Anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the most important entity in the universe. Anthropocentrism interprets or regards the world in terms of human values and experiences. The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, and some refer to the concept as human supremacy or human exceptionalism. Anthropocentrism is considered to be profoundly embedded in many modern human cultures and conscious acts. It is a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy, where it is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human action within the ecosphere. However, many proponents of anthropocentrism state that this is not necessarily the case: they argue that a sound long-term view acknowledges that a healthy, sustainable environment is necessary for humans and that the real issue is shallow anthropocentrism.
Maimonides, a scholar of the Torah who lived in the 12th century AD, was noted for being decidedly anti-anthropocentric. Maimonides called man “a mere ‘drop of the bucket'” and “not ‘the axle of the world'”. He also claimed that anthropocentric thinking is what causes humans to think that evil things exist in nature. According to Rabbi Norman Lamm, Maimonides “thus deflate[d] man’s extravagant notions of his own importance and urge[d] us to abandon these illusions.”
In the 1985 CBC series “A Planet For the Taking”, Dr. David Suzuki explored the Old Testament roots of anthropocentrism and how it shaped our view of non-human animals. Some Christian proponents of anthropocentrism base their belief on the Bible, such as the verse 1:26 in the Book of Genesis:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
The use of the word “dominion” in the Genesis is controversial. Many Biblical scholars, especially Roman Catholic and other non-Protestant Christians, consider this to be a flawed translation of a word meaning “stewardship”, which would indicate that mankind should take care of the earth and its various forms of life.
Anthropocentrism is the grounding for some naturalistic concepts of human rights. Defenders of anthropocentrism argue that it is the necessary fundamental premise to defend universal human rights, since what matters morally is simply being human. For example, noted philosopher Mortimer J. Adler wrote, “Those who oppose injurious discrimination on the moral ground that all human beings, being equal in their humanity, should be treated equally in all those respects that concern their common humanity, would have no solid basis in fact to support their normative principle.” Adler is stating here, that denying what is now called human exceptionalism could lead to tyranny, writing that if we ever came to believe that humans do not possess a unique moral status, the intellectual foundation of our liberties collapses: “Why, then, should not groups of superior men be able to justify their enslavement, exploitation, or even genocide of inferior human groups on factual and moral grounds akin to those we now rely on to justify our treatment of the animals we harness as beasts of burden, that we butcher for food and clothing, or that we destroy as disease-bearing pests or as dangerous predators?”