Overcoming Biocultural Homogenization in Modern Philosophy: Hume’s Noble Oyster

Part of the Ecology and Ethics book series (ECET, volume 3)


The great influence that the eighteenth-century philosopher David Hume had on Darwin’s conception of his evolutionary theory offers today a paradigmatic case for advancing an interdisciplinary integration between philosophical and scientific ideas. This interdisciplinary integration offers novel approaches to address some of the complex indirect drivers of current socio-environmental problems, such as biocultural homogenization. The identification of philosophical factors linked to losses of biological and cultural diversity adds to the concept of indirect drivers used by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. In this chapter, I undertake three interrelated goals. The first is to expose philosophical concepts and methods that are helpful to understand some complex indirect drivers of biocultural homogenization. The second is to investigate in Hume’s work philosophical foundations to overcome the prevailing taxonomic bias that favors only a few vertebrates and to contribute overcoming the exclusion of moral consideration for the most diverse groups of animals inhabiting our planet. My third, and the most general, goal is to demonstrate that it is possible to de-homogenize a prevailing negative view about European modern philosophy and to invite readers to discover, instead, some environmental values in Western thinkers and schools of thought that can be key for overcoming taxonomic biases and their associated impact on biocultural homogenization.


Animals Darwin Ethics Sentient Taxonomic bias 



I thank Donald Baxter, Kurt Heidinger, Scott Lehmann, Francisca Massardo, Peter D’Alesandre, and Roy May for their insightful comments on the manuscript and zoologist Sacha Spector for his valuable help identifying animal kinds in Hume’s work.


  1. Bonner JT, May RM (1981) Introduction. In: The Descent of Man (Charles Darwin). Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  2. Bowler P (1993) The Norton history of the environmental sciences. WW Norton & Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Carpenter SR, De Fries R, Dietz T, Mooney HA, Polasky S, Reid WV, Scholes RJ (2006) Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: research needs. Science 314(5797):257–258Google Scholar
  4. Chapman AD (2009) Numbers of living species in Australia and the world. Report for the Australian biological resource study, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Australian Government. Canberra: AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  5. Clark SRL (1985) Hume, animals and the objectivity of morals. Philos Q 35:117–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Clark JA, May RM (2002) Taxonomic bias in conservation research. Science 297:191–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Darwin E (1794) Zoonimia; or the laws of organic life. Republished in 1974. AMS Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Darwin C (1987) Charles Darwin’s notebooks, 1836–1844. Transcribed and edited by Barrett PH, Gautrey PJ, Herbert S, Kohn D, Smith S. British Museum Natural History/Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  9. Frasca-Spada M (1996) David Hume, the Caliph Omar and the burning issue of metaphysics. Trans Camb Bibliogr Soc 11(1):49–58Google Scholar
  10. Gare AE (1995) Postmodernism and the environmental crisis. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Gare AE (1998) MacIntyre, narratives, and environmental ethics. Environ Ethics 20:3–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaskin JCA (1995) Hume on religion. In: Norton DF (ed) The Cambridge companion to Hume. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 313–344Google Scholar
  13. Gruber HE (1974) Darwin on man: a psychological study of scientific creativity. EP Dutton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Harrison J (1971) Erasmus Darwin’s view on evolution. J Hist Ideas XXXII:247–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hume D (1948) In: Smith NK (ed) Dialogues concerning natural religion. Social Sciences Publishers, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Hume D (1976a) In: Selby-Bigge LA, Nidditch PH (eds) An enquiry of human understanding (EHU). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  17. Hume D (1976b) In: Selby-Bigge LA, Nidditch PH (eds) An enquiry concerning the principles of morals (EPM). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. Hume D (1978) In: Selby-Bigge LA, Nidditch PH (eds) A treatise of human nature (THN). Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  19. Hume D (1995) The complete works of David Hume, “past masters” CD-roam. InteLex Corporation, CharlottesvilleGoogle Scholar
  20. Huntley WB (1972) David Hume and Charles Darwin Journal of the History of Ideas 33:457–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Logano JV (1972) The poetry and aesthetics of Erasmus Darwin. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  22. Manier E (1978) The young Darwin and his cultural circle: a study of influences which helped shape the language and logic of the first drafts of the theory of natural selection. D. Reidel Pub. Co., DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. MEA (2005) Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Ecosystems and human well-being: synthesis. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  24. Midgley M (1978) Beast and man. The roots of human nature. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  25. Mora C, Tittensor DP, Simpson AG, Worm B (2011) How many species are there on earth and in the ocean? PLoS Biol 9(8):e1001127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Palmer C (2013) Introduction to environmental philosophy: ethics, epistemology, justice. In: Rozzi R, SF Chapin, JB Callicott, STA Pickett, M Power JJ Armesto, RH May Jr (eds) Earth stewardship: linking ecology and ethics in theory and praxis. Ecology and ethics, vol 1. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 187–190Google Scholar
  27. Passmore J (1974) Man’s responsibility for nature: ecological problems and western traditions. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  28. Passmore J (1975) The treatment of animals. J Hist Ideas 36:195–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Poole AK (2018) The UN sustainable development goals and the biocultural heritage lacuna: where is goal number 18? In: Rozzi R, May RH Jr, Chapin FS III, Massardo F, Gavin M, Klaver I, Pauchard A, Nuñez MA, Simberloff D (eds) From biocultural homogenization to biocultural conservation. Ecology and ethics, vol 3. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 315–331Google Scholar
  30. Popkin RH (1980) The high road to Pyrrhonism. Austin Hill Press, SanDiegoGoogle Scholar
  31. Reddick A (1996) The making of Johnson’s dictionary 1746–1773. Cambridge studies in publishing and printing history. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Richards RJ (1989) Darwin and the emergence of evolution theories of mind and behavior. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  33. Rozzi R (1999) The reciprocal links between evolutionary-ecological sciences and environmental ethics. Bioscience 49:911–921Google Scholar
  34. Rozzi R (2001) Ética ambiental: raíces y ramas latinoamericanas. In: Primack R, Rozzi R, Feinsinger P, Dirzo R, Massardo F (eds) Fundamentos de Conservación Biológica: Perspectivas Latinoamericanas. Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico, pp 311–359Google Scholar
  35. Rozzi R (2015) Implications of biocultural ethics for earth stewardship. In: Rozzi R, Chapin FS III, Callicott JB, Pickett STA, Power ME, Armesto JJ, May RH Jr (eds) Earth stewardship: linking ecology and ethics in theory and practice. Ecology and ethics, vol 2. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 113–136Google Scholar
  36. Rozzi R (2018) Biocultural homogenization: a wicked problem in the Anthropocene. In: Rozzi R, May RH Jr, Chapin FS III, Massardo F, Gavin M, Klaver I, Pauchard A, Nuñez MA, Simberloff D (eds) From biocultural homogenization to biocultural conservation. Ecology and ethics, vol 3. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 21–47Google Scholar
  37. Sessions G (1994) Deep ecology for the twenty-first century. Sambahala, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  38. Singer P (1975) Animal liberation. A new ethics for our treatments of animals. Avon Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. Singer P (1993) Practical ethics. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Sorabji R (1985) Animal minds & human morals: the origins of the western debate. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  41. Thorpe WH (1979) Origins and rise of ethology. Heinemann Educational Books, LondonGoogle Scholar
  42. Wilson EO (1988) Biodiversity. National Academic Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  43. Zimmerman ME (1994) Contesting Earth’s future: radical ecology and postmodernity. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Religion and Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  2. 2.Sub-Antarctic Biocultural Conservation ProgramUniversity of North TexasDentonUSA
  3. 3.Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad and Universidad de MagallanesPunta ArenasChile

Personalised recommendations