Anthropocentrism: More than Just a Misunderstood Problem

Helen Kopnina*, Haydn Washington, Bron Taylor, John J Piccolo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

189 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


Anthropocentrism, in its original connotation in environmental ethics, is the belief that value is human-centred and that all other beings are means to human ends. Environmentally -concerned authors have argued that anthropocentrism is ethically wrong and at the root of ecological crises. Some environmental ethicists argue, however, that critics of anthropocentrism are misguided or even misanthropic. They contend: first that criticism of anthropocentrism can be counterproductive and misleading by failing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate human interests. Second, that humans differ greatly in their environmental impacts, and consequently, addressing human inequalities should be a precondition for environmental protection. Third, since ecosystems constitute the “life-support system” for humans, anthropocentrism can and should be a powerful motivation for environmental protection. Fourth, human self-love is not only natural but helpful as a starting point for loving others, including nonhumans. Herein we analyze such arguments, agreeing with parts of them while advancing four counter-arguments. First, redefining the term anthropocentrism seems to be an attempt to ignore behavior in which humans focus on themselves at the risk of the planet. Second, if addressing human inequalities is a precondition for environmental protection, biodiversity protection will remain out of the scope of ethical consideration for an indefinite period of time. Third, anthropocentric motivations can only make a positive contribution to the environment in situations where humans are conscious of a direct benefit to themselves. Fourth, ‘self-love’ alone is an inadequate basis for environmental concern and action. We also explore the question of agency, shared responsibility, and a fair attribution of blame for our environmental predicaments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-127
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date18 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Anthropocentrism: More than Just a Misunderstood Problem'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this