Androcentrism and Anthrocentrism: Parallels and Politics

Ethics and the Environment 1 (2):119 - 152 (1996)
The critique of anthrocentrism has been one of the major tasks of ecophilosophy, whose characteristic general thesis has been that our frameworks of morality and rationality must be challenged to include consideration of nonhumans. But the core of anthrocentrism is embattled and its relationship to practical environmental activism is problematic. I shall argue here that although the criticisms that have been made of the core concept have some justice, the primary problem is not the framework challenge or the core concept itself, but rather certain problematic understandings of it which have developed in environmental philosophy. In the case of the intrinsic/instrumental distinction, much of the criticism turns on unrealistic expectations about what the distinction means and what it can do; in the case of anthropocentrism, a perverse reading which I will call cosmic anthrocentrism has invited many of the criticisms which have been widely seen as fatal to the concept. Using concepts and models originating in feminist theory and other liberation critiques, I outline an alternative, feminist rereading of anthrocentrism. I argue that this model is theoretically illuminating and capable of meeting major objections that the perverse readings have invited. Critics of the core distinctions have almost universally identified the two core concepts and issues of anthrocentrism and instrumental/intrinsic value. The analysis I present will show how these concepts and issues are connected, but also why there is more to anthrocentrism than the failure to recognise the intrinsic value of nature, and why anthrocentrism rather that intrinsic value should be the major conceptual focus of environmental critique. It will also show why the framework challenge is of practical importance to the green movement and why anthrocentrism is a serious problem in contemporary life.
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