Paul Taylor's Respect for Nature: Human Superiority Essay

Paul Taylor's Respect for Nature: Human Superiority Essay

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In Respect for Nature, Paul Taylor develops the following four elements of the biocentric outlook on nature:
1. Humans are members of the Earth's community of life in the same sense and on the same terms as other living things.
2. The natural world is an interdependent system.
3. Each organism is a Teleological Center of Life (TCL) with a good of its own.
4. Humans are not inherently superior to other living things.

Taylor believes that if one concedes and accepts the first three components then acceptance of the fourth component is not unreasonable. He also suggests that in order to adopt the attitude of respect for nature one must accept all four elements of the biocentric outlook. “Once we reject the claim that humans are superior either in merit or in worth to other living things, we are ready to adopt the attitude of respect. The denial of human superiority is itself the result of taking the perspective on nature built into the first three elements of the biocentric outlook” (Taylor 153). This is where Taylor is mistaken. I will argue in the subsequent paper that humans, as a condition of moral agency, are superior to other living things and that one does not need to accept Taylor’s fourth element in order to adopt the attitude of respect for nature.
Most would agree with Taylor’s first two elements of the biocentric outlook on nature. The first element it is undeniably true; humans are indeed members of Earth’s community. Taylor pushes this further and asserts that humans are non-privileged members of the earth’s community of life. Humans, just like all other living organisms, have biological requirements to live. Moreover, “[w]e, as they, are vulnerable. We share with them an inability to guarantee the f...


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...r nature and this requires that one recognize the equal inherent worth of all TCL’s (element three). Moreover, it is moral agency which allows for one to adopt the attitude of respect for nature. No other organism (TCL) can adopt the attitude of respect for nature.
Therefore, it is because of our moral duty to all other TCL’s that humans are superior to all other Teleological Centers of Life. Only humans, because of moral agency, are capable of recognizing that all TCL’s have a good of their own. Organisms that lack moral agency cannot understand or appreciate the inherent worth of other beings. As a result, they cannot adopt the attitude of respect for nature. It would be incomprehensible for a plant to understand what is good for a human. Likewise, to believe that a tree or blade of grass can respect nature in the same capacity as a human is ridiculous.

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