Biocentrism is an ethical worldview that states that all living things carry an inherent value and are therefore to be considered morally (Attfield, 2013).
Examples of biocentrism include embracing vegetarianism, being anti-deforestation, opposing the fur trade, and opposing animal testing.
We define biocentrism in contrast to ecocentrism and anthropocentrism, which each refer to differing approaches to the relations between animals and the earth. Whereas antropocentrism values humans above all else, biocentrism values living organisms, and ecocentrism values a balanced ecosystem.
Definition of Biocentrism
According to the biocentric perspective all living things in nature are deserving of an equal moral status.
It thereby directly opposes the anthropocentric worldview which states that only human beings are to be considered morally (Attfield, 2013).
In biocentrism human beings are, in other words, not deemed superior to any other living species inhabiting the earth, as is the case in anthropocentrism.
Biocentrism goes beyond zoocentrism, which is focused on the inherent value of animals, on account of including flora as well (Washington, Taylor, Kopnina, Cryer, & Piccolo, 2017).
It is thus broadly considered to be centered on all forms of life; animals, plants and microorganisms, being deserving of moral consideration. It acknowledges, however, that not all of them are moral agents (ten Have, & Patrão Neves, 2021).
10 Examples of Biocentrism
- Vegetarianism and Veganism – Animals are not deemed appropriate for human consumption by vegetarians and vegans. Although reasons to opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet differ among individuals, people acting according to the biocentric perspective have a commitment to the equal treatment of species in addition to a dedication to prevent unnecessary harm to animals (Sterba, 2011).
- Animal Rights – Animal rights advocates strive for fundamental rights for animals on the basis of their inherent value which is seen independent of their utility for humans.
- Anti-deforestation – When wanting to fight deforestation comes forth from an effort to avoid harming trees, it subscribes to the biocentric perspective. Whereas if one argues against deforestation because it is harmful to humanity, that reasoning subscribes to the anthropocentric worldview (Rottman, 2014).
- Opposing Fur Trade – Recognizing the fur trade’s anthropocentric nature and opposing it can be considered biocentric in the sense that it is based upon the prevention of doing harm to animals.
- Buying Bio Products – Opting to buy environmentally-friendly products for the sake of protection of non-human life can be considered a biocentric attitude.
- Hunting and Poaching Prohibition – General attitudes towards hunting and poaching are shifting and more and more areas are enforcing prohibitions to conserve natural life.
- Antitaurino movement – Bullfighting as a cultural event is decreasing in popularity among younger generations in Europe because of its apparent immorality.
- Opposing Animal Testing – From a biocentric perspective animal testing is an anthropocentric practice that fails to take into account the moral status of animals. More and more people are opposed to animal testing.
- Paper Saving – Refraining from using paper unnecessarily as an effort to save trees from being chopped. If it is a concern for the tree’s lives that is a biocentric attitude.
- Animal-friendly Design – City planners can realize and act upon their role in making their design suitable for animal life in an urban environment.
Anthropocentrism vs Biocentrism vs Ecocentrism
|Central concern||Human beings||Living organisms||The ecosystem as a whole|
|Inherent value||Individual humans and the human species are seen as the most valuable||All living things carry inherent value||Environmental systems as wholes carry inherent value|
|Consideration||Human beings||Biotic factors||Both biotic and abiotic factors|
(Washington, Taylor, Kopnina, Cryer, & Piccolo, 2017)
Types of Biocentrism
The biocentric perspective can generally be divided into egalitarian and inegalitarian biocentrism.
The main difference between the egalitarian and the inegalitarian perspective on biocentrism is whether or not the inherent value attributed to all living things is considered equal or not.
- The egalitarian biocentric perspective is deemed to come forth from the first philosophically sophisticated version of it, put forward by Paul Warren Taylor in his 1981 article entitled “The Ethics of Respect for Nature”.
- Inegalitarian forms of biocentrism were, on the other hand, later developed largely as a reaction thereto (Attfield, 2013).
According to Taylor individual living entities, rather than communities or collectives, possess an equal intrinsic value and should therefore be held to equal moral standards.
His biocentric worldview can hence be considered individualistic and egalitarian (Attfield, 2013).
- Egalitarian biocentrism is thus committed to species egalitarianism, meaning the equality of species. That does not, however, mean that treating species differently is unjustifiable. Species equality does not, in other words, automatically converge into equal treatment (Sterba, 2011).
- Inegalitarian theories of biocentrism do, on the contrary, not subscribe to the idea that all living entities possess a ‘good’ or capacities of equal moral significance. Rather, proponents of inegalitarian biocentrism propose a recognition of different degrees of moral significance of the capacities of species towards the satisfaction of their diverging needs which does not take away from their inherent value (Attfield, 2013).
Critique of Biocentrism
The main critique of biocentrism is that it does not account sufficiently for the value of biodiversity.
According to critics such as Mikkelson and Chapman the biocentric perspective is precisely because of its individualistic nature, which equally applies to anthropocentrism, unable to show the non-justifiability of the decrease in biodiversity characteristic of recent decades despite premising respect for nature.
They propose that only the approach of ecocentrism, being void of that individualistic component, is capable of highlighting the value of biodiversity (Attfield, 2013).
Biocentrism is an ethical, life-centered worldview. Unlike anthropocentrism, biocentrism does not deem human beings superior over other species. It states rather that all living beings carry inherent value and should therefore be considered morally.
Biocentrism is critiqued for its individualistic nature which is argued to prevent it from taking biodiversity sufficiently into account. Critics suggest the broader worldview of ecocentrism since it encompasses biocentrism by considering both biotic and abiotic factors.
Attfield, R. (2013). Biocentrism. In H. LaFollette (Ed.). International Encyclopedia of Ethics (pp. 1-10). Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. doi:10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee670.pub2
Rottman, J. (2014). Breaking Down Biocentrism: Two Distinct Forms of Moral Concern for Nature. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00905
Sterba, J.P. (2011). Biocentrism Defended. Ethics, Policy & Environment, 14(2), 167-169. doi:10.1080/21550085.2011.578376
ten Have, H., & Patrão Neves, M. (2021). Biocentrism (See Anthropocentrism; Ecocentrism; Environmental Ethics; Zoocentrism). In Dictionary of Global Bioethics (pp. 123-124). Springer, Cham. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-54161-3_76
Washington, H., Taylor, B., Kopnina, H., Cryer, P., & Piccolo, J. J. (2017). Why Ecocentrism Is the Key Pathway to Sustainability. The Ecological Citizen, 1(1), 35-41.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]