The anthropocentric approach is criticized for “limiting values to the human realm,” for being biased toward the nonhuman world, and for its failure “to provide a satisfactory basis for a moral philosophy of ecological obligation” because it is concerned with human self-interest (Lecture). These are the claims of supporters of the deep ecology perspective, who believe that intrinsic value should be extended to all of nature. In this essay, I argue that the claims of the deep ecology approach are wrong and I will put forth a defense for anthropocentrism.
Before anything else, I will give the definitions of intrinsic and instrumental values and nature. An intrinsic value is “the worth a thing has in an end of itself.” These values are good for their own sake. Examples of these values would be love and beauty. An instrumental value is the “worth a thing has an instrument to achieve a goal or end.” (Lecture) Money would be an example of an instrumental value. Having money will allow a person the achieve the goal of a life of leisure. Lastly, nature means everything in our environment the soil, the climate, and all living things.
Anthropocentrism maintains that only human beings have intrinsic value and that nonhuman animals and the rest of nature only have instrumental value (Lecture). On the other hand, deep ecology argues that we should see the whole ecosystem as having intrinsic value. However, this claim of deep ecology is groundless because there is no useful purpose in attributing intrinsic value to non sentient beings (Lecture). Furthermore, Aldo Leopold, a proponent of deep ecology, writes in his Land Ethic, ”… a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” (Text, p. #478) In essence, he suggests that humans are equal to everything in nature.
However, we are not equal to everything in nature. I will support this statement with several reasons. First, human beings can be, and are, educated about nature (Text, p. #490). For example, we can predict the weather in order to know how we will be affected by it. In turn, nature does not understand us. Also, humans know how to use natural resources (Text, p. #490). An illustration of this is that we get paper and wood for construction purposes from trees. On the contrary, nature does not use us.
An opposition to these two justifications would be that human education and knowledge does not necessarily mean that humans are above nature. I do not agree with this. It is common sense that education and knowledge are power. More power equals to higher status. Therefore, humans are above nature. Finally, humans are capable of moral responsibilities. What we do in life matters it determines our success or failure. For example, we have a moral responsibility not to pollute (Text, p. #476). Plants and nonhuman animals do not have such a moral duty. Because we have moral responsibilities, we are more valuable than anything else in nature.
It can be argued by the deep ecology view that such an outlook is speciesism and that it is wrong for human beings to dominate all of nature. What I have to say to this is that it is human nature, our way of life, to trample with nature. Just as Leopold stated, we are members of our land-community (Text, p. #478). It follows that human beings have lived and evolved with nature. Human life is natural life and our activities are as natural as anything else. A great deal of the diverse things that human beings do can be perfectly natural, even if it can be destructive or lead to some transformation of nature. Our cultivation of the land or damming of the rivers is as natural as bees making honey or as birds creating their nests.
In addition to that, we live in a world where the strong survive it is the “survival of the fittest.” Naturally, and like other animals, we utilize the environment to live. As anthropocentrism contends, our moral obligation to protect the environment is based on human interests (Lecture). We have to safeguard what we need in order to live well.
The deep ecology perspective states that this moral obligation should not be based on factors having to do with human benefits (Lecture). What, then, should this moral obligation be based on? It is only practical that human obligations are based on human interests! Humans do not need to be obligated to things that do not concern them. Consequently, in spite of the criticism from deep ecology, the anthropocentric view is an acceptable and justified basis for providing a moral philosophy of ecological obligation.
Another claim of the deep ecology view, given by Aaron Naess, is that the self is all, reality is one, and if we damage the environment, we damage ourselves (Lecture). It is true that human beings have the ability, and can choose, to subvert nature. Still, it is only natural of us to do so. A great many people commute in cars and in other transportation vehicles that can cause air pollution. Plows are used to destroy the soil that is used to grow food for us. We add waste to the garbage dumps every day. This is where the anthropocentric argument of “optimal pollution” comes in.
Optimal pollution is “pollution whose harms are outweighed by various human interests, including economic and aesthetic ones.” (Text, p. # 477) Although humans may be hurting nature in such instances as mentioned above, the benefits outweigh the costs. Moreover, instead of just sitting by, we take measures to maintain the environment. For example, we recycle so that we can reuse certain things that have been produced with material coming from the environment. We also plant trees and ride bikes to help reduce air pollution. So, while the human way of living may be destructive to the environment, we still strive to make up for it.
I will conclude with stating that the rational thing for us to do is to make the best use of nature for our success in living our lives. And, the anthropocentric view, with its grounds in human self-interest, supports this better than the deep ecology view.