The Great Chain of Being: Anthropocentrism

I am reading a book in which the authors set forth the evils of belief in “The Great Chain of Being.”

The Great Chain of Being is, in fact, firmly ingrained in our culture and spirits. It leads to certain grave errors that are commonly acknowledged but difficult for teachers to correct.

The first of these is Anthropocentrism, “the view that man is the measure of all things.”

That man is the measure of all things can apparently be traced back to Protagoras. Please read at least the opening section in this article.

Protagoras

Back to the book:

…the Great Chain of Being is a view that considers human uniqueness qualitatively superior to that of other organisms, an idea with no scientific value.

This coming from scientists. It made me laugh. Further, they extol the virtues of nominalism. But what is nominalism if not the view that man is the measure of all things?

Does anthropocentrism really arise from a belief in a Great Chain of Being? I think it arises from looking at nature.

What’s wrong with anthropocentrism? Nothing. Is it a grave error? No.

Isn’t it self-refuting to teach students that humans are nothing special, or for that matter, to teach them science? Yes.

Is recognition of qualitative differences of no scientific value? I’m skeptical.

66 thoughts on “The Great Chain of Being: Anthropocentrism

  1. Kantian Naturalist: Great Chain of Being is a view that considers human uniqueness qualitatively superior to that of other organisms,

    google says that quote is from The Tree of Life: A Phylogenetic Classification (pg 17, Introduction)
    By Guillaume Lecointre, Hervé Le Guyader

  2. Further, they extol the virtues of nominalism. But what is nominalism if not the view that man is the measure of all things?

    Nominalism is just the metaphysical view that there are only concrete particular things; neither abstracta nor general terms are real. It might have something to do with anthropocentrism, but that connection would need to be made explicit.

    Also, notice that the authors define anthropocentrism in terms of qualitative superiority, not in terms of qualitative difference. Recognition of qualitative difference is consistent with rejection of qualitative superiority.

  3. Richardthughes: Good post, Mung.

    I appreciate that. Thank you.

    One of the things I value about TSZ is the intersection it offers of views on science and philosophy.

  4. Kantian Naturalist: Also, notice that the authors define anthropocentrism in terms of qualitative superiority, not in terms of qualitative difference. Recognition of qualitative difference is consistent with rejection of qualitative superiority.

    In that book they go on to say that anthropomorphism influences us, when classifying organisms, to grade them based on what they lack:

    … the fishes are craniates without legs (who has legs? the tetrapods, which include humans); the reptiles are amniotes without hair (who has hair? the mammals, which include hiumans), etc.

    Which reminds me a bit of something I saw from my stepmother:
    A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

    It cannot need a bicycle, and it can’t possibly want one, either. Of what use are legs to a fish? It’s only our deeply ingrained self-bias (anthropomorphism) that leads us to imagine that fish are lacking something (compared to us).

    We could differentiate fishes from other classes of organism without implying that fish are somehow “less than” or “inferior” because of no legs.

  5. GlenDavidson: Not easy to use cats as the measure of all things, though, they being rather uncooperative.

    My cat cooperates just fine as long as I do what he wants. Also, if I fill his belly and give him a warm spot he is content to ignore me. Have you ever tried that with a woman?

  6. hotshoe_: In that book they go on to say that anthropomorphism [anthropocentrism] influences us, when classifying organisms, to grade them based on what they lack:..

    Yes, but that has to be a weak argument indeed against anthropocentrism.

    ..the influence of anthropocentrism helps to maintain grades in classification. The prokaryotes are cells without a nucleus…the invertebrates are metazoans without a backbone…the fishes are craniates without legs…the reptiles are amniotes without hair…

    All due, allegedly, to the fact that humans are composed of cells with a nucleus [enucleated cells aside], that humans have a backbone, that humans have legs, that humans have hair, etc.

    Is anyone willing to defend the thesis that these authors put forth, that our way of classifying these organisms was due to features that humans posses that these organisms lack? In other words, that our method of classifying these organisms was based on anthropocentrism?

  7. I think people who classify cats as meat robots, as someone once did, is doing so on the basis of something cats lack.

    I recall once making an unfortunate attribution regarding this.

  8. Mung: Feel free to critique my rather shallow opinion of nominalism. I was at the very least hoping to hear what you had to say about that.

    I usually say that I’m a fictionalist with respect to mathematical entities. But, technically speaking, that is considered a form of nominalism.

    Outside of mathematics, I’m neutral on nominalism. I don’t see it as important one way or another. However, your remarks about nominalism in the OP seem a tad confused, as KN has pointed out.

  9. Neil Rickert: However, your remarks about nominalism in the OP seem a tad confused, as KN has pointed out.

    But KN did not say that my remarks about nominalism are confused. What KN did say was that nominalism is a metaphysical view. So I find him to be in agreement with me that nominalism is anthropocentric. Man is the measure of all things.

  10. As I was taught these ideas (oh so long ago), anthropocentrism can be thought of as an epistemological position (the human mind constitutes the criteria of meaning and knowledge) and/or an ethical position (human beings have more ethical value than other kinds of beings).

    In neither case is there a neat and tidy relation with nominalism: the denial that general terms refer to entities that have a real existence independent of concrete particulars.

  11. Kantian Naturalist: In neither case is there a neat and tidy relation with nominalism: the denial that general terms refer to entities that have a real existence independent of concrete particulars.

    Nominalism is a uniquely human construct. It follows that nominalism is anthropocentric. To champion nominalism is to accept anthropocentrism.

    Whether anthropocentrism can be thought of as an epistemological position (the human mind constitutes the criteria of meaning and knowledge) or if anthropocentrism is an ethical position (human beings have more ethical value than other kinds of beings) hardly matters.

    If you are trying to support the claim by Neil that my remarks about nominalism in the OP seem a tad confused you could do better,

    In neither case is there a neat and tidy relation with nominalism: the denial that general terms refer to entities that have a real existence independent of concrete particulars.

    A uniquely human debate.

  12. Let’s think about this for a moment.

    What makes nominalism “a uniquely human construct” is that it’s a term we’ve invented for a view about the nature of reality. So too are realism and conceptualism and essentialism and everything else that use to talk about the nature of reality. Now it looks as though to champion any metaphysical position is to champion anthropocentrism. Thus there is no alternative to anthropocentrism.

    Is that a position you want to defend?

  13. Kantian Naturalist:
    Let’s think about this for a moment.

    What makes nominalism “a uniquely human construct” is that it’s a term we’ve invented for a view about the nature of reality. So too are realism and conceptualism and essentialism and everything else that use to talk about the nature of reality.Now it looks as though to champion any metaphysical position is to champion anthropocentrism. Thus there is no alternative to anthropocentrism.

    Is that a position you want to defend?

    Of course he defends that, just like since every experiment and every GA are designed, everything counts as evidence for design. Either Mung wins or you lose, take your pick. Meanwhile we need to rethink our phylogenetic classification: now that the Grand Theory of ID has determined that the bacterial flagellum is god’s special creation we need to classify everything based on what parts they spare that the flagellum doesn’t have

  14. Kantian Naturalist:
    Let’s think about this for a moment.

    What makes nominalism “a uniquely human construct” is that it’s a term we’ve invented for a view about the nature of reality. So too are realism and conceptualism and essentialism and everything else that use to talk about the nature of reality.Now it looks as though to champion any metaphysical position is to champion anthropocentrism. Thus there is no alternative to anthropocentrism.

    Is that a position you want to defend?

    You and mung have both gotten a little confused here, I think. I take his original posting on this matter to be correct with respect to the relation between anthropocentism and nominalism–not because, being a doctrine nominalism was created by human beings (as you point out, anti-nominalism is also a doctrine)–but because it’s explicitly a doctrine about NAMES. Nominalism is the view that the only things shared by one item and another are that they both fall under some general TERM. According to nominalism, particulars do not share any common, non-human-created properties. They can only be NOMINALLY alike. It takes languages to do that. Thus there does seem some tension between supporting nominalism and bashing anthropocentism.

    So I think mung was right until you confused him, KN.

  15. walto,

    But for all I know nominalism holds that those “names” are some arbitrary categorization and not really representative of the nature of the object being “named”. Those things would still be what they are whether we give them one name or another.
    I thinks there’s a huge difference between that and the claim that our mind is the criteria for meaning, that without us, stuff loses it’s meaning.

    What’s anthropocentric in claiming that names are just that, just our way of labeling and categorizing stuff?

  16. walto,

    I think I disagree. The implication only goes one way: if nominalism is true, then there is something “anthropocentric” about all of our conceptual frameworks. (Though this would need to be worked out very carefully.) But anthropocentrism is an implication only. If anthropocentrism is true, it doesn’t follow that nominalism is true (or false), that realism is true (or false), etc.

  17. walto: Nominalism is the view that the only things shared by one item and another are that they both fall under some general TERM.

    How about:

    Nominalism is the view that the only things shared by one item and another is that they both trigger the activation of the same neuron.

    Expressed that way, there’s no implicit assumption about language.

    My reaction to Mung’s comment was the same as KN’s. Namely, Mung implies that everything is anthropocentric because we use human terminology. That can’t be right, as it makes anthropocentrism itself no more than a name.

  18. Mung: “Does anthropocentrism really arise from a belief in a Great Chain of Being? I think it arises from looking at nature.”

    I think that both ideas are wrong. Anthropocentrism simply arises from the fact that we all live within our heads. If we were to be completely honest with ourselves, we don’t think that humans are the “measure of all things”, we think that each one of us is.

  19. Neil Rickert: How about:

    Nominalism is the view that the only things shared by one item and another is that they both trigger the activation of the same neuron.

    Expressed that way, there’s no implicit assumption about language.

    From SEP
    Nominalism comes in at least two varieties. In one of them it is the rejection of abstract objects; in the other it is the rejection of universals. Philosophers have often found it necessary to postulate either abstract objects or universals. And so Nominalism in one form or another has played a significant role in the metaphysical debate since at least the Middle Ages, when versions of the second variety of Nominalism were introduced. The two varieties of Nominalism are independent from each other and either can be consistently held without the other.

    On that definition, I don’t see much relation between nominalism and book’s expressed skepticism about the qualitative superiority of man as the measure of things.

    My reaction to Mung’s comment was the same as KN’s.Namely, Mung implies that everything is anthropocentric because we use human terminology.That can’t be right, as it makes anthropomorphism itself no more than a name.

    I think it would be better to try to relate anthropomorphism to the discussion of internal realiism you started some time ago. One could argue that internal realism implies that any depiction of reality by a human must be anthropomorphic in the sense that it would be categories/concepts/affordances important to humans that are used to depict reality.

    But the same would be true of the reality as “understood” by animals, to the extent at least that they have concepts/categories/affordances.

  20. Neil Rickert: Nominalism is the view that the only things shared by one item and another is that they both trigger the activation of the same neuron.

    Expressed that way, there’s no implicit assumption about language.

    I can see why you want to go this way, but I worry that that approach involves stretching the term beyond usefulness. Nominalism was a specific position within late medieval metaphysics of language — it was both a metaphysical position and an epistemological position and a semantic position.

    Nominalism holds that if there are only concrete particulars, then general terms are only labels for collections of concrete particulars. According to nominalists, lion refers to the collection of all concrete particular lions. By contrast, realists held that lion refers to the essence “lion-ness”, which is neither concrete nor particular, though it is exemplified by various concrete particular lions.

    Just for the sake of consistency, I would like to keep nominalism vs. realism vs. conceptualism at the level of language, and specifically about “the problem of universals”, and not translate those medieval debates into a contemporary picture of mindedness informed by neuroscience.

  21. BruceS: But the same would be true of the reality as “understood” by animals, to the extent at least that they have concepts/categories/affordances.

    Yes, I think so. One of the big issues I’m thinking through is how to understand what it is for something to be a conceptual framework in terms of ecology and evolution. Conceptual thinking is not anthropocentric but biocentric (or ecocentric).

    The difference between animal conceptual frameworks and human conceptual frameworks — based on what I’m thinking right now — is that in animal conceptual frameworks, concepts function solely as nodes in an inferential nexus that coordinates perception and action. So inferentially articulated conceptual meaning only has a perceptual-practical dimension. In human conceptual frameworks, there’s a supplementary or expanded dimension of inferentially articulated conceptual meaning, the socio-linguistic dimension. This dimension allows human beings to do something that animals can’t: we can correct and improve each others inferences. And we are able to do that because language (and other symbolic activities) are, in the first instance, ways of sharing conceptual contents.

    If non-linguistic animals are “cognitive islands” — semantically and epistemically isolated from each other — language makes possible isthmuses between cognitive agents so that we aren’t isolated.
    .
    This ability to correct and improve each others inferences — and correct and improve our own inferences, once the structures of dialogue have been internalized in what we call “critical thinking” — is what distinguishes the inferentially structured conceptual thinking of humans (or any sapient animal) from the inferentially structured conceptual thinking of non-linguistic animals.

    All this stuff is going to be worked out in my next book, which I hope to begin this summer.

    P.S. I’m very pleased to see that you’re back at TSZ!

  22. Mung: Is anyone willing to defend the thesis that these authors put forth, that our way of classifying these organisms was due to features that humans posses that these organisms lack? In other words, that our method of classifying these organisms was based on anthropocentrism?

    It sure seems to be true a lot of the time, given the examples that you can come up with. There are invertebrates, but why are there no inarthropods? Why is almost all attention in this group on animal evolution, when the vast majority of species are single-celled, with animals a tiny little corner of a not particularly large group of eukaryotes?

    Nice book, by the way. It gives a good description of the state of phylogenetic knowledge at the time it was written, with the odd exception of the chapter on birds.

  23. Kantian Naturalist: Yes, I think so. One of the big issues I’m thinking through is how to understand what it is for something to be a conceptual framework in terms of ecology and evolution. Conceptual thinking is not anthropocentric but biocentric (or ecocentric).

    All this stuff is going to be worked out in my next book, which I hope to begin this summer.

    Good luck with the book.
    Your research program seems to touch on topics in Hurford’s material, which I have been looking a (but not in a position to summarize yet):

    The Origins of Meaning (Oxford Studies in the Evolution of Language)

    P.S. I’m very pleased to see that you’re back at TSZ!

    I continue to read TSZ and I participate in the conversations that interest me and that I think I can contribute something productive and new to…

  24. BruceS: Speaking about meaning and neurons:

    I think it should be noted that several nonhuman species can “understand” and execute requests like “pass the salt.”

  25. Kantian Naturalist: Is that a position you want to defend?

    No. I was thinking silly thoughts. 🙂

    I think the point I was trying to make was that these classifications don’t really exist, other than in name only, which I think still leaves man as the measure of all things, or at least as the measure of phylogenetic systematics.

  26. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with humans thinking humans are special so long as we recognize this as a subjective view. The universe doesn’t give a damn about us…it cant give a damn about us. We can only be subjectively superior if there is some entity outside of humanity that judges us as superior. This is why all hard-core anthropocentrists are theists.

  27. The old phylogenies are clearly human biased with minor exceptions- humans are hairless rather than other primates being hairy.
    I think rank-free cladistics is pretty much without bias

  28. BruceS: I think it would be better to try to relate anthropomorphism to the discussion of internal realiism you started some time ago.

    I don’t see that as anthropcentric, perhaps because I take it that animals do something analogous.

    But the same would be true of the reality as “understood” by animals, to the extent at least that they have concepts/categories/affordances.

    Yes, I agree. Their relation to reality requires that they also have concepts, categories, etc.

    There is a distinction, but I don’t see it as particularly important. We have private categories, private concepts, etc. And other animals must have those for similar reasons. Their survival depends on it.

    We also have shared concepts and shared categories. Those are due to us being a social species. My suspicion is that other intensely social animals (prairie dogs, naked mole rats) must have something similar. I see it a mistake to credit the use of shared concepts to natural language. We should instead be looking at other social species to try to determine to what extent they also do this.

    I don’t think my view of realism as as anthropocentric as you suggest.

  29. Kantian Naturalist: According to nominalists, lion refers to the collection of all concrete particular lions. By contrast, realists held that lion refers to the essence “lion-ness”, which is neither concrete nor particular, though it is exemplified by various concrete particular lions.

    I’m a conventionalist. My view is that “lion” refers to whatever fits our conventions for applying the designation of “lion”.

    Whether our conventions can be said to pick out an essence, or whether they are just a way of naming our practices — that does not seem important. What matters is that our conventions are useful and reliable (in the sense that we can rely on them — it wouldn’t do if what our conventions pick out as a lion in the morning, they will instead pick out as a daisy in the afternoon).

    It’s in that sense that I see the argument between realism and nominalism as of little importance.

    Just for the sake of consistency, I would like to keep nominalism vs. realism vs. conceptualism at the level of language, and specifically about “the problem of universals”, and not translate those medieval debates into a contemporary picture of mindedness informed by neuroscience.

    I see philosophy as putting far too much emphasis on language, and missing the bigger picture. Language is about sharing with others. But we are able to contemplate reality independently of whether we can share that with others. So the starting point must be prior to language.

  30. Neil Rickert: I

    I don’t think my view of realism as as anthropocentric as you suggest.

    Hi Neil: Sorry for being unclear on this.

    I did not mean to attribute any such opinion to you.

    Instead, I was trying to suggest that a discussion of anthropomorphism would be more appropriate to the topic of your thread, and not to a discussion of nominalism.

    BruceS: Speaking about meaning and neurons:
    Embodied meaning in a neural theory of language (pdf)

    Thanks. Downloaded for future reading.

    That paper is fun and stimulating but rather extreme on the topic of embodied meaning, I think. Plus I suspect many philosophers of language would see that whole approach to meaning as not answering the questions the philosopher is interested in.

    But as a counter to any philosopher (not you KN!) who sees his or her work as independent of the science, I enjoyed this from a review of a recent book by the the philosopher Soames on meaning:

    Which brings me to the final problem with the book’s conception of meaning. While Soames claims to ground his notion of meaning in a realistic account of human cognition, he makes no use of the ample scientific knowledge that has accumulated about human cognition, and he seems utterly unaware of the truly revolutionary effect that a cognitive orientation has had on linguistic theory in the last several decades. Today’s cognitive linguistics radically re-conceives syntactic structure, leaving behind the traditional notions of subject and predicate in favor of more flexible ones, such as constructions and formal idioms (a good overview, for those unfamiliar with the relevant literature,can be found in: William Croft and D. Allan Cruse, Cognitive Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, 2004). Soames’ work is simply irrelevant to the issues it raises.

    The philosophical “armchair method” still has much to offer scientific inquiry by suggesting theoretical integrations of empirical findings, by questioning assumptions behind empirical work, by evaluating it, but surely not by ignoring it.

  31. Kantian Naturalist:
    walto,

    I think I disagree. The implication only goes one way: if nominalism is true, then there is something “anthropocentric” about all of our conceptual frameworks. (Though this would need to be worked out very carefully.) But anthropocentrism is an implication only. If anthropocentrism is true, it doesn’t follow that nominalism is true (or false), that realism is true (or false), etc.

    Right–the implication goes only this way–If nominalism is true, anthropocentrism is true. The problem for your claim is that it follows from that that, if anthtropocentrism is false, nominalism cannot be true. (Because p then q implies -q then -p, n’est pas?) So, as I said, Mung’s original post was correct. (Remember I said only that he’s USUALLY wrong. 🙂 )

    I do agree with you, though, that Neil’s “restatement” is far enough afield from the original meaning of the term that it probably shouldn’t be called “nominalism” in spite of its apparently shared anti-Platonic sentiment.

  32. Neil Rickert: I see philosophy as putting far too much emphasis on language, and missing the bigger picture. Language is about sharing with others. But we are able to contemplate reality independently of whether we can share that with others. So the starting point must be prior to language.

    In some sense, yes.

    On the one hand, I am skeptical of the idea that a mind that has never been acquired any language could contemplate reality in the sense that “we” do. Our contemplation of reality need not be expressed in language for it to involve parts of the brain that are transformed in the acquisition of language.

    On the other hand, I do think that the emphasis on language as the ground-floor of meaning in rerum natura is misplaced. Meaning or significance in rerum natura is more plausibly located in the flow of information from environment to animal and from sensory receptors to cortical and subcortical structures. Ecological psychology and cognitive neuroscience have much to add about the nature of meaning that linguistics or philosophy of language has largely ignored.

    Be that as it may: the medieval debate between nominalists and realists was a debate about the relation between language and reality, with specific focus on the semantics and ontology of universals. That’s just a claim about what was at stake in that debate at that time.

    From a contemporary neurophilosophical standpoint, one very well might say that the medieval debate only makes sense if one begins by asking the wrong questions.

  33. Kantian Naturalist,

    I agree with most of that.

    Be that as it may: the medieval debate between nominalists and realists was a debate about the relation between language and reality, with specific focus on the semantics and ontology of universals.

    Fair enough.

    On the relation of universals and individuals, I’m probably more skeptical of individuals. As I see it, there are only categories. But categories are not really universal. Your categories are likely different from my categories. What we think of as an individual is really just a small category.

    But then I probably have a non-standard view of categories. The traditional view seems to see a category as something like a set theoretic union. So “lion” names the union of the set containing leo, the set containing felix, etc. I see a category as more like an intersection. It is the intersection of what meets criterion 1, what meets criterion 2, etc.

    When I suggest that your categories are not the same as mine, I’m suggesting that there is no way that we can compare our criteria, so they likely disagree. But, as part of a community, we manage to adjust our private criteria so that the disagreement is small enough to not be noticed in most communication.

    From a contemporary neurophilosophical standpoint, one very well might say that the medieval debate only makes sense if one begins by asking the wrong questions.

    Yes, I’d agree with that.

  34. BruceS: That paper is fun and stimulating but rather extreme on the topic of embodied meaning, I think. Plus I suspect many philosophers of language would see that whole approach to meaning as not answering the questions the philosopher is interested in.

    I’m only part way through reading it. But perhaps I am even more extreme. The authors write about “core semantics of a word”, and I’m skeptical of that.

    I’m inclined to see meaning (semantics) as being derived from perception. That includes self-perception. The authors talk of motor activities, and I see those as giving rise to meaning via self-perception (proprioception).

    There’s no doubt that we have a richer semantic life because of language. But, it seems to me, this is mainly because the use of language enables us to partially share the perceptual experience of others.

  35. Mung:

    I think the point I was trying to make was that these classifications don’t really exist, other than in name only, which I think still leaves man as the measure of all things, or at least as the measure of phylogenetic systematics.

    hotshoe_:

    In that book they go on to say that anthropomorphism influences us, when classifying organisms, to grade them based on what they lack:

    … the fishes are craniates without legs (who has legs? the tetrapods, which include humans); the reptiles are amniotes without hair (who has hair? the mammals, which include hiumans), etc.

    I think that the passage must be complaining about groups such as “fishes” and “reptiles” that were in traditional classifications of the Mayr-Simpson era. They are not found in more recent classifications, which insist that all groups be monophyletic.

    I dispute that “cladistics” (in the sense of reconstructing phylogenies using shared derived states) depends on man as the measure of all things. Or even man and woman as the measure of all things.

    Do the authors, or any one here, really assert that when working on the phylogeny of mites, we check each character to see what state humans have?

    Absurd. You can do “cladistics” without ever considering what character states are present in humans. So no, nothing anthropocentric, nor any Great Chain of Being, is assumed by present-day reconstruction of phylogenies. The effect of them on classification is confined to a tendency to make groups older, the less they look like us. Thus the genus Drosophila is tens of millions of years old, while Homo is a lot younger.

  36. Thanks, Mung, for giving us another thought provoking, interesting thread.

    I agree with your remarks about anthropocentrism. I would say that it is an objective fact that regarding all organisms on the planet humans have a central place and that any extra-terrestrial alien observing the planet would come to the same conclusion. The only reason that there are so many who deny this observation is that it doesn’t sit well with the belief that nature is blind and has no direction.

    Humans have a far, far greater breadth of temporal and spacial awareness than any other organism on the planet. If a fleet of alien spacecraft suddenly appeared orbiting the earth humans would be the only creatures with any idea of what was going on. And, no doubt, it would not go unnoticed by the aliens that we were the only creatures paying any attention.

    Our creative abilities are so wide ranging that any alien observer could not fail to distinguish us from all other life forms on earth. Look at human artifacts in comparison with objects made by any other animal and what do you see? Individual animals or groups of animal are skilllful at making very specialised objects but they are not inventive in the way that humans are.

    What other creature knows and understands that life is evolving? We know this and also know that we can seriously affect the direction that it takes. All other organisms live within nature and show no desire to act against it. Humans are not content with what nature has given them and are the only organisms which attempt to improve on it. We try to separate ourselves from it.

  37. CharlieM: All other organisms live within nature and show no desire to act against it. Humans are not content with what nature has given them and are the only organisms which attempt to improve on it. We try to separate ourselves from it.

    Firstly, that is not actually true of human beings in general. If you look closely at the indigenous cultures of the Americas, Africa, and Australia, one sees a very different picture of the culture-nature relationship. One should not mistake Western civilization for humanity.

    Secondly, the ideology at work in Western civilization that encourages us to regard ourselves as separate from nature is a major source of environmental destruction and our collective failure to do anything about it.

    Thirdly, any extraterrestrial visitors may well conclude that Western civilization is a plague or parasite on the Earth’s ecosystems. We should not assume that extraterrestrials would share our massively inflated sense of how important we are.

  38. Kantian Naturalist: Firstly, that is not actually true of human beings in general. If you look closely at the indigenous cultures of the Americas, Africa, and Australia, one sees a very different picture of the culture-nature relationship. One should not mistake Western civilization for humanity.

    How do you see the future for these indigenous cultures? Do you think that they are going to remain unaffected by Western civilization? Look at past trends.

    Are you saying that these indigenous people do not have the same potential awareness and inventive creativity as your average Westerner?

    Secondly, the ideology at work in Western civilization that encourages us to regard ourselves as separate from nature is a major source of environmental destruction and our collective failure to do anything about it.

    Why would you think that our general selfishness would decline just because our awareness and inventiveness increased? Surely you agree that smart bombs are a very clever invention the complexity of which is unachievable by any animal.

    Thirdly, any extraterrestrial visitors may well conclude that Western civilization is a plague or parasite on the Earth’s ecosystems. We should not assume that extraterrestrials would share our massively inflated sense of how important we are.

    Yet again you are equating “important for the future of the planet” with “beneficial to the future of the planet”. Why?

  39. Kantian Naturalist,

    Secondly, the ideology at work in Western civilization that encourages us to regard ourselves as separate from nature is a major source of environmental destruction and our collective failure to do anything about it.

    This.

    It’s interesting that the viewpoint that nothing be allowed to stand in the way of ‘growth’ goes pretty much hand-in-hand with the ‘people are God’s special little flowers’ school of thought. Somehow, He will provide if we screw it up.

  40. Allan Miller:
    Kantian Naturalist,

    This.

    It’s interesting that the viewpoint that nothing be allowed to stand in the way of ‘growth’ goes pretty much hand-in-hand with the ‘people are God’s special little flowers’ school of thought. Somehow, He will provide if we screw it up.

    Can you substantiate that generalisation?

  41. CharlieM: Can you substantiate that generalisation?

    “Eliason: Senator, we’re going to talk about your book for a minute, you state in your book which by the way is called The Greatest Hoax, you state in your book that one of your favorite Bible verses, Genesis 8:22, ‘while the earth remaineth seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease,’ what is the significance of these verses to this issue?

    Inhofe: Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in there is that ‘as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,’ my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

  42. Kantian Naturalist: Firstly, that is not actually true of human beings in general. If you look closely at the indigenous cultures of the Americas, Africa, and Australia, one sees a very different picture of the culture-nature relationship. One should not mistake Western civilization for humanity.

    Do you see a real difference in practice? Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, all living in harmony with nature? Or not?

    Seems to me that many of the non-civilized American cultures also used fire to keep back forests, and pretty much hunted many animals out where they were able to do so. Hostilities that made no-man’s-lands provided “hotspots” of animal abundance, but that was no matter of the balance of nature, but more a balance of power.

    Did American natives adopt the bow and arrow a millenium ago more or less according to their own interests, or did they make considered decisions that their environments would be sustainable using more lethal weaponry?

    That others look at nature differently is true, but I fail to recognize any real difference in how they actually treated nature, apart from from their technologic limitations.

    Secondly, the ideology at work in Western civilization that encourages us to regard ourselves as separate from nature is a major source of environmental destruction and our collective failure to do anything about it.

    Is it? I’d like to see that one fleshed out as science, rather than stated as some political belief. That Western civilization has been more capable of exploitation/destruction for much recent time seems apparent, but that there’s anything else really going on isn’t clear.

    Thirdly, any extraterrestrial visitors may well conclude that Western civilization is a plague or parasite on the Earth’s ecosystems.

    So they made spaceships that can cross interstellar distances, but they have lived in harmony with nature? I’ll grant that they might be hypocritical enough to think that others doing what they’ve almost certainly done (at least in the past) constitutes a plague or a parasite, but why should that matter to us?

    We should not assume that extraterrestrials would share our massively inflated sense of how important we are.

    Um, what massively inflated sense of how important we are?

    That they almost certainly should recognize considerable similarities to ourselves is another matter, whether they hypocritically fault us for it and decide that it’s a moral reason for their own exploitation, or if they simply accept what one could call our natural propensity for exploitation when and where it’s possible.

    Glen Davidson

  43. GlenDavidson: That Western civilization has been more capable of exploitation/destruction for much recent time seems apparent, but that there’s anything else really going on isn’t clear.

    Agreed. I would chalk it up to a gradual replacement of survival with personal comfort as a human instinctual priority with no corresponding adjustment to our rate of reproduction or resource consumption.

    I’ll grant that they might be hypocritical enough to think that others doing what they’ve almost certainly done (at least in the past) constitutes a plague or a parasite…

    Sounds like a slogan for dissent from environmental legislation by developing nations.

    Um, what massively inflated sense of how important we are?

    I would be inclined to agree with KN in that, whether it is explicitly stated or simply implicit in our actions, we place ourselves well above the other flora and fauna of our planet. Wouldn’t it seem insincere to assert that consciousness (regardless of its specific definition) doesn’t give us a certain amount of inherent intellectual arrogance. That we have taken time here to comment on abstract philosophical constructs is evidence in and of itself of the importance we place upon our ideas.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.