ANTHROPOCENTRISM (Greek ’ανθρωπος [anthropos]—man; Latin centrum—middle)— the view (or attitude) that regards man as the chief point of reference in all reality or ascribes to human consciousness an autonomous role in cognition: a direction opposed to theocentrism and cosmocentrism.
In ancient and medieval classical philosophy man is conceived as a microcosm. He holds the middle position among creatures between the reality of spirit and matter. He is seen as a link joining the material world with the spiritual world. Philosophical analysis concerned the cosmos, and man was conceived as one of its elements. There was a diametric change in modern philosophy which shifted its interest from the cosmos and God to man.
EPISTEMOLOGICAL ANTHROPOCENTRISM—the position that the critique of knowledge could begin from an analysis of consciousness; a consequence of this is that nature of cognitive acts and the criterion of the truth are conceived differently than in classical philosophy. A philosophy whose starting point became the human consciousness as the sole subject and object of philosophical analysis and the sole source of knowledge was called anthropocentric. Epistemological anthropocentrism was apparent in Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume, and it is clearly characteristic of the philosophy of Kant who seeks in the subject the meaning of that which is, and argues that the truth of judgments does not consist in a correspondence of their contents with an affirmed or denied state of affairs that objectively exists, but has its foundation in internal subjective relations. According to Kant, man is a conscious being for whom there is nothing except wonder and astonishment on account of his superiority over all concrete ends that motivate him to act or not to act. Hence the human reason is the object of philosophy, for the knowledge of one’s own self is a condition for understanding the world. Fichte followed Kant and attempted to analyze human consciousness as autonomous and independent of the influence of natural conditions. Knowledge of this consciousness was supposed to be knowledge of man as a free being. According to Fichte, man is responsible not only for himself but for all the domains of his activity, for the entire environment. The starting point in this philosophy was the understanding of man as a free being and the explanation of his relation with the external world. In Hegel’s approach, nature exists only to produce man who produces history; only man has the awareness of freedom and wants to make the world his property, to know it and dominate it. The Cartesian program of philosophy as thought turned toward oneself found implications also in phenomenological philosophy which was a reflection of cognition, an attempt to reach the transcendental subject hidden from natural consciousness as the principle (“source”) of phenomena, reducing all reality to absolute subjectivity. For Husserl man is a rational subject who comprehends himself adequately in cognition.
ONTOLOGICAL ANTHROPOCENTRISM—the position that man is the sole object or perspective of philosophical knowledge—it appeared in the nineteenth century. Kierkegaard states that the most authentic being is concrete human existence; Nietzsche under the influence of biologism argued that man does not depend absolutely upon anyone, not even upon God; Dilthey thought of man as an individual who is involved in history but who is the central point of history. For Feuerbach man is the most perfect product of nature, and culture is the projection of man. Scheler is regarded as the creator of the philosophical anthropocentrism most typical of the twentieth century. Scheler sees man as a spiritual personality who is turned toward himself and also transcends the world. Ontological anthropocentrism explicitly appears among the existentialists. The concrete character of philosophical cognition distinguishes this style of philosophy from the philosophy of the subject (Kant, Fichte, Hegel). Existentialism desires to be a philosophical expression of the concrete person who bears the unrepeatable mark of individuality, but the anthropocentric character of this philosophy is varied among its representatives because of different types of analyses of human existence, differences in their conception of existential experiences and their evaluation of authentic attitudes. Heidegger started by stating that man lost the consciousness of his own existence and responsibility for it. For Sartre the starting point is a distinction between conscious human existence (l’être pour soi) and the existence of things lacking consciousness (l’être en soi), and the major thesis of the system is the aspiration to separate man from the world of unconscious things, the world of nature.
Ontological anthropocentrism also appears among certain natural scientists of a philosophical orientation (M. Bonen, N. M. Bollem, T. H. Huxley, P. Teilhard de Chardin). It was the result of a reaction to the views of naive anthropocentrism (that man is the center of the world in view of the central position of the Earth) which was dominant until the sixteenth or seventeenth century and had some adherents up to the nineteenth century. On the other hand, it is a reaction to an incomplete conception of man, since only his individuality was emphasized, and the “human phenomenon” was overlooked, his nature was parceled, and his integrity was lost (some considered man in the bodily aspect, others in the spiritual aspect). The integral man as object and subject, according to this type of anthropocentrism, holds a polar position in the world and marks the major axis of the word, gives meaning to history, and is the only absolute index of evolution.
According to A. Huxley, man is the last link of the evolution of nature. Man’s ability to direct the world and the course of evolution according to an intended end results from his exceptional position in evolutionary development. Teilhard de Chardin developed this thought and argued that man is the center of the universe in the domain of cognition, he perceives himself in everything, and in terms of being he stands at the summit of the universe, he is an “arrow in flight” which by the development of its psyche affirms reality and gives meaning to the sublimation of consciousness.
M. Scheler, Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos, Da 1928,Bo 198310; L. Klages, Der Mensch und das Leben, Je 1937, 1940² J. P. Sartre, L’être et le néant, P 1943, 1957² E. Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie, Hg 1952 (Idee czystej fenomenologii i fenomenologicznej filozofii [Ideas of pure phenomenology and phenomenological philosophy], Wwa 1967); P. Teilhard de Chardin, La place de l’homme dans la nature, in: Le groupe zoologique humain, P 1963; Zagadnienie godności człowieka [Problem of man’s dignity], Lb 1994; S. Wielgus, Z badań nad średniowieczem, Lb 1995.