippery slope arguments and will not be discussed in this post.


Environmental degredation is commonly held to be an example of the harmful effects of anthropocentrism but in reality it is not the case at all. The following analogy can be used to illustrate this argument. There is a man whose only source of food is the milk of his cow; one day the man decides to kill the cow and eat it even though it is providing milk just because he desires a change in his diet, then a few weeks later he dies of starvation. Was the man selfish and ate the cow because it didn't have any significance to him and only his own good mattered to him. Although he definitely didn't take the cow into consideration when he ate it, that action also lead to his death. It would have been in the best interests of the man to have let the cow live and continue to drink its milk. This is the same scenario that we are facing with environmental degradation today. It is in just as much our interests as it is in the interests of all other life on earth to prevent environmental degredation.