Wednesday, December 13, 2006


A discussion of the previous post on ideas raised the issue of anthrocentrism or anthropocentrism. A Google search for anthrocentric turned up this on a page of "logical fallacies" from Philosophical
anthrocentric (human-centered) fallacy — This one isn't found in standard texts, but was described by John Stuart Mill in System of Logic. Consider the example of a preacher who one day takes someone supposedly possessed of a demon, throws his hand on her forehead, and shouts, "Get out! Leave this body!" Even supposing that demons exist, one might find it curious that they understand English, obey peremptory commands, and are easily influenced by incantations and rituals. The a.f. here occurs at the presupposition level: human language, reason, instincts, and desires are assumed to be the orbit around which everything else in the universe (including the aforementioned demons) revolve.
I think that's quite right.

The nicest definition of anthropocentrism I came across is this one from a call for papers for a 2002 conference called Beyond Anthropocentrism.
Anthropocentrism … a view or doctrine that regards humankind as the central fact of the universe to which all surrounding facts have reference (OED).
Certainly the two most widely understood cases in which humanity has had to back away from our (built-in and understandable) anthropocentrism are the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. The universe does not revolve around us astronomically, and we are not unrelated to the other species on earth.

Anthropocentrism is, in my view, a very understandable error. It seems to me that we can't help but be anthropocentric. Each of us necessarily sees the world from the perspective of our own existence. We have no other choice; we have to understand the universe as it relates to us and as we relate to it. As the Philosophical Society entry pointed out, anthropocentrism occurs at the presupposition level: that the human perspective is central to everything else.

And, in fact, it is. We think only because it is we who are thinking. Our existence is "the central fact of the universe to which all surrounding facts have reference" — at least to the extent that having reference is understood to mean having a meaning about which we can think. If we didn't exist, we couldn't think.

The challenge this poses for us is to become aware of how we tend naturally to include this presupposition in our thinking unless we become aware enough of it to factor it out. Our (implicit or explicit) belief that our ideas frame reality is simply another example of our failure to disengage ourselves sufficiently from our own thoughts. When we let go of that notion we will have taken another step in the de-anthropomorphising of our relationship with nature. Of course since it is our relationship with nature, it can't ever be completely de-anthropomorphised.

1 comment:

Sancha said...

Go, canocentrism!