Speciesism in Environmental Ethics

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Are you more important than someone else? Do you think that we're all pretty much the same? Have you ever thought about how this applies to animals and nature? Well, this lesson goes over this topic with respect to different species and nature.

What Is Speciesism?

So, you think you're special? Maybe you think you should have more rights than some other living being? Or maybe you actually think the exact opposite. Either way, you might be familiar with the concept of speciesism as a result. Speciesism is the idea that a species of animal has a prejudice or bias in favor of the interests of its own members and against the members of another species. Speciesism is to different animals as racism is to different races, that's kind of the basic notion of it.

Speciesism is a term that was introduced by English philosopher Richard Ryder and popularized by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. Let's see how this concept overlaps with environmental ethics.

Don't Worry About the Environment

One closely related topic to speciesism is the concept of anthropocentrism, which is the notion that humans are the most important entities in the universe and that we should view and interpret everything through the lens of human experience and not something else, like the experience of another animal or, say, nature in general. The prefix 'anthropo-' comes from the Greek for human being, by the way.

As a result, some philosophers have argued that the way we approach environmental ethics should be from this anthropocentric point of view. One argument used by some ethicists is that, at least in the Western religions, the Creation story of mankind has the notion of humans having dominion over all other living entities. This means we are superior to nature and can and should control it to our benefit. Nature is here to serve us, it is of value of us, and we should take advantage of it.

Other philosophers argue that the claims that Earth's resources are limited are overblown. They believe that massive population growth will not result in the wars and famines that so many people fear. With this thinking, we shouldn't fear taking advantage of the environment and its resources for our benefit. They base their beliefs not on religious dogma but on the belief that scientific studies are either exaggerated or that, in the future, technology will make up for any scarcity in resources. This means that we shouldn't worry about exploiting the environment right now.

Other anthropocentric environmental ethicists may not have such extreme views but still view environmental ethics through the human lens. For instance, they may argue that pollution is wrong solely on the basis that it will hurt other humans, not on the basis that it hurts nature or other animals.

Save the Environment

Of course, not everyone shares these viewpoints. Plenty of environmental ethicists argue that we need to conserve nature not just for our own sake but for that of nature and other animals.

Some argue that nature has an intrinsic value, separate from our interaction with it, and thus, it should not be exploited any more than another person (who also has an intrinsic value) should be. In other words, nature has value, and we need to preserve its rights like we would preserve the rights of another human. For instance, flowers may have an instrumental value, like a medical compound that can help humans avoid a disease. But some may argue that flowers may also have intrinsic value, as they have an interest of their own to grow, reproduce, and pass on their genes, just as people do.

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