Environmental Worldviews–A Short Glossary of Terms

Compiled as a resource for EwA’s Ethics courses.

Ethics Courses: [EwA-E1] Positive Eco-Ethics in a Human-Dominated World | [EwA-E2] Conservation Biodiversity Research & Field Ethics

[Disclaimer] This compilation only intends to list a few mainstream environmental worldviews. We invite our readers to explore the few references in the ‘Further Reading’ section that lists a couple of very good introductions to the topic.

Anthropocentrism, philosophical viewpoint arguing that “human beings are the central or most significant entities in the world. This is a basic belief embedded in many Western religions and philosophies. Anthropocentrism regards humans as separate from and superior to nature and holds that human life has intrinsic value while other entities (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind [1]. An enlightened anthropocentric viewpoint argues that humans must sustainably manage the global system.” [More »]

[1] Boslaugh, S. E.. “anthropocentrism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 11, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/anthropocentrism.

Egocentrism is an individual-focused form of anthropocentrism.

Utilitarianism, in its most traditional form, is both a human-focused “theory of the good and a theory of the right. It holds that the greatest good is happiness and freedom from pain and suffering. Acts that promote the greatest good (i.e., have the greatest utility) are morally right. Acts that reduce overall happiness and/or promote pain are morally wrong.

Even if anthropocentric in nature, “no one familiar with the environmental movement in the United States can doubt or deny the important role utilitarianism has played as a justification for protecting wilderness, ecosystems, and species [i.e., viewed as important resources]. Modern environmental ethicists have, however, criticized utilitarianism on various grounds and have distanced themselves and the field of environmental ethics from traditional theories of morality, including utilitarian ethics, by rejecting anthropocentrism, denying the importance of sentience, embracing intrinsic value theories, and affirming holistic ethics.” [More »]

Brian G. Wolff (2009). Environmental Studies and Utilitarian Ethics. In Bioscene, Journal of College Biology Teaching, Volume 35(2) December 2009 | ISSN 1539-2422

Technocentrism focuses on technology and science as a way to repair any damage done to the environment rather than changing ethical perspectives on environmental issues [2]. “A technocentric viewpoint argues that technological developments can provide solutions to environmental problems. This is a product of an optimistic view of the role humans can play in improving both the species, its environment, and the world as a whole. Scientific research is then encouraged, as a means to understand how systems can be repaired, controlled, manipulated, or changed to solve resource depletion and to inform policies.”

[2] Abdou, Doaa. (2019). Technocentrism and Ecocentrism. Bussecon Review of Social Sciences (2687-2285). 1. 13-23. 10.36096/brss.v1i1.98.

Biocentrism is an atomistic ethical perspective holding that all life deserves equal moral consideration or has equal moral standing. Although elements of biocentrism can be found in several religious traditions, it was not until the late decades of the 20th century that philosophical ethics in the Western tradition addressed the topic in a systematic manner. [More »]

DesJardins, J. R.. “biocentrism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, February 20, 2015. https://www.britannica.com/topic/biocentrism

Biocentric egalitarianism, “which emerged into popular discourses from Paul Taylor despite being present in world views for thousands of years, ascribes an inherent value to all living beings in a similar manner to other biocentric theories. It distinguishes itself through the idea that all living beings are worthy of the same respect that is given to humans. Furthermore in his essay ‘The Ethics of Respect for Nature’, Taylor puts forth the idea that in regards to all members of earth’s biotic community, ‘We are morally bound to protect or promote their good for their sake’. Taylor goes on to provide ways in which this respect for nature can manifest itself in our morally bound relationship, these duties may include a respect for the integrity of natural ecosystems to preserve endangered species, and avoid environmental pollution, all with the goal of allowing wild species to maintain a healthy existence in a natural state [3] ” [More »]

[3] Taylor, P. 1981. The Ethics of Respect for Nature. Environmental Ethics, Fall, pp. 197-218.

Ethics and Biodiversity | Publisher: UNESCO BangkokEditor: Darryl MacerISBN: 978-92-9223-420-1. October 2011 | DOI:10.13140/2.1.3622.2408

Ecocentrism is a holistic philosophical perspective that holds that all things have inherent value. Ecocentric philosophies claim that the value or worth of a plant, animal, rock, or water is not judged simply by the ways that humans can use it. It is rather valuable because it plays a role in the greater environment. it recognizes the central importance of the ecosphere and attempts to redress the imbalance created by radical anthropocentrism.

“Ecocentric approaches, those which ‘take a point of view that recognizes the ecosphere, rather than the biosphere, as central in importance, and attempts to redress the imbalance created by anthropocentrism’. That such a view connotes an opposition to biocentric or anthropocentric views is an unnecessary limitation on consideration.

Ecocentric approaches can be useful in bridging the gap between individual, population, and habitat, or concepts of self and environment. While both anthropocentric and biocentric approaches represent the value of the beings within the life-bearing matrix, the ecocentric approach represents the value of the matrix in sustaining the beings. That the primary threat to biodiversity loss is habitat destruction, or in other words destruction of the equilibrium of the matrix resulting in both decimation of individual and species numbers, suggest that an ecocentric approach is a valid and worthy approach from which to synthesis policy choices. The holism of such an ecocentric approach proves to be both a beneficial and complicating factor. The holistic aspects of ecocentrism arise from the anti-reductionist tendencies of incorporating all parts of the system, individuals, species, and ecosystem into the consideration of value. Ethical choices stemming from the consideration of such a value, seemingly appropriate, are the most complicated due to the myriad of dynamics yet likewise providing the depth of consideration from which the strongest imperatives can be appropriated. The prominent proponents of ecocentic theories are those such as Aldo Leopold and his famous ‘land ethic’, Arne Naess and ‘Deep Ecology’, and many holistic world views.” [More »]

Ethics and Biodiversity | Publisher: UNESCO BangkokEditor: Darryl MacerISBN: 978-92-9223-420-1. October 2011 | DOI:10.13140/2.1.3622.2408

Theocentrism. The center of all-natural and supernatural reality is God. All being basically, initially and ultimately, focuses around and in the transcendent God and finds in Him its raison d’être. Theocentrism (God-centeredness) is an explicit recognition of this fact, and a characteristic of certain philosophies, religions, theologies (systematic and otherwise), and asceticisms.

In philosophy, theocentrism may ultimately be regarded as an answer to man’s intellectual quest for a unified explanation of the orientation of his own being to the whole order of being. There is ultimately one, necessary, absolute Being, independent of and transcending any other. This absolute Being is reasoned to be the infinite, eternal, unparticipated Being, which accounts for the coming-to-be and continued existence of all contingent beings. [More »]

“Theocentrism .” New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 26, 2021). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/theocentrism

Further Reading

Ecological Ethics: An Introduction, 2nd Edition by Patrick Curry (2018) | ISBN: 978-0-745-65125-5

Ethics and Biodiversity | Publisher: UNESCO BangkokEditor: Darryl MacerISBN: 978-92-9223-420-1. October 2011 | DOI:10.13140/2.1.3622.2408

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