Biocentrism trend, principles and criticisms

David Holt

The biocentrism is an ethical-philosophical theory that postulates that all living beings are deserving of respect for their intrinsic value as forms of life and have the right to exist and develop. 

The term biocentrism arises associated with the approaches of deep ecology, postulated by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973. Naess, in addition to raising respect for all living beings, postulated that human activity is obliged to cause the least possible damage to other species.

Figure 1. The man in the environment or the man with the environment? Source:

These Naess approaches are opposed to anthropocentrism, a philosophical conception that considers the human being as the center of all things and postulates that the interests and well-being of human beings should prevail over any other consideration..

Figure 2. Arne Naess, philosopher and father of Deep Ecology. Source: Vindheim [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or FAL ], from Wikimedia Commons

Article index

  • 1 Trends within biocentrism
    • 1.1 Radical biocentrism
    • 1.2 Moderate biocentrism
  • 2 Principles of deep ecology and biocentrism
    • 2.1 Darwinism according to Naess
    • 2.2 Principles of deep ecology
    • 2.3 The second version of deep ecology: Reformulated biocentrism
    • 2.4 Platform movement for the principles of deep ecology
  • 3 Criticisms of biocentrism
  • 4 Contemporary approaches to anthropocentrism and biocentrism
    • 4.1 Bryan Norton's approaches
    • 4.2 Ricardo Rozzi's approaches
    • 4.3 Rozzi versus Norton
  • 5 References

Trends within biocentrism

There are two tendencies within the followers of biocentrism: a radical and a moderate stance..

Radical biocentrism

Radical biocentrism postulates the moral equality of all living beings, so other living beings should never be used through an overvaluation of the human species over other species.

According to this trend, all living beings should be "treated morally", not causing them any harm, or underestimating their chances of existence and helping them to live well..

Moderate biocentrism

Moderate biocentrism regards all living beings as worthy of respect; proposes not to intentionally harm animals, since they "have high capacities and attributes", but distinguish a "purpose" for each species, which is defined by the human being.

According to this purpose, man is allowed to minimize damage to other species and the environment.

Principles of deep ecology and biocentrism

In the first version of deep ecology of 1973, Naess postulated seven principles based on respect for human and non-human life, which, according to him, distinguish the deep environmental movement from the predominant reformist superficial environmentalism.

Naess pointed out that the current environmental problem is of a philosophical and social nature; that reveals a deep crisis of man, his values, his culture, his mechanistic vision of nature and his industrial civilizing model.

He considered that the human species does not occupy a privileged, hegemonic place in the universe; that any living being is as worthy and deserving of respect, as man.

Darwinism according to Naess

Naess argued that Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest should be interpreted as the ability of all living beings to coexist, cooperate and evolve together and not as the right of the fittest to kill, exploit or extinguish the other..

Figure 3. The gaze of different animal species on our species. Source: Wanderlust2003 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Naess concluded that the only way to overcome the current environmental crisis is through a radical change in the cultural paradigm.

Principles of deep ecology

The principles of the original 1973 version of deep ecology are as follows:

  • Principle 1.- "Denial of the concept of man-in-the-environment and change to the idea of ​​man-with-the-environment", in order to overcome the artificial cultural separation and integrate the human being through vital relationships with the environment.
  • Principle 2.- “Biospheric egalitarianism” of all the constituent species of the Biosphere.
  • Principle 3. - "There is a human duty to strengthen biological diversity and symbiotic relationships between all living beings".
  • Principle 4.- "Denial of the existence of social classes as an express formality of inequality between human beings".
  • Principle 5.- "The need to fight against environmental pollution and the depletion of natural resources".
  • Principle 6.- "Acceptance of the complexity of environmental interrelations and their vulnerability to human action".
  • Principle 7.- "Promotion of local autonomy and decentralization in policies".

The Second Version of Deep Ecology: Reformulated Biocentrism

Since the mid-1970s, a group of thinkers and philosophers studied Naess's ideas was formed..

Philosophers such as the American Bill Deval, the Australians Warwick Fox and Freya Matheus, the Canadian Alan Drengson and the French Michel Serres, among others, debated the approaches to deep ecology and contributed their ideas to enrich it..

In 1984, Naess and the American philosopher George Sessions, reformulated the first version of deep ecology.

In this second version, Naess and Sessions deleted the original principles 4 and 7; eliminated the demand for local autonomy, decentralization and also the anti-class stance, considering that both aspects are not strictly within the competence of ecology.

Platform movement for the principles of deep ecology

Then came the call Platform Movement for the Principles of Deep Ecology, as an ecological proposal of eight principles mentioned below:

  • Principle 1.- “The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have a value in themselves. This value is independent of the usefulness for human objectives, of the non-human world ".
  • Principle 2.- "The richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the perception of these values ​​and are also values ​​in themselves".
  • Principle 3.- "Human beings do not have the right to reduce this wealth and diversity, except to satisfy their vital needs in a responsible and ethical way".
  • Principle 4.- “The flourishing of human life and culture is compatible with a substantial decline in the human population. The flowering of non-human life requires that descent ".
  • Principle 5.- “Current human interference in the non-human world is excessive and harmful. This situation continues to worsen with the current economic development model ".
  • Principle 6.- Everything previously stated in Principles 1 to 5, necessarily concludes in Principle 6 which postulates: "The need to change the policies of today's economic, technological and ideological structures".
  • Principle 7.- "Ideological change fundamentally requires appreciating the quality of life rather than aspiring to a higher and higher standard of living in economic matters".
  • Principle 8.- "All those who subscribe to the previous principles have the obligation, directly or indirectly, to try to carry out the necessary changes for their inclusion in the philosophical, moral, political and economic position of the current model".

Criticism of biocentrism

Critics of biocentrism include contemporary American philosopher and climatologist geologist Richard Watson..

Watson in a 1983 publication stated that the position of Naess and Sessions is neither egalitarian nor biocentric, as stated in Principle 3.

He also pointed out that the principles of radical biocentrism are not politically viable, since local autonomies and decentralization could lead to a state of anarchy. According to Watson, economic considerations for human survival make radical biocentrism completely unviable..

Watson concluded by pointing out that he is in favor of defending an ecological balance that is beneficial for human beings and for the entire biological community..

Contemporary approaches to anthropocentrism and biocentrism

Among the contemporary ecologists and philosophers who have addressed the philosophical problem of Biocentrism, are: Bryan Norton, American philosopher, recognized authority on environmental ethics, and Ricardo Rozzi, Chilean philosopher and ecologist, another intellectual recognized for his work on "biocultural ethics.".

Bryan Norton's approaches

In 1991, the philosopher Norton emphatically pointed out the complementarity between the two approaches, anthropocentrism and biocentrism. It has also called attention to the need for unity between the different positions and environmental groups, in a common goal: to protect the environment..

Norton pointed to biocentric egalitarianism as not viable, unless it is complemented by an anthropocentric stance aimed at the pursuit of human welfare. Finally, this philosopher raised the need to generate a new "ecological worldview" based on scientific knowledge..

Ricardo Rozzi's approaches

In a 1997 publication, Rozzi proposed an ethical-philosophical vision that transcends the approaches of anthropocentrism and biocentrism as antagonistic tendencies, to also integrate them in a new conception as complementary.

Figure 4. Ricardo Rozzi, philosopher and ecologist who investigates the area of ​​Deep Ecology. Source:

Rozzi took up the approaches of the ecologist Aldo Leopold (1949), the philosophers Lynn White (1967) and Baird Callicot (1989). In addition, it rescued the ideas proposed by Biocentrism, in the following considerations:

  • The existence of biological unity among all living beings, as members of ecosystems.

"Nature is not a material good that belongs exclusively to the human species, it is a community to which we belong", as expressed by Aldo Leopold.

  • The intrinsic value of biodiversity.
  • The coevolution of all species. There is a kinship between all species, both because of their common evolutionary origin and because of the relationships of interdependence that have developed over time..
  • There should not be a relationship of dominance and descent of the human being over nature, with the sole objective of exploiting it.

From the anthropocentric vision, Rozzi was based on the following premises:

  • The preservation of biodiversity and its value for human survival.
  • The need for a new relationship of humans with nature, not alienated or separate, but integrated.
  • The urgency to transcend the utilitarian conception of nature and its biodiversity.
  • The ethical transformation to acquire a new way of relating to nature.

Rozzi versus Norton

The philosopher and ecologist Rozzi, criticized two aspects of Norton's proposal:

  • Environmentalists and ecologists must not only adjust their projects to the demands of financing entities and the directives of environmental policies, but they must also work according to the change of their policies and criteria, and the generation of new political models. -environmental.
  • Rozzi criticized Norton's "scientific optimism", stating that the origins and development of modern Western science have been based on a utilitarian and economistic conception of nature..

Rozzi points out that a moral transformation is necessary to build a new way of relating to nature. This new approach to nature should not assign a hegemonic role to science, but should include art and spirituality.

In addition, it states that ecological valuation should not only study biological diversity but also cultural diversity; allowing biocentric and anthropocentric perspectives to coexist. All this without ignoring the serious environmental impact that humanity is causing.

In this way, Rozzi elaborated his approach where he integrated the philosophical positions Anthropocentrism and Biocentrism, proposing them as complementary and not opposite.


  1. Naess, Arne (1973). The shallow and the deep, long range ecology movement. A summary. Inquiry. 16 (1-4): 95-100.
  2. Naess, Arne (1984). A Defense of Deep Ecology Movement. Environmental Ethics. 6 (3): 265-270.
  3. Norton, Bryan (1991). Toward Unity among Environmentalists. New York: Oxford University Press.
  4. Taylor, Paul W. (1993). In defense of Biocentrism. Environmental Ethics. 5 (3): 237-243.
  5. Watson, Richard A. (1983). A critique of Anti-Anthropocentric Biocentrism. Environmental Ethics. 5 (3): 245-256.
  6. Rozzi, Ricardo (1997). Towards an overcoming of the Biocentrism-Anthropocentrism dichotomy. Environment and Development. September 1997. 2-11.

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