What is anthropocentricism and ecocentrism?
In 1964, in what is in some sense the prehistory of environment criticism, Lynn White Jr. boldly suggested that “Christianity is the most anthropocentric religion that the world has seen.” In addition to containing an enormously influential ecocritical reevaluation – which has frequently been challenged as being overly simplistic – of Christianity, this statement also makes an important assumption: that anthropocentricism, which is an ethic that makes human interests central, is problematic. Following White and others, such as Aldo Leopold, many first-wave ecocritics found the notion of putting human concerns above those of other species worrisome. In response to anthropocentricism, they offered “ecocentrism” (closely related to “biocentrism”), which does not privilege the interests of any one species, such as human beings, over any other in the biosphere. Not surprisingly, many of these early ecocritics found “wilderness” particularly appealing (as did nature writers such as Thoreau), as these places were supposedly untouched by human concerns. This in part accounts for the preference that some early ecocritics had for wilderness over “spoiled” environments. However, the second wave has been more likely to accept the fact that human beings now inhabit much of the “natural” environment of our planet. This acceptance came largely concurrently with the growth of “restoration ecology,” which is the belief that human beings need to take an active role in both restoring and preserving our natural habitat. Consequently, many ecocritics today see the anthropocentricism/ecocentrism binary as overly simplistic, believing that the two are not always in conflict.