It is typically thought that those who support an anthropocentric set of values treat humans as the only species or beings with intrinsic value. Whereas nonanthropocentrists recognize that humans are the source of all value but they can designate such fundamental value to nonhuman objects. However, Bryan Norton argues that there are two different forms of anthropocentrism, strong and weak, and that the value system of strong anthropocentrism lacks any means by which to criticize actions of humans that are purely exploitative. He says, “Weak anthropocentrism, on the other hand, recognizes that felt preferences can be either rational or not… Hence, weak anthropocentrism provides a basis for criticism of value systems which are purely exploitative of nature.” What makes weak anthropocentrism an attractive position for environmentalists (rather than nonanthropocentrism) is that it doesn’t require any claims for the intrinsic values of nonhuman objects, which often are hard to explain and understand and easily scrutinized. Furthermore, it provides a framework for concern that goes beyond human interest and preferences. Norton also argues that for an environmental ethic to be successful it cannot be individualistic. He defines individualistic as being “the behavioral prohibitions embodied in them derive from the principle that actions ought not to harm other individuals unjustifiably.” His idea of individualism as applies to ethics and even more specifically, environmental ethics, appears to by synonymous the utilitarian greatest happiness principle.
I appreciate Norton’s argument but I’m not sure that I am fully convinced by his differentiation between week and strong anthropocentrism and the argument against needing to be nonanthropocentric. His argument appears to lean on Derek Parafit’s idea that “no system of ethics built exclusively upon adjudications of interests of present and future individuals can govern current decisions and their effects on future individuals because current environmental decisions determine what individuals will exist in the future.” While I understand and agree with the paradox, I find in terms of Norton’s argument that it is not comprehensive enough in scope. I think he focuses his argument a lot on our responsibility to our posterity but when applied to all other and larger issues in the environment that it may not hold up as well. Taking a stance of weak anthropocentrism may avoid having to take any radical or difficult to justify stances on issues such as the intrinsic moral standing on nonhuman objects but I don’t think that necessarily makes weak anthropocentrism the right choice or even a choice at all. He talks about “considered” vs. merely “felt” policies and how pollution, nuclear waste disposal and population control policies are all come from a reflection of “considered policies” rather than just “felt preferences” but I don’t understand how this necessarily leads to a “weak” anthropocentric non-individualistic world view or set of principles. Norton argues that if humans come to a sense of harmony with nature this will help to bring preferences in line with proper resource allocation without having to place intrinsic value in the nonhuman objects. I’m just not sure that in the real world this idea will ever come about. I don’t think, in practice, you can have one without the other. In order to feel the need to have proper and proportionate resource allocation you have to recognize that there is some intrinsic value in the objects that you are allocated the resources to or for otherwise you would leave them out.
Question: Could the weak anthropocentric view that Norton is describing here actually be the creation of new environmental ethic, which we talked about earlier?
 Ibid, 186.