The anthropocentric–eccentric dualism is a key conceptual distinction in environmental philosophy.2 For many observers and activists, an acceptance of a non-anthropocentric perspective is the litmus test for being green; it is what distinguishes ecologist from other political ideologies (Eckersley 1992). It will be argued below, however, that the attempt to draw a sharp conceptual distinction between anthropocentrism and egocentrism is at best misguided, at worst, untenable.
For now, it is sufficient to note that this simple twofold typology fails to capture the rich complexity and variation within environmental philosophy. Several commentators have found it helpful to distinguish an intermediate area of environmental concern located between the two poles of shallow (anthropocentric) and deep (eccentric) environmental ethics (Vincent 1993; Sylvan and Bennett 1994). The threefold typology outlined in Box 2.3 categorizes the different approaches within environmental ethics. A major concern in environmental ethics has been to construct a green, or environmental, theory of value, based on a concern for the whole environment, not just individual parts of it. A ‘theory of value’, as Godin (1992)
First, what are the implications of showing that nature, or parts of nature (e.g. animals or plants), possesses intrinsic or inherent value? Greens hope it will encourage us to change our behavior towards nature, but others might say that it means nothing: just because nature has value does not imply that someone has a moral duty to behave towards it in certain ways. These different interpretations point to two distinct questions which are often run together in the literature:
one is a philosophical question about the kind of value that inheres in nature; the other is a more political question about how to motivate people to act on the recognition of that value. It is often difficult to maintain the distinction between the two questions, but this chapter focuses on the former, although the latter issue will also be discussed, especially in the conclusion. Secondly, some writers argue that if, say, animals do have intrinsic or inherent value, then they also have interests (perhaps in living a full life?) or, stronger still, that they possess certain rights (a right to life?).
They then try to show that the possession of interests or rights creates obligations or duties concerning the way we should behave towards animals. However, there is a tendency to make some big jumps here. Consequently, in assessing such claims, it is important to distinguish between the possession of interests or rights and the existence of duties. Just because a chimpanzee might have an interest in living a full life does not necessarily mean that I have a duty to ensure that it can flourish. Similarly, I might concede that a chimpanzee has a right to life but deny that this right gives me an obligation to do all in my power to protect it.
Conversely, I might deny that the chimpanzee has a right to life yet still acknowledge that I have duties to it (not to treat it cruelly?). In short, there is no necessary symmetry between rights and duties