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Type: Ethical Concepts

Anthropocentrism

A way of looking at the world with humans at the center.  This can refer to:

– Whether humans are the only creatures other humans have moral obligations to at all (strong anthropocentrism).

– Seeing humans as automatically the most important, so that the needs of animals never trump the needs of humans, even if the animals are suffering more than the humans are (weak anthropocentrism).

– Concepts of the good, wherein we place a value on other species, or individuals within that species, only in terms of their interest or usefulness to humans.

– Concepts of the good, where species are seen as morally important depending on how similar they are to humans.

Anthropomorphism

In dog behavior, anthropomorphism refers to the assumption that dogs understand the world in the same way as humans, and therefore that the way we would describe a human’s response to a particular situation is also an appropriate and adequate way to explain the way a dog behaves.  Anthropomorphism can extend to one area of dog behavior, or as a general term to describe a whole approach to understanding dogs.

Many dog behaviorists agree that there is a role for anthropomorphism in dog behavior, because using this kind of language supports the idea that dogs and humans share many abilities, emotions and desires.  This similarity is borne out in research, although researchers themselves tend to agree that anthropomorphism can be a problem in research.

However, anthropomorphism can be a problem when it is not used carefully, because it can overstate the abilities of dogs in such a way that they seem to be more responsible for their actions – and therefore more deserving of punishment – than they really are.  For example, claiming that a dog steals food from the counter-top “out of spite” suggests a deliberate choice to act on a malicious motive, which can harm the dog-owner relationship.


References

Bekoff, M. & A. Horowitz (2007) Naturalizing Anthropomorphism: Behavioral Prompts to our Humanizing of Animals. Anthrozöos 20(1), pp.23-35.

Kennedy, J. S. (1992) The New Anthropomorphism. Cambridge University Press.

 

Sentiocentrism

A way of looking at the world, in which only animals with sentience – usually defined as the capacity to have subjective experiences, to see oneself as an individual, or to feel pleasure and pain – have any moral standing.  On this view, any creature that meets these criteria deserves to be considered when humans make decisions that might affect them, like, the decision to cut down rainforest or build a road over marshland.

Some kinds of sentiocentrism are also anthropocentric – they see humans as having priority over animals when other things are equal, because humans are thought to have the greatest capacity for rich subjective experiences.  Other kinds accord equal weight to all creatures that meet the threshold of sentience – although there is no consensus about where this threshold is, so some species are included in some definitions and not in others.