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Related Words, Beliefs, Background

Worldview Theme #25: Anthropocentrism

alphabetical listing: A to K 

  alphabetical listing, continued: L to Z
Contrast Worldview Themes #25 and #27 --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!          

Contrast Worldview Themes #25 and #23A --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!

Contrast Worldview Themes #25 and #40--   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!

Contrast Worldview Themes #25 and #4 --   these themes involve orientations, beliefs or behavior that are (more or less) diametrically opposed!

agriculture--the technology and practice of farming--preparing the soil, planting, nourishing, cultivating, and raising crops for food or fiber--or raising livestock, fish, etc. for human consumption.  Its earliest beginnings, nearly 10,000 years ago, allowed humans to start trading hunter-gatherer lifestyles for more settled existences.  In the last century, the development of manmade fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized farm equipment--and more recently new varieties of grains--has greatly increased agricultural productivity.  While globally agriculture still employs 35 % of the world's workers,  in affluent countries the corresponding figure is much less (in places dropping below 1%).

androcentrism--a male-centered, male-oriented viewpoint in which human history and culture are seen and interpreted from a masculine point of view. Ecofeminists have linked this to anthropocentrism. 

animism -- the belief that all things, living or non-living, possess a spirit or soul that is separate from their physical form.

anthropocentrism--a human being centered viewpoint that sees humans are the most important thing in the universe, and assigns value to other things based on their usefulness to  humans. 

anthropocentrism and Christianity--According to historian Lynn White, "Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion the world has seen... Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions...not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends... By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects." Some Christians have also lamented the prevalence of human-centered worldviews and called for moving from man-centered to God-centered or Christ-centered worldviews.

 anthropocentrism and science--Given that modern science has its roots in the Christian dominated Western world, many historians echo the belief of Wayne Frair. In critiquing Lynn White's famous paper he wrote, "Modern science is an extrapolation of Christian natural theology which realizes man's transcendency of and mastery over nature." It is not hard to find evidence bolstering this position. Indeed, in charting what he believed should be the future course of science in the early 1600s, Francis Bacon expressed the belief that people should wield power over the natural world since they possessed the "right over Nature which belongs to [us] by divine bequest."  Of course, the term "science" here should more properly be replaced by "science and technology", since it is the implementing of new technology--so dramatically accelerated by the application of scientific understanding and methods in the last four centuries--that has so radically changed the human relationship with the natural world.

anthropomorphism -- a general term which refers to interpreting something that is not human by positing human characteristics; in theology, it refers to the belief the God is like human beings in at least some respect

Biblical creationism--belief that the world was created in six days as literally described in the book of Genesis, as fundamentalist Christians typically assert, and that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old.   Historically, this view has roots in the work of Bishop Ussher, a 17th century Biblical scholar who counted generations in the Bible and determined that the world was created on October 23rd at nine in the morning in the year 4004 BC.  Biblical creationists reject much of the modern scientific conceptual framework starting with evolution and the geological time scale.  They see Noah's flood as an important event in shaping the Earth's surface. 

biodiversity ---- a term that refers to the biological diversity and genetic variation present in an ecosystem -- be it tiny biological community or the whole biosphere. It can be gauged by counting the number of species the ecosystem contains. Preserving biodiversity can be important to the stability of the ecosystem, and may have practical benefits in that little studied or unknown species can be sources of new drugs for medical treatments, food crops, inspiration for engineering design, etc.  Besides habitat destruction, and genetic manipulation, humans threaten biodiversity with intentional or unintentional introduction of species not native to an ecosystem (invasive species)-- increasingly a problem with growing tourism and globalization of recent decades. 

Chain of Being --  the historically important idea that  life on Earth is organized in hierarchical or ladder fashion, with the lowest, most insignificant creature at the bottom and the highest, most perfect at the top. According to such progressive creationism as shaped by the book of Genesis,  God's ultimate goal was the creation of Man, whose place in this scheme is at the top of the chain or ladder.  This idea influenced western science as late as the middle of the 19th century, but ultimately gave way as the modern theory of biological evolution developed. 

Christianity--a monotheistic religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. Christians believe Jesus, a Jew who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago, to be the son of God, sent to Earth to save mankind from sin.  For Christians, the cross symbolizes the cross on which Jesus was nailed to and killed.  They believe that three days later he rose from the dead, and some forty days after this resurrection ascended to Heaven.  Christians believe that God is a Trinity: the Father (God), the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.  Christian Church authority was originally (by the 4th century) centered in the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the Pope. Two schisms have since undermined that authority: 1) by the 14th century the Eastern Orthodox Church had completed its breakaway from Rome, and 2) the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century saw Catholicism splinter into what became various Protestant denominations.    

Copernican Principle--the idea that human beings are not in a privileged position to make observations,  named from Copernicus' removing Earth from its special position at the center of the universe with the publication of his Sun-centered (heliocentric) system in 1543.  The 20th century saw two similar shifts 1) astronomers (led by Shapley) realized that the Sun was not in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, and 2) physicists (led by Einstein) argued that the laws of nature should look the same for all observers.  Some similarly see Darwinian evolution as displacing humans from the center of the natural world. 

creationism -- a belief shaped by religious sacred texts that all life and most notably the human species resulted from a specific act of creation performed by a supreme being, rather than from processes involving evolution. Biblical creationism attributes all creation to God, a modern revision of it to an “Intelligent Designer”.

deforestation--cutting trees and clearing forests, activities having both local and global negative environmental effects.  Locally wildlife habit and biodiversity is reduced; globally, since trees absorb carbon dioxide, both the absence of these trees and their burning (as in slash and burn clearing of land for farming operations) leads to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide which aggravates the global warming / climate change problem.

domestication--the human practice, beginning around 10,000 years ago, of bringing certain wild plant and animal populations under control for various reasons: to provide food, clothing, protection, enjoyment, etc.

dominion over--a phrase from the Bible's book of Genesis used in God's instructions to man: "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over...every living thing".  Supposedly the original Hebrew this was written in communicates a gentleness and familiarity that is less like subjugation and more like stewardship than the meaning communicated in the English translation above.

egoism -- the belief that individual self interest is the basis for all human behavior and that this is how it ought to be

eminent domain, expropriation, etc.--refers to the right of a government to purchase or take private land for public use.  The right is sometimes invoked in building highways, utility distribution lines, etc.

endangered species--a biological species whose number of individual members has gotten so low that it is threatened with extinction.  In many countries, laws protect such species from humans.  

environmental impact analysis -- a procedure for 1) collecting information about the proposed development, project or land use and its goals / objectives, 2) identifying possible impacts of its implementation in various areas (mainly environmental, but depending upon the scale of the project also perhaps cultural, economic, social, political, etc), 3) assessing impacts and identifying tradeoffs, 4) formulating, then examining other alternatives to the proposed development, with quantitative models and forecasts, 5) making recommendations including designating a preferred alternative that best meets goals / objectives while minimizing impacts / other concerns , and 6) making plans for monitoring performance. Legislation may require that this be done before certain projects can be carried out on government land.

ethnocentrism -- adopting the social standards of one’s own culture or ethnic group as the basis for evaluating the social practices, customs, beliefs, etc. of another culture -- and doing so because you believe your society’s values and way of living are superior to those of other cultures.

geoengineering / planetary engineering--humans use technology to massively alter the global environment of Earth or another planet.  To combat Earth's manmade enhanced greenhouse effect induced global warming, geoengineering proposals have suggested 1) using space-based mirrors to reflect unwanted solar radiation back into space, 2) adding iron to the oceans to increase carbon dioxide absorption, and 3) adding sulfates to the atmosphere to create haze blocking solar radiation.  In the distant future, one can imagine similar (more massive) efforts to transform planets like Mars and Venus to make them habitable.

guilt -- an emotional state produced by knowing that one has committed a breach of conduct or violated moral standards. If one accepts society’s version of acceptable behavior, the punishment guilt produces is self-administered.

human exceptionalism--the belief that humans are special and stand apart from the rest of nature and the universe.  Some claim this for religious reasons --believing God created man to have dominion over nature--others cite humans' extraordinary brains and aptitudes to buttress their contention.  

individualism -- a social philosophy and belief system that places individual interests and rights above those of society , and individual freedom and independence above any social contract obligations


  naturalistic fallacy -- the (mistaken?) belief that what happens in nature is always right, to which some would add things like “nature knows best”, “living as nature intended is best”, “natural foods are healthiest”, etc.

pesticides--substances used to kill or control pests: organisms which interfere with human well being or activities (agricultural, in particular). They are classified according to the type of pest they are used on (e.g. insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.)  While such use of naturally occurring substances goes back thousands of years, the first manmade pesticide to be widely used was the insecticide DDT, developed in 1939.  Like DDT, many pesticides can poison humans and damage the environment. By the 1960s--with the publication of Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, it was recognized that DDT interferes with bird reproduction. It is now banned in many countries.  A new generation of pesticides--some of which are biological agents, instead of manmade chemicals-- promise less environmental impact.

private property, sanctity of -- the belief that individual possession of private property gives people rights that help guarantee their freedom, and that government challenging those private property rights is tantamount to government trampling on their freedom. Americans who put private property on such a pedestal typically oppose government restrictions on how they use their land, and government employees trespassing on their property -- perhaps citing the fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to bolster their legal standing.

slash and burn--agriculture in which forest is cut and burned, ashes fertilize the soil, the ground is planted and crops produced for a few years, before declining fertility necessitates repeating the pattern elsewhere. 

stewardship--responsible, caring management of something (perhaps natural resources, a piece of land, etc) that is entrusted to a person, organization, or people.

sustainable development -- a type of development that hopefully allows future generations’ standard of living and quality of life to be at least as good as the present generation.

tragedy of the commons--a term popularized by Garrett Hardin in a 1968 article, refers to users of a common resource--like air, the oceans, grazing land, etc.--selfishly polluting or overusing it, and thus degrading its capability to serve the common good.  Hardin felt the problem was that since no one privately owned the common resource, no one felt a corresponding responsibility to protect it, and that even if nearly everyone could be persuaded to restrain themselves, a small number of exploiters could ruin the commons for everyone else.    

utilitarianism -- belief that the moral value of actions and associated outcomes should be judged according to the degree to which they are useful and benefit those affected. Utilitarianism has two aspects: 1) it links evaluating consequences of actions to human welfare, and accordingly, 2) how it ranks values (value theory) to tied to human welfare. The latter involves all the complexities of arguments over what gives individuals pleasure or happiness, conflicts between individual choice and societal preference, what benefits society in the long run, etc. And it recognizes that assigning value is not merely done by adding benefits, since what is beneficial to some may be detrimental to others, and both the benefits and risks of possible actions must be weighed

wise use movement -- a movement led by people who feel that the government has no right dictating what private landowners can and can not do with their land. The movement, linked to the “Sagebrush Rebellion” in the western U.S. -- which also involves public land management concerns, grew out of increasing frustration with laws containing environmental restrictions, protecting endangered species, limiting development, etc. “Wise use” refers to a philosophy about how land should be developed, a philosophy supposedly based on common sense.




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