«ABSTRACT. This article has focused on the Aristotelian philosophy from which I have sketched some traits of biocentrism. Through the discussion, I ...»
IS ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHY ANTHROPOCENTRIC?
A BIOCENTRIC DEFENSE OF THE
ARISTOTELIAN PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE
A. S. M. Anwarullah BHUIYAN1
ABSTRACT. This article has focused on the Aristotelian philosophy from which I
have sketched some traits of biocentrism. Through the discussion, I have tried to
defend the view that the state of having life is central to biocentrism. As such, I have shown that Aristotle is one of the best instances of the biocentric outlook. In the context of contemporary environmental philosophy, the biocentric worldview has been accepted as a life-based notion. It rejects the view of anthropocentrism. In addition, Aristotle has made another contribution with regard to the processing of matter and the flow of life, which is based on evolutionary biological grounds. This article has also shown that we should choose to receive the Aristotelian concept of biocentrism.
KEYWORDS: anthropocentrism, autopoiesis, biocentrism, natural philosophy, substance, place and artifacts Contents Introduction
1. Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy
1.1 Pyramid of Natural Objects in Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy: Anthropocentrism or Biocentrism.
1.2 Is Aristotle Anthropocentrist?
1.3 Anthropocentrism and Natural Teleology: A Biocentric Defense
2. Aristotle’s Notion of Substance, Place, and Biocentrism
2.1. Substance and Artifacts are Conceptual Resources of Biocentrism
2.2. A Defense of the Aristotelian Biocentrism
3. Autopoiesis, Virtue Ethics and Biocentrism: Aristotle’s Relevancy Concluding remarks Professor, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka-1342, BANGLADESH.
Vol. 5, No. 2, BIOCOSMOLOGY – NEO-ARISTOTELISM Spring 2015 Introduction At the end of the materialistic age of Greek philosophy, social, ethical, and normative approaches had emerged seriously. The Sophist, Socratic, and Platonic schools had, to that date, been involved with social and moral discourses. At this time, Aristotle turned back to the materialistic school in addition to the social and moral focus. Moreover, most environmentalists have shown that Aristotle’s natural philosophy is an anthropocentric one. However, it needs to be examined whether the Aristotle’s notion could indeed be considered as anthropocentric. Different sections of this article will concentrate on how Aristotle perceived the life-centric view in his natural philosophy. The present article focuses on the relevant interpretations under two sub-groups. The first line of thought covers particular critical standpoints, leading to the argument as to whether Aristotle’s thought is either biocentric or anthropocentricin nature. On the other hand, it weighs Aristotle’s thought upward in the discussion. Critics, from various perspectives, may show Aristotle’s views as anthropocentrism. Various influential concepts of nature can be found in Aristotle’s works which are categorized into two streams: firstly, the hierarchy of species and natural objects, and secondly, Aristotle’s natural teleological view. This article will also defend Aristotle’s view which was not explicated by him as being in the anthropocentric gesture; rather, his philosophy of biological view is a consistent form of biocentrism.
1. Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy
1.1 Pyramid of Natural Objects in Aristotle’s Natural Philosophy:
Anthropocentrism or Biocentrism Before entering into the issue, this section pays an attention into the definition of anthropocentrism. According this theory, human being is considered as an important part of this world and natural world exists only to be subservient to human beings.
From the value perspective, it has been accepted that only human beings are the center of all values and all values originate from humans. All other beings, that is, non-human and objects, have value only in relation to human beings. It is to be mentioned here that most anthropocentrists explain value “by making reference to the satisfaction of subjective preference” (Silvi, 2005:4). They give “priorities the satisfaction of immediate human needs and desires, no matter how trivial” (Silvi, 2005 : 4). Under this value orientation, they assume that only human beings have intrinsic value and that the value of nature is an instrumental.
However, this theory has been criticized because of its human-centric inclination. Such intention of this theory simply be named an anti-environmentalists approaches. Baird Callicott (1995) also affirms with this view and argues that anthropocentrism “grants moral standing exclusively to human beings and considers non-human natural entities and nature as a whole to be only a means to humans’ ends.” (Callicott, 1995: 276). It implies that anthropocentrism is a conception that is inclined to make a dichotomy between humankind and the rest of the world. In that dichotomy, humankind’s position is above all other things and “…humankind is the only principal source of value or meaning in the world” (Eckersley, 1992: 51).
Vol. 5, No. 2, BIOCOSMOLOGY – NEO-ARISTOTELISM Spring 2015 Anthropocentrism is centered in binary opposition comprising two oppositions: man and nature. In addition, their relationship is hierarchical, from top to bottom. This duality reveals the up and down positions in the relationship among the realities and that it appears as exploitative. Therefore, dualism, as a source of the anthropocentric worldview, should be rejected as an exploitative.
On the contrary, biocentrism is a different from that of anthropocentrism. It focuses on “nature-centered living” and holds that human beings are inherently members of nature. All of the components of nature are integrated through the flow of life. However, biocentrism as a notion is opposite to anthropocentrism. Therefore, it does not permit to use other components of Nature for consumption of human beings; rather it considers non-human species as equally valuable in Nature. For example, we should protect natural beings or different species from extinctions.
However, this is clear to us that like other species or organisms, human beings are also an integral part of world life cycle.
A rigorous version of biocentrism can be found in Schweitzer’s (Schweitzer,
1987) modern versions of life. His notion of “reverence for life” is known as a most developed form of biocentrism. Paul Taylor’s (Taylor, 1986: 99–100) view is known as egalitarian biocentrism. It is biocentrism because it upholds that human are member of earth’s community of life as the other things are member of that community of life too. Even the survival of each member depends on its relations to other living organisms. It is egalitarian, because this notion holds that every living being has equal intrinsic value. It also agrees with the view that “[a]ll organisms have teleological centers of life in the sense that each is a unique individual pursuing its own good in its own way” (Taylor, 1986 : 100). Biocentric pluralism argues that life has different expression, and different expressions have different degrees of values. It also upholds that only human should not be treated as superior over the other living organisms. All organisms should be treated as equal overall to other living organisms.
Recently James Lovelock (1982) and Lawrence (2011) develop a new form of biocentrism. The term biocentrism is used in James E Lovelock’s book Gaia: a New Look at Life on Earth (Lovelock, 1982). He proposes a new formation of hypothesis which holds a view that living and non-living organisms of this earth are closely connected to form a “self-regulatory complex system” (Wikipedia, accessed 2014).
This regulatory process maintains the condition for life on the earth. The same urge already has been found in the Humberto Maturana’s notion of autopoiesis.2 It also indicates that the earth and its living organisms have an interacting process that has an inter-dependent relationship. For example, we can think about the life of bacteria E-coli, the life cannot be survived without getting the proper environment of their habitat.
Different expressions of biocentrism can be shown here through the following
Aristotle was pioneer of this notion. In his philosophy of natural philosophy, Aristotle holds a view that every living being has capacity to develop by its own self. This notion is known as autopoiesis.
The diagram gives us an impression that all living components of nature are equal having their intrinsic or inherent value and having values implies that they have a right to life. In that sense, biocentrism gives emphasis on biodiversity and it assumes the highest value for living organisms. As a notion, it also holds that all living organisms in the nature are centers of life.
However, as a notion biocentrism has lots of inner force that can be useful for saving the nature from dangerous anthropocentric worldview. Though, we cannot avoid the drawbacks of this notion. Firstly, human beings are treated from outside of natural process. In the same manner, a serious dichotomy between human beings and nature has drawn sharply. When biocentrists emphasize on “life” they consider it equally, but it requires to consider that the difference between “life of human beings” and “life of an ant” is important. In our daily life, while we are walking, ploughing a land, hundreds of worms, ants and various kinds of animal life are being killed. But, none of a human right activist or biocentrists ever claims that killing of “life” has occurred in agriculture which is one kind of massacre. As we attribute the term genocide for the killing of the mass people of Bangladesh in 1971, in Herzegovina, in the Second World War and recently in Iraq, we do not consider the killing as such. In the next sections, I will analysis whether Aristotle’s Philosophy of Nature is anthropocentric or biocentric in terms of the given definition.
1.2 Is Aristotle Anthropocentrist?
In case of Aristotle, according to the above mentioned traits of anthropocentrism some exponents of environmental philosophers blame his philosophy as an anthropocentric one. Now we can go through Aristotle’s philosophy of nature. He contends that everything is an object of concern due to the fact that it is good.
Regarding the principle of the hierarchy of things, it can be said that the lower objects systematically follow the higher things. Even within each of these categories, there is a hierarchy of objects with varying concerns. Now, let us look at the following
In the figure of the hierarchical pyramid, it appears that Aristotle specially favors human beings. He is of the view that all “animals exist for the sake of man … for the use he can make of them as well as for the food that they provide”. On the basis of this notion, some critics argue that the hierarchical pyramid of living beings as shown above manifests the self-serving nature of the pattern of ranking diversity. Only man is the ranker, who just happens to end up at the top of his own ranking. However, here there are certain questions which confuse the concept of the uniqueness of the superiority of human beings above others.
Regarding Aristotle’s hierarchical view, the following question needs to be considered: is it practical or possible to assign a degree of value to each object or being regarding their position in the hierarchy? If any critics claim that Aristotle attributes values to the natural objects according to their strength, it will not be wrong to think that the value of plants, the value of animals, and the value of human beings should not be the same or equal. In support of this claim, they may provide the philosophy of biology. Aristotle’s philosophy of biology claims that among the beings, the gradation could be found in the sense of their belongingness. We can follow the hierarchy of the soul along with its properties in the following table (on
Hierarchy of beings):
Due to his value and life hierarchy notions, Aristotle can be criticized as an anthropocentrist. In Table 1 shown above, we see that plants have reproductive as well as nutritive faculties. Animals also have sensation and movement. The term sensation means touch, and the term movement means growth, development, and change. If any plant does not possess nutrition, the act of accretion of life will no longer be sustained. Nutrition – the essence of life – includes body, primordial soul, and generative soul. Only the nutritive body is to be nourished and can be nourished.
After completion of nourishment, the body reproduces a similar thing. Thus, a soul becomes a generative soul as it can produce the same thing spontaneously.
Humans and those that resemble human beings have the faculty of appetite, sensitivity, and intellect: thinking and reason. Aristotle is of the opinion that things having such faculties should be treated as living organisms. In other words, life belongs to the living organisms which have the capacity to inherit these faculties and principles. Table 1 as shown above also indicates that organisms, insects, plants, animals, and human beings are living organisms and have the inheritance of faculties.
Regarding the inheritance of faculties, Aristotle places humanity above all other organisms. However, he agrees that the flow of life in terms of energy is not separate from that of other organisms. This view reveals the truth that every living organism has the capacity to possess a soul. A plant can possess a nutritive soul; an animal can possess a sentient soul; and a human being can possess intellect or the soul of reason.
Aristotle intends to make sense of this by providing the clarification that life is present in all living beings. However, the expression of the form of life may be different. Life is also formed with the essence and principle of locomotion, growth, alteration, nutrition, and touchable sensation.