Volume 21, Issue 4, Winter 1999
A Pragmatic Reconsideration of Anthropocentrism
For much of its brief history, the field of environmental ethics has been critical of anthropocentrism. I here undertake a pragmatic reconsideration of anthropocentrism. In the first part of this essay, I explain what a pragmatic reconsideration of anthropocentrism means. I differentiate two distinct pragmatic strategies, one substantive and one methodological, and I adopt methodological pragmatism as my guiding principle. In the second part of this essay, I examine a case study of environmental policy—the problem of beach replenishment on Fire Island, New York—as a pragmatic test of anthropocentrism. I conclude that the debate between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism needs to be expressed in non-absolutist terms, i.e., in a language that permits compromise, flexibility, and a pluralism of values. The
choice between anthropocentrism and nonanthropocentrism as the basis of both environmental policy and environmental ethics is highly contextual and thus requires a subtle examination of the concrete policy situation.