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Anthropocentrism and Human Exceptionalism

Discuss About The Medieval Philosophers Contemplate Heavenly.

What is meant by the term ‘human exceptionalism’? To what extent is it useful in understanding the form and effects of the Anthropocene, and how can a post-humanist approach to contemporary ecologies provide a better alternative?

Anthropocentrism can be defined as the belief that the most important body of the universe is the human beings. The world is interpreted or regarded by anthropocentrism in terms of human experiences or values (Crist & Kopnina, 2014). The term anthropocentrism is sometimes also interchanged with humanocentrism and the concept is also referred to as human exceptionalism or human supremacy. Anthropocentrism is embedded in many conscious acts and modern human cultures (Kirksey & Helmreich, 2010). It is considered to be a major concept in the area of environmental philosophy and environmental ethics where it is regarded as the main reason behind the problems that are created by actions of the humans within the ecosphere (Quinn, Castera & Clement, 2016).  


Human exceptionalism can be referred to as a belief that humans are importantly or categorically different from all the other animals. It is a term used for describing the unique nature of a man from both the sides. On one hand, humans possess unique values and rights. On the other hand, human exceptionalism appeals towards the unique capacity of humans for moral agency. This means that human beings also have certain set of duties which are required to be fulfilled by them (Remme & Sillander, 2017). Such duties are towards other humans, their prosperity, to treat environment in a responsible manner and to leave a verdant world for the upcoming generations. It is also the duty of the humans to treat the animals humanely (Srinivasan & Kasturirangan, 2016).  

Humanity is seen by human exceptionalism as exceptional in both the cases, firstly that humanity has surpassed through a tough evolution process. Humans are positioned by human exceptionalism as central as a result of their unique communication abilities and other abilities that allows humans to inherit and think abstractly. The humans also have the ability to make cultural transmission by way of disseminating knowledge relating to culture inter and trans- generationally. Secondly, it is claimed by human exceptionalism that humanity including nature and human values are qualitatively dialectical to that possessed by other species as they are claimed to have lack of critical sentience and lack of consciousness (Salisbury, 2014).  

Human Uniqueness and Moral Duties

The phenomenon of the supremacy of humans is described by the term human exceptionalism. Uniqueness is suggested by exceptionalism. Human uniqueness is downplayed by various animal rights arguments for the purpose of boosting the moral position of non- humans. The realness and significance of the human uniqueness is countered by exceptionalism.  Superiority is not meant by exceptionalism but it is intended by its proponents in that way. Human exceptionalism is a topic of serious critique just like anthropocentrism which enables to view the world with the help of human- tinted glasses. With the passage of time, humans are becoming less exceptional and therefore, serious steps are required to be taken   for the purpose of reducing the total sufferings of the animals in the world (Chapron, Levrel, Meinard & Courchamp, 2018).

The Anthropocene is an epoch starting from the commencement of impact of the humans on the ecosystems and earth’s geology (Robbins & Moore, 2013). Anthropogenic climate is included in Anthropocene but it is not limited to it.  The term is still not officially approved as a recognized subdivision of geological time by International Union of Geological Sciences or International Commission on Stratigraphy. However, the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA) has voted for the purpose of formally designating the epoch Anthropocene and has also referred it to the International Geological Congress (Steffen, Broadgate, Deutsch, Gaffney & Ludwig, 2015).

Human exceptionalism plays a great role in understanding the forms and effects of Anthropocene.  Human exceptionalism allows recognizing that human activities leave an impact on the environment which is different from the impact left by the animals. The human or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes brought to biodiversity, biophysical environments, ecosystems and natural resources. Such changes are caused by humans either directly or indirectly including environmental degradation, global warming, biodiversity loss and mass extinction, ecological collapse and ecological crisis. The environment is being continuously modified for the purpose of meeting the ever- changing needs of the society.  Such modification is resulting in causing bad effects which is further becoming worse due to the problem of human overpopulation.  Some damage causing human activities are overconsumption, human reproduction, pollution, overexploitation, deforestation, etc. such activities result in causing damage to the environment all across the globe (Lewis & Maslin, 2015).


If the exceptional role of humans is understood in the form of humanism in a positive sense of enacting progressing revolution in the world, the importance of humans in Anthropocene lies in diverse and deteriorating revolution of the geological earth and not of the cultural world. Such ending of the culture/ nature is also the end of the disciplinary divide among the natural and human sciences (Allen, Breshears & McDowell, 2015). This is due to the fact that moral issues cannot be further disconnected from the nature.  For the purpose of resolving Anthropocene, the collaboration of scholars is required from a number of disciplines that address both value and scale. This also requires the measurement of the acidification of the oceans and the o- zone. The ecological soundness of the economic and political practices are also required to be revised along with the revision of ideologies, establishment of a new understanding of the cooperative co- determination of several forms of life including humans. The education of the species is also required regarding their newly found responsibilities for both   the non- human earth and the human world.

Human Exceptionalism and The Anthropocene

The current geological epoch is termed as homogenocene in which ecosystems and biogeography appear to be similar across the globe due to the existence of invasive species and the biodiversity is diminishing. He forms of biodiversity are being impacted by the humans and are considered to be among the primary qualities of Anthropocene. Earth’s sixth major extinction has been entered into by the humankind. Species extinction rate have also been accelerated by the human activities. The biodiversity of the planet is expected to continue growing at an exponential rate without human impacts. Human influence has also brought permanent changes in the organism distribution and is expected to become recognizable in the geological record. Some researchers have also identified that movement of the species in cold regions are at faster rates than what was initially expected. This occurrence is the result of change in climate and the global travel leading to the accidental introduction of non- native species to different areas (West, Igoe & Brockington, 2006). During the past 2000 years, the entire ecosystem of the Black Sea have altered due to silica and nutrient input from corroding deforested lands across the Danube River.

Human exceptionalism assists in understanding that such changes caused to the environment by the humans is the result of beings different from the animals. The activities of the humans have caused drastic impact on the environment. Now, it is the duty of the humans to fulfill their duty of treating the environment in responsible manner and preserving it for the future generations. This is due to the fact that the resources are limited and will get exhausted in the near future.  

Post-humanist approach to contemporary ecologies provide a better alternative as it sees the discourse of non- human/ human functioning as a manner of interpreting and constructing nature simultaneously. The nature is witnessed by this binary in the form of a space the existence of which is separate from the entire humankind which allows self- generative and self- referential worldview which favors humanity.  Human exceptionalism is the basis that provides that humanity itself is not temporal and spatial network of interspecies dependencies (Thweatt- Bates, 2016).  

The alternative post humanism approach acknowledges the non- humanness of humanity as the focus.  Nature, in case of post- humanism approach, is not classified into a dialectic which requires its own exploitation but its exploitation is the result of anthropocentric ideology. Such anthropocentric ideologies make the selection of specific area of nature for exploitation and then collude against an interconnected and vast web of intra and inter- dependent relations within a number of ecosystems (Englehardt & Rieger, 2017).   

The Impact of Human Activities on the Environment

The emergence of post- humanism is in the form of theoretical framework that guides the questioning of human. From this perspective, humanist discourse functions in the manner in which constructing and interpreting of the nature can be performed simultaneously (Sandu & Vlad, 2018). Anthropocentrism is regarded by post humanism and ecocriticism as the discourse due to which systematic destruction is enabled of the water, air, land and atmosphere of the planet along with the cruelty and exploitation towards the non- human animals. Due to the fact that human issues are taken up by post humanism and ecocriticism, critical examination is faced by anthropocentrism on practical and ethical grounds across a number of disciplines including environmental and scientific studies (Holbraad & Pedersen, 2017).


The binary of non- human and human are problematized as a result of questioning of the human in case of post humanism. The main purpose is the deconstruction of the conceptual divide between non- human and human is for encouraging an acknowledgement of diversity that consents with the existence of mutual connection between the species and respects the difference (Rutherford, Thorpe & Sandberg, 2016).  The post humanist approach does not witness the relationship between non- human and human as belonging to a strict dialectic in which there is expected exploitation. The exploitation is also prescribed by the hierarchy of non- human/ human and acknowledges that all species are interconnected. The approach also respects multiplicity of nonhumanness and diversity (Friese & Nuyts, 2017).

Cartography of plurality is projected by post humanism so that non- humanity is accepted as the most important quality that symbolizes all the life that is present on this Earth. Therefore, the concept inverts the human exceptionalism by making a claim of non- human supremacy as each and every existence is associated through interrelated matrices of reliance which are detached by the binaries of dialectics and difference (Cudworth, Hobden & Kavalski, 2017).

Post humanist theory can also be elaborated as a deconstructive project determined for the overcoming the anthropocentrism existing in modern humanism. The development of such anthropocentrism was witnessed during European edification (Moore, 2016). By way of bringing the social and natural sciences together, the debate of Anthropocene challenges anthropology and its researchers for rethinking the status and place of humans in the world (Rock, Degeling & Blue, 2014). The implication of post human world is not regarding the abandonment of the principle subject of anthropology but it is about re- situating the humans in rationality of associations. For this purpose, the shared world is required to be recognized in which both non- humans and humans, objects, machines and information and dynamically interacting and mutually constituting within the systems that ae full of complexity. Systems and post human thinking therefore has become advanced towards the non- dualistic understanding of radical and diversity interdependency. This does not mean that all the things are equal, rather it means that there should be differentiation between the entities within a unity. The relational ecology cannot be ignored in the fight for co- presence in the Anthropocene. The post human perspectives provide anthropology with a way with the help of which traditional anthropocentric bias can be addressed (Smart & Smart, 2017).

The Need for a Post-Humanist Approach


Therefore, it can be concluded that anthropocentrism is based on the faith that the human beings constitute the most significant body of this universe. The term anthropocentrism is sometimes also interchanged with humanocentrism and the concept is also referred to as human exceptionalism or human supremacy. Human exceptionalism can be defined as the belief that humans are different from the animals and other species. In other words, the phenomenon of the supremacy of humans is described by the term human exceptionalism. An important role is played by human exceptionalism in providing an understanding of the forms and effects of Anthropocene. Post-humanist approach to contemporary ecologies provide a better alternative as it sees the discourse of non- human/ human functioning as a manner of interpreting and constructing nature simultaneously. The approach has been emerged as the theoretical framework that was determined to overcome the anthropocentrism existing in modern humanism. The deconstruction of the division between non- humans and humans is due to the objective of boosting an acknowledgement of multiplicity that accords with the presence of mutual association between the species and respects the difference. Anthropology is provided with a way for addressing the traditional anthropocentric bias through post human perspectives.

References

Allen, C.D., Breshears, D.D. and McDowell, N.G., 2015. On underestimation of global vulnerability to tree mortality and forest die?off from hotter drought in the Anthropocene. Ecosphere, 6(8), pp.1-55.

Chapron, G., Levrel, H., Meinard, Y. and Courchamp, F., 2018. A final warning to planet Earth. Trends in ecology & evolution.

Crist, E. and Kopnina, H., 2014. Unsettling anthropocentrism. Dialectical Anthropology, 38(4), pp.387-396.

Cudworth, E., Hobden, S. and Kavalski, E. 2017. Posthuman Dialogues in International Relations. Routledge.

Englehardt, J. and Rieger, I. 2017. These" thin partitions": bridging the growing divide between cultural anthropology and archaeology. University Press of Colorado.

Friese, C. and Nuyts, N., 2017. Posthumanist critique and human health: how nonhumans (could) figure in public health research. Critical Public Health, 27(3), pp.303-313.

Holbraad, M. and Pedersen, M.A., 2017. The ontological turn: an anthropological exposition. Cambridge University Press.

Kirksey, S. and Helmreich, S., 2010. The emergence of multispecies ethnography. Cultural anthropology, 25(4), pp.545-576.

Lewis, S.L. and Maslin, M.A., 2015. Defining the anthropocene. Nature, 519(7542), p.171.

Moore, A., 2016. Anthropocene anthropology: reconceptualizing contemporary global change. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 22(1), pp.27-46.

Quinn, F., Castéra, J. and Clément, P., 2016. Teachers’ conceptions of the environment: Anthropocentrism, non-anthropocentrism, anthropomorphism and the place of nature. Environmental Education Research, 22(6), pp.893-917.

Remme, J.H.Z. and Sillander, K. 2017. Human Nature and Social Life: Perspectives on Extended Sociality. Cambridge University Press.

Robbins, P. and Moore, S.A., 2013. Ecological anxiety disorder: diagnosing the politics of the Anthropocene. cultural geographies, 20(1), pp.3-19.

Rock, M.J., Degeling, C. and Blue, G., 2014. Toward stronger theory in critical public health: Insights from debates surrounding posthumanism. Critical Public Health, 24(3), pp.337-348.

Rutherford, S., Thorpe, J. and Sandberg, L.A., 2016. Introduction: Methodological challenges. In Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research (pp. 21-30). Routledge.

Salisbury, J.E., 2014. Do Animals Go to Heaven? Medieval Philosophers Contemplate Heavenly Human Exceptionalism. Journal of Humanities & arts, 1(1), pp.79-85.

Sandu, A. and Vlad, L., 2018. Beyond Technological Singularity-the Posthuman Condition. Postmodern Openings/Deschideri Postmoderne, 9(1).

Smart, A. and Smart, J., 2017. Posthumanism: Anthropological Insights. University of Toronto Press.

Srinivasan, K. and Kasturirangan, R., 2016. Political ecology, development, and human exceptionalism. Geoforum, 75, pp.125-128.

Steffen, W., Broadgate, W., Deutsch, L., Gaffney, O. and Ludwig, C., 2015. The trajectory of the Anthropocene: the great acceleration. The Anthropocene Review, 2(1), pp.81-98.

Thweatt-Bates, J., 2016. Cyborg selves: A theological anthropology of the posthuman. Routledge.

West, P., Igoe, J. and Brockington, D., 2006. Parks and peoples: the social impact of protected areas. Annu. Rev. Anthropol., 35, pp.251-277.

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