Hays Draft 1 Human Perception of Biophilia

This research topic submitted by Joseph Shacat, Ryan Wise (shacatja@miavx1.miamioh.edu) on 2/26/98.


Our current society based on rationalism, or formal reasoning, promotes anthropocentric values. Because biophilia is not solely anthropocentric, people who express notions of biophilia tend to reject cultural norms based on rationalism and the role of modern mechanistic science.


In recent years, there has been a significant trend toward conserving biological diversity. The reasoning for biological conservation has gone in one of two directions. The first is that, in some way or another, biological conservation is good for humans, and if we are to survive, biological diversity is likewise good. The other direction lies in the notion of biophilia. Biophilia basically states that nature has value in and of itself. We propose to study the differences between these two justifications of biological conservation. We then hope to demonstrate if and how these differences are related to a person’s worldview.

The rationalist justification of conservation argues that biological conservation tends to argue either that conservation will result in a long-term increase in human utility or that the right to access a certain type of environment is a human “right”. In short, rationalism justifies conservation in terms of human values.

Rationalist justifications for biophilia include:

1. A genetic resource(increases utility of some of the other uses)
2. A food source **
3. A source of working animals
4. As a source of pharmaceutical products
5. As a source of materials for making goods/buildings
6. As a source of fuel
7. As a source of organisms for biological control.
9. For scientific research
10. Educational value
11. Inspiration for technological development
12. leisure, sports or aesthetic activities.
13. Role in maintaining CO2/O2 balance
14 Role in maintaining water cycles and maintaining water catchments
15 role in absorbing waste materials.
16 role in determining the nature of world climates, regional climates and microclimates
17 indicators of environmental change.
18 protection from harmful weather conditions; wind breaks, flood barriers.

We will discuss in brief how each of these supports rationalist forms of conservation. For example, the world depends on just 30 plants for 95% of it’s human nutrition. And while modern farming techniques have dramatically increased harvests, monocultural plantings mean not only that genetic diversity is not preserved through modern methods, but also that a large genetic reserve will be necessary for the creation of improved strains or just to maintain current yields.

Also, the economic benefits from genetic engineering are made apparent by noting that in the USA from 1930 to 1980, plant breeders’ use of genetic diversity accounted for at least one half of a doubling in yields of rice, barley, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sugarcane; a threefold increase in tomato yields and a fourfold increase in yields of corn, sorghum and potato.

As one can see, it becomes apparent that there are many rational anthropocentric justifications for conserving biodiversity. However, there is another justification, which is the heart of biophilia. It is the notion of biophilia that, on top of all of the justification given above, nature should be conserved because it’s natural. It has its own value outside of whatever value we put on it. This view is supported by several religious groups in the world, as well as certain members of the scientific community in Western society.


Because biophilia does not rely solely on a rational anthropocentric justification for biological conservation, we propose that the types of people in Western society who espouse the notions of biophilia will also be critical of or feel disjointed from mainstream Western society. For example, capitalism has traditionally involved the assignment of value to everything in the world and then making all decisions based upon that value system. It would be expected, therefore, that a businessperson or a business major at Miami would use the same tactic to justify bioconservation. Someone who studies or lives the fine arts, however, may be more attracted to biophilia. We hope to study these relationships and test our hypothesis by developing and distributing a survey.

For practical purposes, the survey will be limited primarily to students and faculty at Miami. Here is a list of potential questions:

1. What is your sex? Male Female
2. How old are you?
3. What is your religion? (if any)
4. What is your major, or field of expertise?
5. What is your sexuality? Pick one. Heterosexual Homosexual Bisexual
6. If you could double your salary by changing from a job that you found satisfying to one that you didn’t like, would you do so?
7. Do you believe in ghosts, astral projection, or psychic energy?
8. What is biological conservation?
9. If you believe biological conservation is important then why is it important?
10. Can you suggest how you might contribute to biological conservation?
11. Are you familiar with the term biophilia?

With these questions, we hope to compare several aspects of people surveyed. Questions 8, 9, and 10 came from Biological Conservation. We plan to compare our results with those published by the authors. We also want to compare several different aspects of the people answering the questions. For instance, how do people of varying gender, age, religion, and academic interest differ in their answer to the last three questions? Also, question 6 is designed to determine the way in which the subject assigns value. Question 7 was included to determine whether or not the subject relies on rationalist, mechanistic science for answers.

By including the survey, we will gain an understanding of how a person’s lifestyle and worldview is related to his/her thoughts concerning biodiversity. Should we justify conservation efforts based on our own rational self-interest, or is there more to conservation than that? Also, we want to know how people esteem biological conservation.

List of Resources (Bibliography)

1. Kellert, Stephen R. Kinship to Mastery: Biophilia in Human Evolution and Development. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997.
2. Myers, Norman. The Sinking Ark: A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species. Elmsford, New York: Pergamon Press Inc., 1979.
3. Peterson, Lee Allen. Peterson Field Guides: Edible Wild Plants. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.
4. Prescott-Allen, Christine and Robert. The First Resource. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.
5. Reud, Walter V. and Kenton R. Miller. Keeping Options Alive: The Scientific Basis for Conserving Biodiversity. New York: World Resources Institute, 1989.
6. Soule, Michael E. and Kathryn A. Kohm. Research Priorities for Conservation Biology. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1989.
7. Spellerberg, Ian F. and Steven R. Hardes. Biological Conservation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
8. Wilson, Edward O. Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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