Anthropocentrism

I notice that an old encyclopaedia entry of mine on Anthropocentrism has reached ‘top 3%’ of articles on the Academia.edu site.  It’s gratifying to be in a top-something list of something, whatever it means, but more interesting is to find that anthropocentrism today seems to be a much more discussed topic than it was at my earlier time of writing.

Recently, I’ve been wondering, do we have robust intuitions about what it means to treat nonhumans fairly?  A difficulty I noted in the article is that ‘it is hard to apply the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – if the others are so constitutionally different as to render the necessary comparison impossible.’  But how  different from us humans are other inhabitants of this planet?  Is some empathy and understanding not possible in many cases?  We adjust for different needs and expectations among people that we treat fairly; couldn’t we do so for other creatures too?  Surely, one of the things our super brains make possible is some relevant understanding of our nonhuman neighbours?

In principle, I think this is possible.  In practice, an obstacle is, paradoxically, that we are not anthropocentric enough.  By this I mean that humans do not show enough consideration for other human individuals or act in the collective self-interest of the human species.  By allowing climate change, environmental pollution, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss to transform the planet into a less livable place for everyone, we are at a collective level of development that should maybe not even be dignified by the name of anthropocentrism!

So much more, then, is required to go beyond anthropocentric limits of our thought and action.

My point is that if we cannot organise ourselves globally, and into the future, in ways that allow due consideration of human for human, we are even less likely to show much practical concern for nonhumans or our environment.  What I continue to hope, nonetheless, is that we might learn just how much humans, nonhumans and our shared environment are all interdependent.

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